Steamboat companies discuss growth, transition at Economic Summit
Steamboat Springs — For Big Agnes and Honey Stinger, becoming an overnight success was preceded by 10 years of hard work and struggling, according to Director of Operations Chris Tamucci.
And as the Steamboat Springs outdoor brands went from the brain children of their co-founders, Bill Gamber and Rich Hager, to recognized companies, they experienced the growing pains that come from moving from an entrepreneurial mindset to a managerial one.
Tamucci and Rex Brice, owner of multiple Steamboat restaurants, were in front of the Economic Summit crowd Thursday to talk about their experiences with that transition.
Much like the decade Big Agnes and Honey Stinger spent toiling, Brice said the rise of Steamboat Restaurant Group was preceded by years of work and dreams, from selling homemade cinnamon toothpicks in fourth-grade to putting his own Bronco Bob’s One-Hand Sandwiches in Steamboat gas stations.
“Are you kidding me?,” Brice said. “I killed myself for 30 years to be an overnight success.”
It was about 1994 when he first started looking for a full-service restaurant, Brice said, and after about three years of being frustrated, he opened a coffee shop and started doing some consulting.
It wasn’t until 2004 that he bought Mazzola’s in downtown Steamboat, he said, and changed everything about the restaurant except the name and the bartender.
“The next year was brutal,” Brice said. “I worked seven days a week.”
But things turned around after a couple of years, he said. That also was about the time he had the opportunity to open Rex’s at the Holiday Inn of Steamboat Springs.
Now, Brice’s Steamboat Restaurant Group includes five businesses across Steamboat.
Talking about his vision, Brice said he’s a daydreamer.
“When I started to set up my company, I started to set it up as a fantasy,” he said. When he bought Mazzola’s, Brice said, he set up Steamboat Restaurant Group because he knew he would own multiple restaurants.
Back at Big Agnes and Honey Stinger, Tamucci said he started for the companies in the warehouse packing boxes. In the early days, he said, he would go to the little red house on Oak Street each morning to pick up the orders that needed to be filled for the first half of the day. After lunch, he’d go back and pick up orders again.
There was no way to know how busy the afternoon would be in the morning and no way to budget time accordingly.
Until about 2010, Tamucci said, the companies still were flying under the radar in the outdoor brand market.
“We still looked at ourselves as this unknown brand,” he said.
But as the companies grew, they realized they were strong brands and the view of the companies changed.
“Now our outlook is we can be a big brand in the outdoor industry,” Tamucci said.
That outlook changed the way decisions were viewed, he said. Whereas decisions were made in the context of being a small, funky brand before, Tamucci said, now, decisions have to suit the mindset of being a big brand in the outdoor industry.
Growth at Steamboat Restaurant Group meant Brice eventually worked himself out of a job, he said.
“I didn’t know what my job was supposed to be,” he said. “I had to back up and spend some time looking at what the job should be.”
Now, Brice said, his job is to manage a core group of about six to 10 people and give them direction.
Brice and Tamucci gave their companies’ cultures a lot of credit. Brice said that as he’s had to hire more from outside the company, it’s been key to create systems to maintain that culture.
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