Big Whiskey’s Big Expansion

After years of feeding 417-land, Paul Sundy and his team are beginning to franchise his popular restaurant, Big Whiskey’s American Restaurant & Bar, by carefully selecting markets and investing in more infrastructure.

By Matt Lemmon | Photo courtesy Paul Sundy

Jan 2017

A decade into its existence, Big Whiskey’s American Restaurant & Bar is a well-known entity in 417-land. With three locations in Springfield and one each in Branson and Ozark, the casual dining chain has established a favorable reputation, appealing to college students, game day crowds and families alike.

And early this year, that reputation is reaching a couple of new area codes with the first planned Big Whiskey’s franchise locations in Lee’s Summit near Kansas City and Bentonville, Arkansas.

Founder and co-owner Paul Sundy, who opened the original Big Whiskey’s with Michael Heslin in downtown Springfield in July 2006, says the business took a deliberate approach to its decision to franchise. Previously involved in a handful of restaurant and bar concepts, Sundy now has a stake only in Big Whiskey’s (along with Heslin, Jamie Clark, Randy Gildehaus and Austin Herschend) and is committed to its growth. Their goal? Two franchises the first year, four the second and eight the third. From there, the sky’s the limit. But first, there needed to be a plan.

“It’s the first time in my life that I don’t have 100 different things going,” Sundy says. “It’s important to see how fast we can go and support our franchisees and provide the same product we put a lot of passion and pride into making.”

Hence, the owners have made significant investments in back-office infrastructure, including marketing, legal and accounting services as well as in creating a director of operations position. In Sundy’s view, a successful franchisee is the absolute best marketing the brand can have. “The first 10 or so franchisees are the make or break,” he says. “We want our franchisees to be just as successful as [corporate stores] have been.”

The selections of the Kansas City area and Bentonville were strategic and fortuitous. The markets appealed to Big Whiskey’s geographically and demographically and also had entrepreneurs eager to franchise the Big Whiskey’s brand, says Herschend, who also serves as CEO of franchising. Shane Miller signed on to run the location in Arkansas in November, and Ed House will open the Lee’s Summit location. Kansas City, in particular, has been in the brand’s sights; Herschend says the goal is to have up to five locations in the metro area with a combination of franchise and corporate-owned stores.

Although there are no firm plans to expand beyond Missouri and Arkansas, Sundy says Texas, Tennessee and even Miami are intriguing possibilities for Big Whiskey’s in the future.

For entrepreneurs eager to expand their businesses, restaurant or otherwise, Sundy warns it requires a step outside their comfort zone, a good deal of planning and putting assumptions aside.

“You’re probably not the first that’s done it, so find someone who has and listen,” Sundy says. “Remember, it’s not about what you want, but what your customers want.”