There isn’t a position in the restaurant industry Randy Price hasn’t held.
The owner and founder of Rocky Mountain Restaurant Group, which includes Salsa Brava Fresh Mexican Grill and Urban Egg, moved to Colorado Springs in 2000 following an early start in a commercial kitchen.
Price, at the age of 14, was washing dishes at a pizza joint in downtown Detroit. And aside from owning his own businesses, Price has worked for restaurant groups based in Arizona, Texas and Kansas before making the leap and discovering the recipe for a successful (and growing) business empire of his own.
What was the first restaurant you owned?
It was a small pizza place in Flagstaff, Ariz. It was very successful. Our mantra was everything from scratch. I did that for a few years but partnerships can be challenging. [My partner and I] kind of jumped into it blindly and learned some lessons from that.
When you jump in and you’re young, you want to get it done but you don’t always dot your ‘i’s’ and cross your ‘t’s.’ We probably didn’t execute agreements like we should have. But you learn from those things. …
I [began the restaurant group] with a partner — a good friend from Kansas City who was very successful in dotcoms in California. He was one reason we were able to get our first lease here. We had some money saved but didn’t have a huge net worth and sometimes you need that to secure a lease. I told him I wanted to have a great partnership agreement in place where we know what the expectations are. I bought him out in 2011 and he and I are still best friends. That’s great. I’m real proud of that.
What lessons have you learned over the years?
I think you have to be patient and be very careful about the promises you make. If it’s stated you need to be delivering on it. Sometimes success gets people excited and they think they can do anything. That’s not always the case. Things change, environments change, business climates change, trends come into play.
Just be sure, if you put your word out there, you can back it up.
Were you intent on opening a restaurant here?
Yes. The group I was working for in Dallas kept me employed as a contract employee in the Springs for a year. I was looking for a restaurant location while doing that. Opening my own restaurant was certainly the reason I got into the business and worked for the big boys in the beginning — to learn on someone else’s dime. I learned to blend the best of the corporate world and its structure and consistency and good standards, with an entrepreneurial spirit that’s community driven — so making sure we have fun, engaged employees. We really wanted to combine the best of both worlds.
What was your first restaurant in the Springs?
Salsa Brava in Rockrimmon. That was our flagship store. We were looking around town in 2001 and we felt there was a real need in the neighborhood. There was a little restaurant called Mayfield’s Wine Bar that I felt was missing the mark on the demographics of the neighborhood. I approached the owner. Her husband, who had a background in automotive, bought the business for her. Like a lot of people, she thought getting into the restaurant business would be glamorous. I approached her and she was like, ‘Oh my God, get me out of here.’ We made a deal and transitioned into it.
I didn’t feel like there was a great Mexican grill happening in the Springs at that time. We wanted to go that route — appeal to families.
I give that store a lot of credit because it fueled growth for the company and allowed us to move on to additional stores and continue to build one store at a time.
How has managing people changed as you’ve grown?
You have to be very consistent from store to store. I have a team of four, five, six managers at each location so you have to be sure everyone is one the same page. We constantly have training with onboarding, safety and harassment — all the things you have to be consistent with.
Talk about the restaurant group today.
There’s been a lot of successes and a few failures and lessons. But that’s part of business. I grew up in Kansas City and we saw an opportunity to put a Kansas City-style barbecue restaurant in and opened that next to Salsa Brava at Rockrimmon. That did real well and I got a call from my landlord in this space at Sonterra. He said, Fujiyama was moving and the space would be open, ‘Why don’t you bring your barbecue downtown?’
So we came downtown with barbecue called Slayton’s Tejon Street Grill. It was great barbecue, but we learned that people in Colorado were different from people in Kansas City when it comes to eating trends. People here eat barbecue once every couple of months. You get a strong desire for it. It’s not like breakfast or Mexican that people eat a couple times a week.
… We had Slayton’s downtown for three or four years. It was performing marginally but not killing it. We just felt like, looking around, there were 50 options for lunch and 75 for dinner and two choices for breakfast.
We went to Chicago, San Francisco and said we were going to do an upscale breakfast concept. It’s going to be different. We’re going to do a build-your-own Bloody Mary bar and gourmet pancakes. We’re going to do locally sourced. We cut ties with Slayton’s and Over Easy [now Urban Egg] was born. We never looked back. That was 2012. … Today we have 12 locations combined and about 500 employees. It’s been a good run.
Join the Colorado Springs Business Journal, iHeartRadio, UCCS and Amnet for the 2019 COS CEO Leadership Lessons with Randy Price, 4:30-6:30 p.m., Dec. 12, at The Warehouse, 25 W. Cimarron St. A portion of the proceeds go to the 2019 Give! Campaign. Sponsors also include the Colorado Springs Chamber of Commerce and EDC and Stockman Kast Ryan + Co.