Every business owner and entrepreneur loves a success story. The dust to glory, nothing to something, underdog winning stories are what capture our attention. Reading and learning from talented businessmen is absolutely essential to the aspiring entrepreneur.
It’s even more inspiring when those stories are locally based.
I was able to sit down with local entrepreneur, Nick Ruiz, and he told me his story. A story with so many twists and turns that it could have been written by M. Night Shyamalan.
Nick had a knack for running a business from a very young age. “I knew business was my strength,” he told me.
As a young man he was working his tail off over at Henry’s Smokehouse, the famous BBQ joint on Wade Hampton. One afternoon, Nick had a former co-worker contact him and tell him of a job opening at another mom-and-pop BBQ restaurant called Diggers. So he decide to take it.
Several months later, Henry’s owner realized the impact that Nick had when he was running the show and wanted him back. He contacted Nick and said, “I want you to run the store on nights, weekends, and handle the catering." So at age 19, Nick was a major manager of one of the most successful restaurants in Greenville.
While running Henry’s, Nick heard through the grapevine that the owner of Diggers was looking to sell.
“I didn’t have any money, just drive and faith. Banks wouldn’t give me anything, so I set out to put together funding. I convinced the owner of Diggers to owner-finance a bit of it to me. Everything came together, and I bought Diggers and became a business owner at 22.”
Nick was a big picture thinker, so he didn’t want to stop at just owning his own business. He started doing some research and decided that he wanted to franchise. Interestingly enough, there isn’t really a truly dominant BBQ franchise, particularly in the quick-serve format that Diggers is. Nothing in South Carolina, and there was certainly nothing in Greenville.
His dream became reality. Within six months, Nick had three stores franchised and had developed nationwide interest.
By 24 years old Nick was a paper millionaire.
“I was naive then,” Nick said. “I learned that not everyone had my back.”
His main store was doing incredibly well, so he franchised it out. Uniformity is absolutely essential to a successful franchise. It's all about maintaining a specific brand image. Consistency is key.
Unfortunately, his new franchisee did not fall in line with Nick’s plan for “Diggers” and began completely altering the brand.
So the legal battles began. Many courtroom dates later, Nick was broke.
“I lost everything. Every store closed. Divorced. Repossessed. Foreclosed. I never thought people would backstab me like this.”
“But,” he said, “every successful person I’ve talked to through the years has had something like this happen to them. Despite it all, I knew I was strong. I knew that I was supposed to pursue this. Through lots of prayers, tears, and recovery - I worked through it.”
Through time, Nick had several manager positions. Even if it started at entry level, he was running the show within two weeks.
One day, Nick decided to shoot his resume over to Five Guys. This particular Five Guys happened to be located in the exact same location as his first Diggers restaurant, his main store. He helped the store grow and their business flourished. Things were finally coming together once again.
Then 2008 happened.
Nick was let go. Disaster once again.
But his positivity and determination won.
“Thankfully, they gave me a huge severance package. I had some time to get back on my feet. I had always had a dream of being an author. I dreamed of selling a book in Barnes & Noble. I dreamed of having a book signing.”
“So you know what I did? I wrote a book. I went to Barnes and Noble, I grabbed a notebook, and wrote a book in two days. I submitted it to two or three publishers, and I was accepted. I published book, it was sold in several Barnes & Nobles, and I even had a book signing.”
"Accomplishing this dream gave me the boost that I needed."
It’s now 2010.
Nick finally was able to put together some pieces and open up Diggers once again. This time with a location on Wade Hampton; a small quick serve style location. He worked hard at developing and fine tuning his concept. Franchising was finally back on the table.
Here comes the twist.
“One day I decided to grab lunch with my son at Five Guys. The same one I got fired from. I hadn’t been in here since they let me go. The owner happened to be in here. He asked me what I’m doing, and I told him. I told him I was looking to open up a store near this area again. We had a short conversation. It was a little awkward, but I didn’t think much of it.”
“A few weeks later, on a rainy evening, I happened to be driving down Haywood. I see, legit, through the corner of my eye, what looked like a Five Guys being developed. There was still construction paper and work going on in the building, but I could tell it was Five Guys. So I made a massive u-turn and drove right over to the store and asked the owner if they are moving, and he said yes.”
Nick knew immediately that he wanted his old building back. He wasn't about to miss this opportunity.
He found a franchisee for his Taylors store. After some legwork and negotiation with landlords, contractors, and DHEC, more pieces to the puzzle started falling into place.
“I was able to get it open July 31st. I finally came full circle. This store is the pride of my life.”
Back on his feet again, Nick is offering a franchising experience like no other, with no royalties in the first year, flat-fee royalties for the first few years after that, and an all inclusive restaurant package.
If you go into his new store, you’ll notice that in the corner, by the drink counter, there is a portion of wall that still has the red and white checkers of the previous Five Guys.
“I kept it there as a symbol... to remind me of where I’ve been and how far I’ve come.”
If you need some encouragement, take your lunch break at Diggers and talk to Nick.
Expect failure. Accept failure.
Keep your head up, dig your heels in, and keep pushing.
Nick has been contacted by the renowned TV series, Shark Tank, and by the Food Network. He plans to open stores in Downtown, on Pelham, and on Woodruff in the near future. After that, he hopes to expand into North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, and Florida.