Home-Town Local Turned Restaurant Entrepreneur
It is not every day you get to sit down with a self-made entrepreneur at 34, but today we got the chance to do just that. Ed Brady is from Cranston, Rhode Island and grew up playing various sports such as hockey, golf, and soccer; where he learned skills he still uses in the workplace today. He lived all over the United States, and spends his free time giving back to the place he calls home. Along with his investing partner, Jeff Quinlan, and team of Justin Erickson, Jared Melei, and Andrea Leonardo, he has turned a dream into a reality by continuing to push the boundaries of what a restaurant is. We sat down with Ed Brady, Restaurant Entrepreneur and Cranston City Councilman for Ward 4.
“You’re only as good as the team you build.”
Sophisticated Professional: So you grew up in Cranston, RI and graduated from Cranston West. Where did you go to college, and can you tell us a little about that?
Ed Brady: I went to Bryant University. I started at the University of Connecticut, and actually walked on trying to play Division I Hockey. I ended up transferring after a year to go play at Bryant, and received a great education. I studied Marketing and Finance with a minor in Communications. I really enjoyed it, joined the student senate while I was there, and was able to double major and get a great education right here in my hometown.
So it sounds like you are selling yourself a little short. We heard that you were also an All-American athlete?
I was an ACHA All-American Hockey Player. I played sports growing up from hockey to golf to soccer. I definitely enjoyed it and keep those ethics, leadership, and team-building into the work environment today and find them to be an asset in growing a team now.
Immediately after that experience, you go straight into entrepreneurship. How do you go from being an All-American to starting your own business?
My senior year at Bryant they had just launched a film and television program that I found to be very intriguing. As I was studying, I learned how to do video production and video editing. I ended up moving out to Los Angeles for a year post grad and learned about films and sets. I actually met my investing partner, Jeff Quinlan, caddying at Alpine, which was my first job, and he later gave me my first chance in ownership. He was crucially important to my success. I started promoting nightclubs out there in LA and met a lot of celebrities and people of that nature. When I moved home I ended up selling copy machines and didn’t like it. However, there was a company out there in LA called 944.com which was like a magazine/social media marketing entity firm. We built a business model around that and opened up a brand called 4zero1, which is based on our area code and started taking pictures at nightclubs for free, started promoting nightclubs, started reaching out to my old contacts from LA, and started booking celebrities here in Rhode Island. Four or Five years later we had the largest nightspots, had an online magazine, and I was doing large scale fashion shows at Twin River in front of over 2500 people. We were doing large scale events and large scale nightclub promotions with celebrities like LMFAO, Nick Cannon, Chris Brown, DJ Pauly D, and people of that nature. Eventually, an investor came up to me and said “if you ever want to open up your own place let me know”. I put a business plan together, and at 26 years old we opened up our first night club, called Vanity. Since then, me and two of my best friends who are also my managing partners, Justin Erickson, Jared Melei, and our corporate executive chef, Andrea Leonardo, have opened up numerous other locations. These are locations such as the Thirsty Beaver in Cranston, which is a log cabin sportstown/hometown “Pub and Grub”. We have another one in Smithfield, right where my college campus was, and another location near Gillette Stadium in Foxborough which will be attached to an indoor go-karting place. We are also in the process of re-branding a concept into a hot chicken and biscuits place, we have another location called “Pink Pig BBQ,” in Jamestown, and we have another location called Milk Money which is a “farm to table” style restaurant. Lastly, we are in the process of building an old garage into a restaurant called Huck’s Filling Station in East Greenwich, Rhode Island.
You reference getting your start by club promoting and running into a lot of famous people. What was your best memory or experience from that era?
I always like to go back to Pauly DelVecchio (DJ Pauly D from MTV’s cultural phenomenon “Jersey Shore,” and later “Jersey Shore Family Vacation”). He used to DJ for us locally for $200-300 and we remember when he was getting on the show. To see where he is now making millions of dollars and still remaining humble and talking to us whenever we need something, are in town, or want to go see a show is a testament to who he is. He still continues to remain humble and that’s always cool to see.
With your background in promotions and the club scene, what made you think that the restaurant would be the next step and where did the idea come from? Were there any concerns or fears with payroll or managing something that from the outside seems so different from your past experiences?
That’s a great question. I think that when you are 21-25 your marketing and nightlife appeal is kind of by yourself, but we saw the need in our market because Rhode Island wasn’t a “celebrity driven” or “touristy” town. That being said, the ability to break into those connections and bring them in for a great price is something that Rhode Island had never seen before. I obviously was cautious of that brand and building that brand but through it, I learned that a lot of these nightclubs had restaurants attached to them. I learned more about the nightclub and restaurant industries through this. I was working for restaurant and nightlife entrepreneur Steve Marra at one of the clubs. I was promoting at “View” and I learned a lot about restaurants under Steve; It was a natural transition as I aged and didn’t want to be at clubs until 2 and 3 in the morning anymore. For our following and the brand, this was natural for them; as our following was getting older and having children and didn’t want to be going out into the club at all hours anymore. So, obviously, what better place to start than Providence, and then the town I grew up in, making it a hometown bar and grill and so far it has been good.
“As an entrepreneur, every project that you do is not going to be a home run, you just hope that 8/10 of them are.”
So, after the initial launch, one thing many people struggle with is maintaining. Take us into your mindset 2-3 months in and how you maintained business and got your restaurants to where they are today.
Like anything else, you are only as good as the team that you build. You learn this in sports and college growing up. What I think we’ve been very successful at is marketing and branding (one of my main strengths), whereas my investing partner, is good with numbers, labor, payroll, and things of that nature. I also have a smaller managing partners who handle the beverage program and our brands throughout. I always say that 100% of 0 is 0. Once you grow and expand within building different brands you have to know when to giveaway equity when it’s worth it. The only way to build multiple brands is to make sure you have people in place for each brand that has an equity stake in it so they feel invested. We’ve been successful with doing that with all of our brands. Obviously, we’ve made mistakes, we’ve learned from those quickly and grown off of them. As an entrepreneur every project that you do is not going to be a home run, you just hope that 8/10 of them are. Obviously you have to do your research in building those, but, I cannot stress enough surrounding yourself with good people, creating a good work environment, compensating people properly, continuing to ask people where they see themselves within your company, not forcing people to be in a role they don’t want to be in, finding a way to create an opportunity for them, to work best in the role they want and within all that managing relationships within the community. Within building brands, obviously, it is important to network yourself throughout the community and position yourself to be the available option so people throw events at your space or continue to dine there. Most important is creating a brand that has quality food and quality service. What you find in the restaurant industry is high turnover. Once the hype is over the only thing that keeps people going beyond network and alliances is a quality product with quality food and quality service, and my team, Justin, Jared, Andrea, and everyone else involved play a large part in this.
So was that infrastructure with your team you built and the success you had what inspired you to branch out and open the sports pub, the second restaurant, and continue to expand as well?
I think the foundation has to be strong to allow you to grow. The streamlining of the process, not necessarily mistakes, makes it far easier for the next process. In opening new projects the most viable thing is making sure you have a brand that you believe to be sustainable. In addition, there needs to be a need for your concept in the market, so you must do your due diligence on researching the project in the market to make sure its a good market with high traffic and median income. I don’t think any person would be willing to expand if they didn’t have good people working with them. You’re only as good as the people you are working with, and that is the most crucial thing. You can have a great idea and a great backing but the team has to keep the day-to-day operations going strong.
“The foundation has to be strong to allow you to grow.”
For an upcoming entrepreneur reading this, who wants to open a business, but does not know for sure if it will work, what advice can you give them to limit their risk and ensure the business will be viable before they invest in the launch?
The advice I would give would be to take a similar path that I did. Explore, experiment, and do not be afraid to get your feet wet. I still wash dishes if I have to, will be a waiter if needed, run food and bartend. You should work to learn every aspect of the business, surround yourself with good people and mentors that will help and teach you. There is only so much you can learn obviously unless you are invested in it and success isn’t going to happen over night. There are highs and lows of entrepreneurship on any project. Focus on what you’re good at, and try to grow at what you are not good at. You should put people of trust in those roles that can help you grow to be successful with you.
In addition to opening various restaurants, you are very active in the community and local government. Can you tell us about some of the projects you have engaged in and how that got started on top of your already busy schedule?
I think that when I was right out of college the most important thing to me was to make money. As things are progressing, 14 years later and at 34 purpose is far more important as you grow in life and build families than monetary wealth. It is more about life wealth. Politics is not something that I thought I’d ever be doing, especially at this age and with everything else going on. As I actually became more involved in nonprofit causes by rebuilding my high school auditorium, building basketball courts in our area, and our restaurants helping The Rhode Island Dream Center (that feeds thousands of homeless a year), those are the things that helped myself find purpose. That is how I got into politics. I did so to create a better city and grow our city. It’s definitely a learning process as it’s another network that we’re continuing to build, but I think the business savviness and experience I’ve gained over the years in life, and the fiscal responsibility I’ve shown by being able to operate numerous restaurants is one of the things that helped people recruit me to get involved in politics and now that I’m involved with it I’m enjoying it.
That is very inspiring to hear. Looking back on your work in the community, ultimately is that what you want your legacy to be when you talk about life wealth more so than monetary wealth?
There are still many chapters to be written in my life, but I think so. I think one of the things that contribute to my success now is I’ve never burned a bridge and never done everything for money. I’ve done everything because I believe it to be right. In a market like Rhode Island, you need to continue to build bridges, networks, and do things because they are right. If you do that, money and the right relationships will follow. When you surround yourself with the right people and you are patient, everything comes into line. My legacy when I look back on life is I want people to say that I was genuinely a kind-hearted person that gave back to the community and made a difference. I want them to say I was a good husband, family member, friend, and eventually a good father, whether or not I open 100 restaurants or 10. I want people to remember me as kind, and courteous along the way.
Who inspired you to look at life the way you do?
My mother went through cancer when I was in high school and I think that grew me up rather fast. She went through breast cancer and is still a breast cancer survivor 25 or 30 years later. That experience of visiting my mother in the hospital and seeing others going through tough times and realizing a world beyond my life grew me up rather quick, especially growing up not being wealthy. I was taught to work and work hard. I started my first job at 13 as a caddy at a country club and I think that not growing up with wealth made me want wealth, but then once wealth was obtained I realized there is much more to life than wealth. I think that is crucially important and we see that in a lot of entrepreneurs when they obtain a level of success. I always wanted to open restaurants, but I never thought we’d be where we are today; But goals obviously can increase as your life goes on. My mom was a great motivator, and I have had great teachers and coaches along the way as well. I have been fortunate to have conversations with them to grow and I’ve taken everything in, taken the good with the bad, stayed positive, and kept going.
“It doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a process”
What was one of the biggest challenges you faced in your career? How did you overcome it?
Professionally I would say the biggest challenges would be when something does not go as planned, you have to look at yourself objectively and wonder why it didn’t go as planned. I would say re-branding and re-developing and being cognizant of trends in the market is challenging but rewarding. When we opened up our first nightclub at 26, we were smart enough after 4 years to realize the lifespan of a club is only 4 years and we didn’t let it continue to keep going on and lose money. We were proactive and invested money. Now we have another viable sustainable brand 4 years later. You cannot let a concept go too long because you are invested in it with your heart. You have to make these difficult decisions before it is too late.
What does a normal day consist of for Ed Brady? Walk us through what your to-do list and schedule looks like. How does it compare to the “9-5” business world?
I would say unfortunately as an entrepreneur it’s not really a “9-5” it’s more of a “9 to bed.” The benefit of having department heads in place is weekly we get reports from the previous days, from the back of the house and front of the house managers so they are handling more of the operations. I am waking up and going to check on sales reports, going to each location and looking at each report, going over details for the week with my marketing director at each location, and making sure they are hitting their points. I am checking in again at lunch, making my way to the next location, talking with my investment partner about timeline for construction projects on our new projects, and getting into the night shift. Throughout the day I am shaking hands and checking on events, checking on whatever is the busiest location and seeing if there are any contacts I have to go to and put some facetime into, and all the while getting back to and checking on what is happening throughout the community. A large part of this is also setting up meetings, appointments, managing my calendar, and hopefully going to bed around 12PM/1AM in the morning then doing it all again the next day. The most important thing through all of that is making sure the process is streamlined so we have people in the right departments because no one can handle 7-8 locations on their own. We are holding people accountable in those roles. They are obviously incentivized through the bonus program to ensure they are hitting their numbers which creates opportunity for me to focus on my strength which I believe is marketing and branding.
How does a successful professional like yourself find time to have a personal life outside of work, and not be consumed by the day-to-day of everything you have going on in your professional life?
I would say that Work-Life balance is crucially important within the week. I still enjoy playing hockey and try to find an hour or two to get out there and skate. Obviously, I have a life beyond work; I have a fiance so I make sure to give Sunday’s to her most of the time. I always try to find time to manage relationships outside of work. It is very hard to manage as you grow and I wish I had more time for family and friends, but there are sacrifices that have to be made as an entrepreneur. It is definitely not easy at times and you miss celebrations and things friends are doing but you try to find time to be there for what is important. Hopefully, through growing these businesses it will create the opportunities for later in life for me to retire at an early age. It is crucial to not just work and there has to be a life outside of work, but at this age, 35-45 is the foundation for the rest of my life so finding a balance between work and life is the hardest struggle.
What motivates you to keep going?
I would say family is an important motivating factor, creating a better life for us, my parents, and continuing to give back for their sacrifices; But, I can’t exactly say what drives an individual. I think some people from my experiences are just born with that quality or just adapt and create that work ethic. I’m not sure exactly how my drive was created. I think maybe it was being told I was too short of an athlete to ever make a sports team, as I’ve always had an attitude to prove someone wrong. It is important to realize there is always a bigger picture. I would love to know what drives others, and oftentimes in work I wish others would step up and have those qualities, but we are finding it is not as easy to find that as it was 10-15 years ago. We want to surround ourselves with people who are dream driven and know that it is not going to happen overnight.
“Be patient. It is not the end of the world when things do not go according to plan”
What advice would you give a younger version of yourself? Is there anything you wish you would’ve known or figured out sooner?
I would tell myself to be patient. It is not the end of the world when things do not go according to plan. Stay level headed. There is not much that I would change looking back. I like the person I have turned into. Even the advice that I am giving now is it does not happen overnight. Objectively looking back throughout the process there are probably some things I have taken too seriously, but I think that is the importance of understanding or being content with your life. I would obviously think you would say if you had a time machine you’d say go win the lottery or something like that. But I don’t think anyone would appreciate the money or wealth if it was obtained through that process. I think the work and what you have to put throughout and the day to day interaction with people and making a difference in people’s lives, anniversary and retirement events, feeding the homeless and doing community events to raise 10,000 toys for the children are what it is all about. It is the ride, the journey, that makes it all worth it. I don’t think I’d change much. Of course, there are projects I’d look back on and wonder about if I’d change it based on trends, but by doing them and the failures turned out not to be failures but learning experiences and helped grow me to where I am today.
We have to ask, since you mentioned the ties with DJ Pauly D earlier, if he is coming to one of your restaurant’s tomorrow, where are you taking him and what are you serving him? And who is the dream dinner guest for you? And what would you serve them?
I would say I would bring him to Milk Money for brunch and he’d be getting some french toast, or I would bring him to the Thirsty Beaver for some nachos, beer, and wings.
My dream dinner guest is my grandmother who passed away. She worked in the service industry for over 50 years. She raised my father by herself. She used to give me her $2 bills that she got for tips growing up and I saved them and still have them. I wish I could have one more conversation with her because I really truly appreciate the person she was and the sacrifices she made for my dad, who was the first to go to college in my family. Beyond herself, I would love to talk to Tom Brady, who is, in my opinion, one of the greatest athletes of all time. Tom is someone who’s done a great job with his brand, staying in the positive press, and doing everything right. It’d be great just to kick it with him for a little bit.
And finally, Where can everyone find you to keep up with your many endeavors?
I’m pretty active on Instagram @edbradyri, and on our business Instagram @thirstybeaverpub, and if anyone has any questions or wants to chat or shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org.