For CPA Richard Younger, owning and operating a business is a way of life. In tandem with commencing Montgomery CPA Associates, Richard is also the co-owner of the downtown Dreamland Bar-B-Que, the Deli at Alley Station, Montgomery Restaurant Partners and he is spearheading another restaurant currently in the works for the old Brew Pub site. When asked if he feared embarking on these business ventures, Richard confidently replies, “I have always believed in hard work, being aggressive and taking advantage of opportunities as they arise.” The Auburn University graduate does note, however, that he attributes much of his success to the encouragement and support from his wife, Larissa. “She has always unconditionally supported me when starting a new business.” As a lifelong Montgomery resident, Richard is thrilled with the opportunity to serve as CPA and trusted financial adviser to his clients and continues to provide superior accounting services to both businesses and individuals. His CPA practice also specializes in serving as a financial expert witness in litigation involving commercial damages, lost profits, forensic accounting, business valuation and divorce. He is also on the Board of Directors of the River Region United Way, is active in the Montgomery Area Chamber of Commerce and even coaches baseball. When he does find downtime, Richard spends it with his wife and three boys – Jackson, Carter and Davis.
Montgomery Business Journal
FROM DREAMLAND TO REALITY
By David Zaslawsky
Photography by Robert Fouts
It’s not every day that two female running buddies would ultimately be the catalyst for their husbands becoming successful business partners.
Now, throw in the mix how one husband coached one of the other’s sons in basketball. Add some mutual friends and that is how young entrepreneurs Bob Parker and Richard Younger became friends.
About five years ago, Parker came to Younger with the idea of opening a Dreamland Bar-B-Que in downtown Montgomery. Parker was not only asking a trusted friend for his opinion, but a certified public accountant who worked in the Aldridge Borden & Co. firm and was an expert in business planning.
“I helped him put some numbers together to see if it (Dreamland) made sense,” Younger recalled. “After we met a couple of times, I became really, really interested about being involved in the project.”
Younger said that Parker needed someone to put together an ownership group and handle that aspect. “It’s been a good partnership. I can’t do what Bob does and he can’t do what I do,” Younger.
That was back when Parker was all of 33 and Younger was 32. That same magical formula keeps working. First, Dreamland opened at The Alley in April 2009. In February 2011, the two opened The Deli at Alley Station.
Here comes their third collaboration – Rail Yard Brewing Co. at the site of the former Brew Pub and next door to Southern Trails. Rail Yard Brewing Co., which is tentatively scheduled to open in June and employ 30 to 40 people – about the same amount as Dreamland – is a “better burger” joint. It is part of a national trend of more upscale burger restaurants that use top-quality meat, ingredients and toppings. “Everything is made-to-order,” Younger said.
Parker said that the meats may or may not be organic or locally sourced. “It’s called the better burger segment and the whole drive is to make it a better burger. We’re not fast food. We’re full service – not fast, casual. You’ll sit down and we’ll wait on you.”
He said a burger at lunch would probably be in the $8 to $10 range and a bit more for dinner. The restaurant will seat 150, including outside tables. The site will also brew beer.
The two partners are not planning to stop there. They said they have plans for additional Dreamlands in Pensacola, Florida, and Columbus, Georgia.
There are other plans to expand the business without opening up restaurants. Parker and Younger have formed a management company called Montgomery Restaurant Partners.
“All of our employees at both of these restaurants (Dreamland and The Deli) are actually employees of Montgomery Restaurant Partners, which gives me the opportunity and flexibility to easily move people from restaurant to restaurant,” Younger said.
“There is no profit motive associated with this company today. That is not the case for tomorrow as we do additional ventures and we talk to other people about running their (business). We have the infrastructure with the restaurant management company and that is something we are growing as well. The infrastructure is in place from restaurant managers to servers.”
That was the progression of one employee at The Deli. She began her career there as a server. She then worked in catering and eventually became the catering manager. She was promoted to store manager and now is the general manager – all within a three-year span. She now oversees a staff of between 12 and 15 people.
That’s the goal of the management company – develop managers. “We’re bringing some additional talent into the organization in order to grow our restaurant management company, which positively impacts Dreamland, The Deli, Brew Pub and anything else we do – future Dreamland locations,” Younger said. “Growing the talent pool of the management company is very deliberate and very important.”
With his accounting background, Younger is the money guy. “I make sure our vendors get paid; our employees get paid; and we’re making money,” said Younger, who recently left Aldridge Borden to open his own firm called Montgomery CPA Associates. One of the reasons he left Aldridge Borden was the flexibility to focus on his restaurant ventures.
Parker is the day-to-day operations expert. “I run the management of the store – anything that you can imagine with operating a restaurant,” he said.
Why have Parker and Younger become such successful entrepreneurs? It’s so much more than meshing different areas of expertise. Timing and geography were critical:
The two began discussions about Dreamland before the Renaissance Montgomery Hotel & Spa at the Convention Center was built. But it had been announced.
They knew about The Alley concept.
They knew about the Entertainment District.
“It was very important to us to do (Dreamland) in this site,” Younger said, referring to The Alley. “We were going to do it in this building or we weren’t going to do it at all – simple as that. We wanted to be the first restaurant to open down here in The Alley because we believed in what was going on down here.”
Dreamland also had to open on the Montgomery Biscuits’ home opener, according to Parker. Having nearly 7,000 people walk by your new business is certainly priceless advertising.
Parker and Younger were approached about retail space at The Alley and said they thought it would be a great location for a deli. Then they became involved. Parker said that he is tinkering with the deli menu and “making most of our ingredients from scratch, which takes more people and more time,” he said. They are also recycling almost everything except for meats. The Deli recycles cardboard and plastic and turns most of the non-meat items into compost. There are some recycling plans for Dreamland.
After being the first kid on the block, Parker and Younger have welcomed every new tenant because each new restaurant has attracted more people downtown and that in turn translates into more business for Dreamland and The Deli and soon Rail Yard Brewing Co., which is just a couple of blocks from the Renaissance and what Parker and Younger call the heart of downtown Montgomery.
They now welcome the newest restaurant at The Alley – Central. “Central is not going to hurt us,” Parker said. “We’re glad Central is here. We want Central to be here.” Parker said that his business is event-driven unlike Central, which will attract couples who leave their children at home. “What that does is bring more activity downtown and people like to be around activity.”
Younger said that other restaurants have not impacted his sales. He said January 2012 sales at Dreamland were up 15 percent from the same period a year earlier.
What drives sales at Dreamland and The Deli are the tens of thousands of downtown workers, who before had few options to walk to lunch. There are the thousands of people stationed or working at Maxwell Air Force Base and Gunter Annex. Then there are conventions at the Renaissance or concerts at the Montgomery Performing Arts Center. Of course, when it’s baseball season that helps with sales, but “it’s not what drives our turnout,” Parker said.
Parker said that the goal is to “create really interesting places for people to go – hang out and eat. I don’t consider us a place you come to and stuff your face with food and leave. We want it to be more experiential than just eat and leave.”
What keeps Parker and Younger going? Parker: “For me, it’s just keep doing this until it doesn’t make sense anymore.”
Younger: “Until we’re not having fun and making money and hopefully neither one of those ever happens.” •