New Year, New Goals: Exclusive Interview with Al 'Bubba' Baker January 12 2021
With every new year comes new goals, ideas, and of course... resolutions. We decided to sit down and talk to Al 'Bubba' Baker about some of his, as well as discuss his business and its direction during these trying times. Read on to learn more!
Question #1: What inspired you to start Bubba's Q?
Al Baker: I grew up in the barbecue business, and my family had a venture called 'Jenkins Quality BBQ'. My family was deeply committed to it — In fact, after I was born, my mom went back to work just two days later. When I was five, my uncle (the founder of the business) who I called Daddy Jr., began including me in the business. I expressed interested in unloading the firewood from the truck that delivered to us, and so he started showing me how to do it. I ended up working with him until I was nine, and then my family moved to New Jersey. Every summer, though, I went back to Jacksonville to help him stack the wood.
When it comes to barbecue — I've never known anything else. I always knew I'd end up in the barbecue business. And then I made it into the NFL, which became my job, but still, barbecue remained my true passion. If I cut myself, I don't bleed blood... I bleed BBQ.
Question #2: When starting Bubba's Q, what challenges did you face? How did you overcome them?
Al Baker: I decided to start this business because I'd been around it for my entire life. I had started multiple BBQ places while I was playing in the NFL, but I was mostly passionate about ribs, wings and a couple of side dishes.
In no way is the BBQ business a glamorous one — If you open at 11, you've got to be there at 7 to fire up the grill. There's a lot that goes into it. My biggest mistake in opening Bubba's Q in Ohio was being TOO involved. Before I knew it, customers started coming to the restaurant just to hang out with me. When I wasn't there, customers complained that the food wasn't as good, and we weren't as busy. I always had to be there and be the last one to leave, too. And then when we launched the boneless ribs in 2007, you couldn't even get into the place. It became difficult to make time to be a father, husband, and even a friend... I was sleeping for maybe 2 hours/night.
Ultimately, I decided to close the restaurant and pursue catering. That segment of our business had grown a lot, and it was a lot more cost-effective for us. We literally had no waste.
Question #3: What advice do you have for someone looking to start a business, or create a new product?
Al Baker: You have to look around and let the market dictate what it is you want to get into. Today, in the midst of the pandemic, thousands of people are selling masks out of their homes, or starting online businesses. They're getting involved in the 'covid business' so to speak — Selling masks, sanitation supplies, etc. But they were smart and found what was needed, then fulfilled the need.
You can't be afraid to fail. The richest real estate in the world is the graveyard — People let their ideas die. I've failed so many times. How will you leave the world? Did you make it better for other people? Were you kind? It's what you do and how you treat people. In the end, no one will care how much money you have... You want to leave a legacy behind for people to remember YOU, not for what you didn't do.
Question #4: What was the Shark Tank experience like? How did you prepare?
Al Baker: It was the most nerve-wracking experience I've ever had. They took me because I had a story — I was in the NFL, and also had a business with my daughter. They do their best to show how uncomfortable you are to bring out the best or worst in you. They wanted me to feel like I was on a boat with my friends, fell off the boat, and all of a sudden was surrounded by sharks. And that's exactly how you felt.
I learn differently than others — I'm very easily distracted, and I'm always last to finish a test. I knew I really needed to practice my pitch to be successful on the show. My granddaughter was in gymnastics at the time, and while she would tumble, the TV would be on. I would practice my pitch with all of that going on to learn not to get distracted. I even practiced in my car with the music blasting. Preparing that way worked for me, and I knew it would. It made me comfortable. I was never the kid that read a book once and got an A... I always had to work hard.
Daymond John is a great partner. He reached out to me on the show, and he's been true to form ever since. He's never too busy and always willing to help.
Question #5: How did you know your product was something special?
Al Baker: When we had the restaurant, I was running the inventory report to decide how much to order for the following week. I saw that we'd sold 3x the amount of boneless ribs as compared to bone-in ones, and I was in shock. The boneless ribs involved a lot of labor and were much more expensive, but no one seemed to care. Everyone would come to our restaurant to try the boneless ribs — That's when I knew I needed to apply for the patent. I knew it was special.
Question #6: What are you up to today?
Al Baker: The biggest thing I've been working on is my peace of mind. I know that I can't live in fear, and the way that I overcome that is through my faith. I have also been fortunate to have airings on QVC and participate in an entrepreneurship class, given by the NFL. I've never been as busy as I am right now. I didn't even know what Zoom was prior to COVID-19, now I'm using it daily.
Other than that — My family has grown and my son got married. I was so happy to be apart of that.
More than anything, I've learned that we can't control 90% of what happens to us. But once things happen, we have full control of our response and how we react. Your attitude is what is going to get you through it — Attitude is everything. I am doing everything I can to stay safe and make sense of what's happening in our world, one day at a time.