Willie Degel is the former host of the Food Network’s Restaurant Stakeout and the owner of New York City’s iconic Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse. He’s expanding his proven recipe for success with franchising and expansion plans including a new location in Astoria, New York. We asked him to share some tips and advice on the methods he’s used to “steak” his iconic place in the business world.
Of course, the legendary entrepreneur who has recently opened a new restaurant in suburban Atlanta too, started with branding.
Tips for Building Your Brand
Pound the Pavement
“America has to take your brand, embrace it and welcome it into their households. It takes years. You need to pound the pavement and have a game plan,” he says.
His philosophy for initial research includes three questions:
“You need to ask yourself, ‘What are we selling? What is our product or service, and why should anyone come to us?’”
Small Business Bosses and Leaders
Degel is a big believer in keeping small business branding simple. He also says leading by example and being a great problem solver are critical characteristics for small business owners looking to build a brand . Multi-tasking is important too.
“You have to wear as many hats as possible,” he says. “You need to be an accountant and a lawyer and a motivator. In my business, you need to be a cook and a waiter and a bartender. Running any business takes a lot of work.”
Along with a dedication that includes taking your work home with you, small business owners need to know how to pick the right team. A big part of that is being able to highlight individual characteristics that work to the business’s advantage.
As well as having an open door policy and being able to communicate well, a good entrepreneur needs to know how to adapt to the changing times by staying flexible.
Degel says small business mavens even need to go a step further and be able to see the next big thing before it arrives.
“ Not only should they be adapting to the times and trends, but they actually need to be a visionary and create trends themselves. You need to be there before anybody else and then wait for everybody to catch up to where you are.”
Willie’s track record is a template for his success as a restaurateur and motivator for small business owners in any field. His franchising plans include airports and shopping malls . To that end, Degel has established several different models to better build his brand across different price points and various locations.
Currently, he operates three different restaurant types :
- Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse. There are three of these upscale dining establishments located in New York City.
- Jack’s Shack Organic Eatery. Located on Long Island, this “fast-casual restaurant” features burgers, salads, smoothies and other menu choices.
- Uncle Jack’s Meat House. The new Atlanta location is underway with the Astoria restaurant scheduled to open this month.
This American success story also has some excellent advice for what people looking to build their small business brand need to avoid. However, not rushing to get rich isn’t the kind of tip you’d expect from this man, but Willie knows what works.
“Start off slow and build with one employee doing one thing at a time. Avoid trying to start perfectly, don’t be afraid of failing, but be willing to make changes as quick as possible,” he says.
It’s no surprise to anyone familiar with him that Willie Degel feels having the right character and drive are essential ingredients to good branding. He explains how his own “hands on” personality works.
“My brain is addicted to challenge and going into the unknown,” he says. “I didn’t go to work for a company. I built my own company. Every position I hire for, I work the position and then I fill it so I can keep moving up.”
His final piece of advice for folks looking to get involved in building a small business brand sizzles like a 24 oz ribeye steak from one of his restaurants.
“Get educated. Know the fight that you’re getting involved in and understand what the responsibilities are to running your own business. This is not a job. It’s a lifestyle,” he says excusing himself because it’s time to prepare for another item on his never ending menu for success, an online podcast.
Image: Willie Degel
Is it still necessary to pound the pavement at this age where we already have the Internet? Shouldn’t we pound the e-mail instead?
Since Willie was on his way to do a podcast, I think we can safely say he meant “electronically” pound the pavement. Good point.
Everything matters Aira, – However, nothing can compare to a REAL relationship! You cannot rely on just one method. A “like” or a “follow” a “click” or an “open” does not equal a sale. It’s exposure / engagement for sure, but a visit – human contact etc… is VERY important. REAL “Word of mouth” a REAL handshake etc… – never gets old. Pounding the email is throwing things against the wall, and seeing what sticks.
That’s a good point Andrew. Willie built his brand on and still believes in the personal touch too
I really this quote: “This is not a job. It’s a lifestyle.”
I look at my business the same way, Rob.
Thanks for this one!
Someone told me once there’s only one question small business owners need to ask themselves: ” Am I in or am I out?”