From sandwiches to success
Sky-Hi News contributor
“Fast Casual” chains grown in Colorado
Noodles & Company (Broomfield)
Einstein Brothers Bagels (Lakewood)
Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill (Centennial)
Boston Market (Golden)
Tokyo Joe’s (Centennial)
Source: Restaurant Finance Monitor, 2013
The Rudi’s Story
The original Rudi’s Deli was opened in its current location by Danny Miller and Dianne Wettersten in 1995, to fill the need for a quality deli in the Fraser Valley. The name was homage to Miller’s grandfather, Rudi Miller, a professional baseball player for the Philadelphia Athletics.
Hubbard bought Rudi’s from its second owner, Nate Bechard (now owner of Cy’s Deli in Grand Lake). For the first two years, from 2005 to 2007, Hubbard worked seven days a week from open until close. He lived and breathed Rudi’s. He greeted customers, prepped the food, created the schedule, and did the payroll. Like many entrepreneurs, he wanted to learn the business inside and out. A lot of customers asked if he was Rudi, he remembers, laughing.
“The other part of it was about not wanting to let go. It was my baby and I didn’t necessarily trust anyone to do it the way I did it at the time, which isn’t really a very healthy attitude.”
A conversation with his brother, also a business-owner, led Hubbard to realize that he didn’t have to be so hands on.
His brother said, “Man, are you still working seven days a week? You have to cut that out.” Hubbard agreed.
Following that advice, Hubbard slowly reduced his schedule from seven to three days per week. He hired a manager and invested in a point-of-sale system. He meticulously documented policies, procedures, recipes, and created a training manual to guide his staff in the day-to-day operations of the deli.
In September 2010, he started looking for another location.
Hubbard looked at 60 to 70 potential spots in the Denver area. People encouraged him to look in the popular Highlands neighborhood west of downtown. But his degree in hotel, restaurant, and tourism management had taught him otherwise.
“As they say location is everything,” he said. “But the location is only as good as the type of restaurant you’re going to put in. If you’re on the side of the street that gets all of the traffic in the morning – an easy in and out, then you better be a breakfast place, not a dinner place,” said Hubbard.
The highlands neighborhood is mostly residential; there isn’t a ton of lunchtime traffic. Hubbard sought a place where the workforce is growing and workers need quality and quick options for lunch. He found that in the Meridian Tech Center — officially part of the city of Englewood — south of Denver. He opened a second Rudi’s Deli there in February 2011.
“I opened up down in the Tech Center because we have tons of hungry people that want to come in for lunch every day. It’s busy during the hours we need it to be busy.”
Hubbard describes how the land across from the Englewood Rudi’s was all open ranch land just a couple of years ago. Now there are thousands of homes being built.
“It’s a big growth area down there right now,” he said.
Some of the Front Range customers were already familiar with the Rudi’s brand, according to Hubbard. While they were setting up the new location, a sign out front read “Coming Soon: Rudi’s Deli.” People often poked their heads in to ask if it was the same Rudi’s Deli they had visited after a day skiing or mountain biking.
“After being in Winter Park for 25 years and serving 30,000 – 40,000 people per year, people knew who we were, even in South Denver,” Hubbard said.
After the new location opened, Hubbard found himself once again permanently posted in the restaurant during every open hour. He has that in common with many entrepreneurs. A 2014 TD Bank Poll found that over half of small business owners work over 40 hours per week, with 40 percent working between 40 to 60 hours.
But today Hubbard is much closer to where he wanted to be when he made that 2010 resolution: He works on the business, not in it.
“Finally after 10 years of hard work I can focus most of my efforts on guiding the ship. A lot of my time is spent working with my managers reviewing sales and customer service performance. I also spend a good deal of time sourcing better quality food and materials for the deli.” he said.
Both locations have managers, and Hubbard employs between 15 and 20 people, depending on the time of year.
As for the future of Rudi’s, Hubbard is optimistic if a bit mysterious about it. Moving Rudi’s toward the franchise level is one possibility; Colorado is one of the hottest spots for “fast casual” chains to incubate.
“Logically that would certainly be the next step — to open a third location. I’ve got all sorts of ideas,” Hubbard said. “Then half of me thinks it would be exciting to do a different type of a concept — do something new.”
If nothing else, Hubbard should bask in his success. According to the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, he beat the odds. Of businesses started in 2005, less than half, or 46.5 percent, survived more than five years.
Anyone who has enjoyed the turkey avocado melt, still the shop’s No. 1 seller at both locations, isn’t surprised that Rudi’s made it on the Front Range. But some of the credit goes to that hard-working guy who spent so many hours behind the counter.
Even if his name is Tim, not Rudi.
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