Editor’s note: This article, the first in a series, first appeared in Florida Restaurant & Lodging magazine.
Brian Hill figured his restaurant, Brian’s Bar-b-q in Deland, could use some new insulation. After all, the building had not had much done to it in the way of renovations since it first opened, in 1985, as a Barney’s BBQ aside from basic upkeep and maintenance. Insulation, Hill rationalized, would be a good investment that could pay for itself with lower utility bills. So he budgeted $8000 for the project.
To understand how the project is now approaching $190,000, you have to know a little something about Hill himself.
Hill was something of a reluctant restaurateur. After obtaining a degree in finance and economics from Stetson University, he found himself in the type of job familiar to a lot of college graduates — washing dishes in a restaurant, a Barney’s barbecue joint in Orlando that was owned by Ben Barnwell, a distant relative. Hill figured he could look for a “real” job during the day and wash dishes at night. “I found out that the dishwasher in a barbecue restaurant makes about the same thing as a manager trainee in a bank,” he says. “And you don’t have to wear a suit.”
After a while working at the restaurant, and not finding that “legitimate” job, Hill made his way to Colorado to be a ski instructor. But an injury sidelined him, and while recovering and summering back in Deland, another restaurant opportunity came his way. Hill’s father, who also invested in the Barney’s BBQ brand, was trying to sell a Barney’s in Deland that was underperforming. His father convinced him to take it over in what Hill admits was a sweetheart deal. “Actually,” he says, “the purchase terms were throwing me the payment book and keys to the restaurant.” Still, it was not something he saw as more than a one-year commitment. “I was stupid enough to think I could turn the restaurant around” and then sell it in that time, says Hill. And when things did indeed go well that first year, he thought that if he stayed on one more year he’d have enough money to live more comfortably when he returned to Breckenridge.
Hill’s education had trained him for the financial side of the business but he knew nothing about the culinary side. And it happened that at that time the American Culinary Federation was sponsoring apprenticeships. Hill applied, and soon he was enrolled in a three year program, eventually earning another degree from Daytona Beach Community College and becoming a certified chef. But it was never his intention to become a chef so that he could go off and open a fine dining restaurant. He just wanted to make his barbecue restaurant better.
Which brings us back to the issue of that insulation project.
Hill thought that if he was going to put all that money into the insulation, it might make sense to put on a tin roof, one that would help the insulation. And maybe a better air-conditioning system would be in order. And a tremendous amount of heat comes through the windows; they should be upgraded, too. And conventional light bulbs give off a lot of heat, as well, so converting to LED lighting makes sense.
And what good is putting a nice new roof on an old building? It’s just going to look like a typical barbecue franchise with a tin roof plopped on top. He had renderings drawn up for a new facade.
So that’s how an $8000 insulation project turned into a $140,000 overhaul. Hill expects to use Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association allied members for their expertise and products during the renovation — Brian’s Bar-b-q is a longtime member of FRLA and Hill is a past chairman of the association.
But how Hill is getting the project financed — and why he expects the project to pay for itself in less than two years — is another story altogether.
Next: Just How ‘Green’ Can a Barbecue Restaurant Be?