Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern

Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern

November 2009

If you walked into Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern ten years ago, Bob Roberts might have greeted you with a drink.  Now, he greets guests with a friendly smile and a one-of-a-kind pizza.  The director of operations for Aubree’s Pizzeria and Tavern and the designated owner-operator of their newest restraint in Northville, Roberts is a great story of how hard-work, dedication and loyalty to a family restaurant that has been operating for over 35 years can make an entrepreneur’s dream a reality.

The story of Aubree’s restaurant begins in 1972 when Bill and Sandee French opened Aubree’s in the Depot Town neighborhood of Ypsilanti, MI.  For a long time, the restaurant was what Roberts described as a “beer and shot kind-of-place,” where local customers could come and enjoy a drink with friends and neighbors.

Then in 2001, Bill decided to semi-retire, but along with his retirement came a new vision for the restaurant.  This is where Roberts enters the story.  Bob Roberts joined the restaurant as a bartender just a few years earlier.  Having experience in the hotel hospitality industry, he was a natural for food service and he quickly climbed up the ranks at Aubree’s.   When Bill decided that he wanted a new direction for the restaurant, Roberts helped Bill and Sandee and their three sons, Andy, Bryan and Jeff determine the best plan for making a change.

Taking a long look at the current operations, they began to foresee several goals for the restaurant.  At this time, over 90% of the revenues for the restaurant were from the sale of alcohol.  Expanding the menu and creating a diverse selection of food was a strong opportunity for change.   After developing their current pizza product, they realized they had a far superior product and a repeatable production process.  These core competencies gave them the desire and confidence to open multiple locations.  However, they emphasized that they were not interested in franchising.  “Bill feels that most franchises are in the franchise selling business.  We don’t want to be in the franchise business.  We want to be in the restaurant business,” Roberts recalls.  Bill wanted to offer his sons and loyal employees a springboard to owning their own business by allowing them the opportunity to own and operate their own Aubree’s.

At this point, the core management at Aubree’s, including Roberts, decided to sit down with Ron Stevens, a business consultant from Region 12 of the Michigan Small Business and Technology Center (MI-SBTDC), to help evaluate the possibility of reaching these goals.  While the opportunities were substantial, Stevens made sure that the Aubree’s team understood the challenges of opening new locations during a tough economic time.  “I remember Ron telling us, ‘securing financing for a restaurant in 2009 is going to be tough’,” recalled Roberts.  “That is what was so great about the relationship. It was open, honest, and full of integrity.”

Aubree’s and Stevens began a rigorous research and planning process.  Stevens started by evaluating Aubree’s current operations for consistency.  Employees completed an online survey which Roberts said, “helped us with our current operations by understanding our core values, processes, and procedures.”  Stevens would stop by their locations and take notes about their daily operations in order to better understand how their process worked.  Stevens even helped Aubree’s with determining to open the location in Northville.  “I always had the itch, but the more we worked on it, the more I grew into the idea.”  They created a business plan and prepared the necessary financial data.  With the help of Stevens, Roberts, and partners Bill and Sandee French, Andy French (Aubree’s Chief Financial Officer), and Don Roberts (an outside investor and Bob’s brother), they were able to obtain an SBA loan through Citizens bank.  Roberts called Stevens, “a great sounding board” who he could come to with ideas and get honest feedback.   He remembered a great example when Aubree’s began the hiring process for the Northville location when Ron suggested creating a job fair.   “We had never thought about the idea of doing a job fair until Ron suggested it, he recalled.  “He provided us with questionnaires and applications and even had a few interns to help us with the process.  It was a great success.”

Aubree’s opened their Northville location in September and they are continuing their steady growth through an emphasis on fresh food and great service.  They have expanded their operations to include a full-menu delivery service and online ordering while keeping their focus on their customer experience.  “Our branding is very simple.  We are over-the-top friendly, serving really good pizza in a family friendly sports bar,” acknowledged Roberts.  As for Roberts, he hopes to partner with his brother and another investor on the opening of an Aubree’s in Wyandotte during the first half of 2010.

Having worked his way up to having ownership in his own restaurant, Roberts offers advice for new small business owners.  “You can’t do enough research and planning,” he emphasizes.  “Listen to what people are saying and get a knowledgeable executive team together that you can trust will give you honest advice.  It’s hard to do but you have to set your business ego aside and take your emotions out of the decision making.”  As with most new business owners, he identifies financing as a critical point, “Make sure you’re not under-capitalized.”  He appreciates all the help the MI-SBTDC was able to provide.  “Ron offered years of experience with great business knowledge.   He always ended every conversation with, ‘Is there anything else I can do for you?’ which was great for us.”