Eat. Drink. Be Sad?

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This is the second in a series of blogs featuring the Venture Club, written by Evening MBA student Vicky Bender.

When I moved to Indianapolis three years ago, I was immediately impressed by the vibrant downtown and the local restaurants at my disposal. My family enjoyed meals at St. Elmo Steak House, Thr3e Wise Men, Stacked Pickle, Bazbeaux, Scotty’s Brewhouse, Bru Burger Bar, Harry & Izzy’s, Shapiro’s, Pizzology, Mesh on Mass, and others.

During the October 6 meeting of the Venture Club, several of the restaurateurs responsible for my favorite local eateries served on a panel for a series of food and beverage start-ups pitching their products and services. Among the panel was Scott Wise (Scotty’s Brewhouse and Thr3e Wise Men), Neal Brown (Neal Brown Hospitality), Gary Brackett (Stacked Pickle), and Chris Baggott (ClusterTruck and Tyner Pond Farm).

I’d like to say that the food and beverage start-up presentations were the highlight of the day, but they were eclipsed by Wise’s self-introduction. He revealed, perhaps a few days premature, that he would be closing a deal to sell his restaurants to a venture capital group which planned to expand the franchise across the country and into Japan.

Like others in the room, my initial reaction was pure delight. Wise received an excited congratulatory applause from the audience, and Brown joked that he soon would be working for Wise. I love to hear of local businesses doing well, and I appreciate the success that Wise has built in 20 years. I am happy for him.

But, I also felt a wave of sadness. I doubt that the Scotty’s restaurants will lose their local feel; after all, they don’t really have a local feel. I’m keenly aware, though, that business expansion of this nature always changes the culture, and customers can usually tell when the culture shifts. I can’t predict how this will impact the customer experience at the Scotty’s restaurants, but it is bound to present itself eventually.

I feel a sadness for losing a chain of restaurants unique to Indiana (disregarding the one Scotty’s restaurant in Florida). I almost never eat at Ruby Tuesday’s, Outback Steakhouse, Texas Roadhouse, or the host of other national chain restaurants. I prefer something unique that I can’t get everywhere I travel, so I’m guessing I will eventually choose to eat at Scotty’s less often.

Most of all, I am troubled that business success is so often defined by going public, acquisition, or selling to private equity. The venture community talks about “exit strategy” sometimes even before a company is profitable. I am an MBA student (though perhaps an unusual one), so I get it. Still, I wish that we could talk about success in terms that aren’t so wrapped around money.

So, I’ll continue to feel a conflicted sense of happiness and sadness. Perhaps I’m best to adopt my son’s attitude.

“Mom,” he says, “now we can say that we ate at the original Thr3e Wise Men.”

Right on.