Guy Griffeth Jeff Ekazer
Started Garden Fresh Produce in 1975 on $10,000 personal capital; projected sales in 1978, $300,000. “I worked as a financial consultant downtown, and every day when I drove to work, I saw this great old gas station on Hillcrest. I kept thinking to myself, ’Someone is going to do something with that, and you’re going to be mad that you didn’t do it first.’ So my partner and I leased it, not knowing exactly what we wanted to do. Jeff and I fiddled with the idea of a restaurant, then a fresh fish market. But both of those were financially unfeasible. Then I remembered that as a kid I used to go to a fresh produce stand at University and Greenville. It was a small operation, but always crowded. Dallas didn’t have anything like that any more, so we decided to go into fresh produce. We were really lucky we started in the fall: Our first month of operation was October. A friend mentioned that we should stock up on pumpkins: We made some nice money right off the bat from Halloween.”
Co-founded Unimark Insurance in 1969 with $100,000 loan; projected premium income in 1978, $25 million.
“When Max [Christian, partner in Unimark] and I were working at Blue Cross, we decided we wanted to start our own agency. We both had good contacts at SMU from playing football there, so we decided to start by selling property and casualty to some of them. It didn’t work. So we turned to life and health and it began to work.
“We wanted to get to mass marketing of insurance as quickly as possible, but we wanted to do some different things. So we began approaching associations with a unique deal: We developed a program for them where they could offer members life and health insurance as part of the dues. Thus, our insurance might help them retain members. The second area of mass marketing we turned to was liability insurance for public officials. This had always been impossible insurance to get – basically it insures councilmen, etc. in the event they are sued because of some official action. I went every where trying to work out a deal here, but no one would do it. We even wrote up our own policies. Finally I had to go to Europe to finish it. After that, we said to ourselves, ’What about police department insurance of the same kind?’ “
Risked one million dollars in personal capital to develop NorthPark. “After developing housing, warehouses, apartments, etc. for years, I looked at the suburbs and the way the city was growing. And I saw the way regional shopping centers were being developed. I wanted to do a unique one: A shopping center controlled by the management in its architecture, and a democratic shopping center that provided a marketplace for all levels of merchandise. “I wasn’t just looking at Dallas at this point; I was looking all over the nation for the perfect spot. But it turned out that the spot was here: Our market studies showed that within a three- to five-mile radius of Central and Loop 12, there was some 60 to 70 percent of all spendable income in the county. We needed an anchor store – which, of course, was Neiman-Marcus. Neiman’s thought I was crazy when I came to them – after all, they had one of the most successful suburban stores in the country at Preston Center. But we convinced them it was a place where they could expand with the city. I never doubted I was right about that, or I wouldn’t have risked a million dollars on it.”
Started Steak & Ale in 1966 with $11,000; projected sales of $140 million in 1978.
“There’s something in an entrepreneur that won’t allow him to not be creating and doing. Most entrepreneurs are very impatient and they are inclined to take any idea and push it. The process is exhilarating; it’s a challenge. In my case, all my life, I’ve been interested in starting things – when I was in high school, I started raising and selling rabbits, then cocker spaniels. Later I was in door-to-door sales. I did work for a company for a short while, but within a few weeks. I was wanting to do something myself again.
“I was always very confident our concept would grow; but I did not expect it to do what it has done. A lot of lucky things happened to me, mostly in the good people I met and brought in to the company. What luck can do is put an entrepreneur in a position that substantially accelerates what he’s doing. In my case, luck even helped me get started on the right track.
“About three weeks before we started our first restaurant, I was talking with a friend of mine about the fact that I didn’t yet have a name for the place. At the time I was planning a Spanish/Mediterranean decor. My friend suggested calling the places ’Steak & Ale.” I said great, but that was hardly going to go with Spanish decor. He said, ’That’s your problem.’ So I went back to my office and immediately began redesigning the entire concept of the restaurants around the name ’Steak & Ale.” If he hadn’t mentioned the name that day, 1 might have stayed with the first idea, and who knows what would have happened.
Guy Griffeth Jeff Ekazer