With a classic focus on customer service, Big Whiskey’s has grown to become one of the Midwest’s most beloved restaurants, and with plans to continue to expand, the business could soon become a favorite across the US
When customers walk into a Big Whiskey’s, they are guaranteed to feel like a regular, even if it is their first time visiting. With a heavy focus on friendly and professional service, guests are treated warmly throughout their experience with the native Missouri business. “Big Whiskey’s is a casual restaurant and bar concept, built on an ‘every meal, every time’ approach, with a highly celebrated bar product. To us, that means having vast menus, unique dayparts, and spaces that operate independent of each other,” begins Paul Sundy, the business’s COO and co-founder. “Each of our restaurants features our signature bar, with an impressive 100-plus bottle whiskey selection, comfortable booths in the main dining area, private rooms for large gatherings, and patios to make yourself at home. You can really create your own experience inside our restaurants; date night, guys’ night, business lunches, casual happy hours and events – we’ve got it covered,” Paul informs.
He shares with us the originality that makes the tried and true favorites of a Big Whiskey’s menu, which includes items like the Chicken Ranch Alfredo, Homemade Buffalo Chicken Dip, Boom Boom Shrimp Tacos, Maple Apple Salad, the Brunch Melt, and the Honey Stung Burger.
The creativity behind the business’ food and operational innovation has been a quality trait since its inception in 2006. “Our menus are constantly evolving, and we are very proud that we have developed distinct flavor profiles that guests know they will love every time they try something new. We’re always looking at what’s on trend, and rather than create an imitation, we may take one or two strong elements from a dish, and fit them into something that is very unique to us,” Paul says.
Coupled with that, Big Whiskey’s also boasts a widespread number of locations, and Paul truly believes the company “caught lightning in a bottle” with its Hoover location, which is being used as the blueprint to continue its franchise growth. “We currently have seven corporate locations and six franchise locations, and we’re on our way to initiating new growth developments. At the moment, we are really excited to get into the flow of opening stores again. We just signed a franchise deal in South Florida, and have deals closing soon in Alabama. We are also looking forward to achieving some corporate growth, and other existing franchisees taking their options to build their second locations. We have revived our sales efforts with a brand-new franchising website and investment deck, and we’re able to offer prospective owners a better product than ever.”
Big Whiskey’s thrives in areas that have a real sense of community, which is why it is particularly interested in the suburbs of larger metropolitan areas. This culture of togetherness is then directly translated into a company ethos that prioritizes its people. “It can’t be overstated how important our employees are to us. A happy, motivated staff is key to everything we do. We believe we’ve created a culture where employees are well-equipped to excel in their jobs, which leads to success for them and for us.
“Our approach is to hire attitudes over experience; a person with a great attitude is highly capable and coachable. Ultimately, we want our employees to have longevity in our company and build careers. In fact, we have many managers who have started with us as bartenders, line cooks and waiting staff,” Paul expresses.
In addition to that, Big Whiskey’s is in constant conversation with its stores, both corporate and franchise, as it believes that when communication is clear and frequent, and resources are always on hand, it is so much easier to keep staff motivated. This approach of continuous communication is then further reflected onto its supplier network. “Our supplier relationships are a cornerstone of our success. As we’ve grown, we’ve been very careful to select partners that are capable of fitting our needs. We truly treat our suppliers, more now than ever, as partners, and we’ve selected suppliers who want to go on a journey with us to succeed.”
Paul’s mention of how crucial strong-working relationships with suppliers are relates back to the challenges of the pandemic. While Covid-19 placed a heavy burden on the business’s operations, the company was determined to adapt and make the most of difficult circumstances. “Just like everyone else, we were forced to adapt quickly. However, in many ways, we were really ahead of the game by ensuring that we could keep our kitchens open to serve our guests. Because of this, we were never truly closed, and we saw sales increase week-after-week.
“We wasted no time in moving anything that was needed for in-store dining out of our kitchens. We built our reserves by buying as much of our most popular products and our to-go packaging as possible, making our servers and bartenders delivery drivers and changing our fee structure to better support our staff. It wasn’t easy, but we had all of this in place before the end of the first week that pandemic restrictions were implemented.”
Paul explains how the company’s to-go and delivery program became its lifeblood. Sales in these departments increased by 200 percent at the height of Covid-19, and have since leveled out at a 25 percent increase from 2019. “We’re proud of how we rebounded in Q4 of 2020 and Q1 of 2021. Navigating all of that as a team from top to bottom has been, and still is, a huge achievement. We’ve overcome the employee shortage by changing hiring processes, folding that into our corporate office operations in order for our managers to focus on running stores, and that’s made all the difference. We’ve put a renewed focus on training back to our high company standards and we’re seeing an all new outlook from our employees who stuck it out with us,” he says.
With a clear mission to continue growing, the future of the business looks even more promising. “We launched a loyalty program in 2021 that we’ll be heavily focused on growing in 2022. We are really keen to offer our guests meaningful rewards and give them more reasons to visit us. Guests can interact with the loyalty program through our brand-new app, which will continue to be a huge driver of our online business,” Paul shares.
“Above that, we’ll be opening several new locations, testing new looks, new menu items and continually improving our processes for all of our stores, corporate and franchise alike. We will have a heavy emphasis on franchise growth though, and hope to have 100 franchises sold with 50 new stores open in the next five years. It’s aggressive, but we’ve got everything in place to meet that challenge.”
Big Whiskey’s believes very strongly in delivering the absolute best product possible to its customers, and, from our discussion with Paul, the business goes to great lengths to deliver on delicious, high quality meals. “We’re very excited about seeing the company expanding outward. It’s rare to see a Midwest restaurant brand going to the coasts, but we feel we have the concept to do it. To feel the joy of gathering in a community type place that feels familiar and new at the same time, with food and drinks that bring pure happiness and a touch of indulgence, that’s what we’re all about, and we think people are craving that type of connection now more than ever,” Paul concludes.