Mike Mills, the 58-year-old owner of 17th Street Bar & Grill in Murphysboro, Illinois, known within barbecue circles as "The Legend" offers a side of lessons on business success, in addition to his delicious barbecue.
DO WHAT YOU LOVE
He learned the craft at his father's knee... "I've barbecued all my life. My motto was, 'Give me the meat, and I'll cook it."
A notorious workaholic, Mike jokes that at his age, he's "taken to only working half days," by which he means 12 hours.
Start with a great product.
It wasn't until 1988, when his barbecue team started entering -- and winning -- the professional barbecue circuit that he realized that his barbecue might be something more
Give them something to talk about.
I used to cook barbecue out in the back lot and give it away free...
SKIP THE SHORTCUTS
"What I've found is that whether it's with barbecue or running a restaurant, anytime anybody's tried to show me a shortcut -- an easy way out -- it's never worked for me. I've tried all the shortcuts there are, but there's no substitute for hard work"
"People go to Vegas knowing that I have restaurants there, but they look around and can't find a 17th Street Bar & Grill." They don't realize that Memphis Championship Barbecue is the same product under a different name, "so they don't come in."
LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES
In part because of this early mistake, Mike and his daughter Amy Mills Tunnicliffe -- now the marketing guru behind their mini-empire -- takes extra care in ensuring that all barbecue that gets served under his name is consistent, regardless of which of the four 17th Streets or three Memphis Championship Barbecue locations a customer dines at.
OBSESS ABOUT THE DETAILS
"Everything we do is tested," Mike says. The spices that go into his Magic Dust recipe are carefully inspected for potency and rejected if they don't make the cut. "I get my spices from a company in Arkansas that has a specific supply chain, so they secure their spices from the same growers all the time."
MEASURE, MEASURE, MEASURE.
"I take temperatures of everything. I know that if my pork shoulder's not up to 193 degrees, it's not done, no matter how long it's been in the smoker."
IT'S ABOUT THE PEOPLE YOU HIRE
[It's] all about the people you hire. They have to have a desire to do better in life as strong as your own. They have to have that same basic need.
AND HOW YOU RESPECT THEM
I don't set 9-to-5 hours," he says. "All a schedule does is force someone to be somewhere they don't necessarily want to be. I tell my employees what I expect from them, and tell them to do whatever it takes to get the job done.
CREATE A CULTURE of LEARNING
The first thing he tells new hires is that "by the time you're trained, you'll be better at this than I am, 'cause I'm gonna teach you everything I know, and you got brains of your own, so add 'em together, and you should be smarter than me."
HELP THEM REACH THEIR DREAMS.
Everyone who works for me has the same basic needs as me: They want to get ahead, I want to get ahead, and they will help me live my dream while I help them reach theirs."
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Murphrysboro, IL. That's not too far away...>