Everybody loves restaurants. And we all have opinions about what makes a good one. Ask your family members, neighbors and coworkers and they’ll surely tell you about their great—and not so great—dining experiences. Jack Gibbons, MBA, ’05 is passionate about eating out, too. But he has taken his passion and turned it into his vocation. As the CEO of Front Burner Restaurants, Gibbons lives and breathes restaurants every day. He recently shared his experiences as both a restaurateur and an entrepreneur with the University of Dallas Entrepreneurship Society.
Taking a Risk into Entrepreneurship
Gibbons began his career in the restaurant industry as a waiter with the Pappas family of restaurants, a favorite in the Dallas area. He worked his way into management and eventually became brand manager for the group. While employed by Pappas, Gibbons came to UD’s Satish and Yasmin Gupta College of Business.
Gibbons said that obtaining his MBA from the University of Dallas helped him become a better businessman. “I would hear things in class—like what the great business minds have to say about something—and I would realize that it could help me solve problems I was dealing with in the restaurants,” he said.
Gibbons eventually realized that what he really wanted to do was take a risk and follow his own vision of what makes a great restaurant. He and partner, Randy DeWitt, created Front Burner Restaurants in hopes of addressing consumers’ unmet needs in a creative way. And they have been wildly successful.
Creating a Unique Brand
According to Gibbons, putting together a strong team has been integral to the success of Front Burner. “I have surrounded myself with people who are smarter than me,” he said. “My team helps me create the unique brand for each individual restaurant.”
That uniqueness is important to Gibbons, so when he is cultivating a vision for a restaurant, he draws inspiration from a variety of areas. “I love to travel and experience new adventures in food. I study restaurants from around the country and decide what I like and what I don’t like about them,” he said. Gibbons takes what he’s learned through his research back to his team, and together they mold his vision into the DNA of the brand—what he defines as its “differences, nuances, and attitudes.”
Front Burner Restaurants certainly have attitude. A prime example is Whiskey Cake, located in Plano. Gibbons chose the area because he felt the DFW suburbs were missing out on unique dining opportunities. And despite the restaurant’s conservative surroundings, “counterculture” best describes the restaurant’s vibe. “We wanted the staff to really fit the ethos of the brand,” Gibbons said, “So our servers have dyed hair, tattoos, and piercings.” A farm to fork menu and a commitment to freshness and sustainability (they press their own juices and even recycle rainwater) have resulted in Whiskey Cake’s becoming the top-rated restaurant in DFW on the popular user-review app, Yelp.
Gibbons and his team are working on several exciting dining and entertainment projects that will take advantage of the phenomenal growth of the DFW area and its reputation as a testing ground for new restaurant concepts. With these new projects, Front Burner will continue to attract top chefs and culinary trendsetters. Anyone who likes a good meal will be looking forward to that.