Glosserman took the job, raising his family in Bethesda, where the home was alive with talk about transactions, deals and structures.
“They wanted to know what I did,” Mike said of his two sons. “They picked up on the idea that I liked to create and build things, and they wanted to do it themselves.”
After graduating from Penn like his dad, Marc worked on several start-ups, learning how to cold call, how to deal with rejection and the perils of growing a business too fast.
Marc said he had the Glosserman gene for starting stuff, which would lead to his restaurant — a high-risk business.
Growing up, Marc and his family would frequently take trips to Lockhart to visit relatives, speeding from the airport to the legendary Kreuz Market to get their barbecue fix even before they said hello.
“We would sit and talk with all the family, chowing down on barbecue and eating off red butcher paper and asking, ‘Wouldn’t this be great if we had this in D.C.?’ ” Mike said.
In 2005, while taking an executive MBA course at Columbia University, Marc won a start-up business plan competition with his idea for Hill Country-style barbecue.
“I had an image in my mind growing up and it was my inspiration,” he said. Marc can riff for hours on barbecue, addressing the difference between pulled pork cooked South Carolina-style (mustard-based sauce) and North Carolina (vinegar-based).
Even before the Columbia competition, he had begun conversations with potential investors. He networked through the friends he knew from Penn, from Columbia and from businesses where he had worked. His dad helped some. His mother came up with the name, Hill Country.
By 2006, Marc had raised about $2.5 million from about 30 investors. It wasn’t enough, and Marc took out a $1 million loan to finish the job.
“Being undercapitalized was my biggest mistake,” he said.
He and wife Kristen, a business coach, stayed up nights brainstorming ways to build the business. He immersed himself in detail, finding barbecue chefs and a pit master. He found a source to truck in Texas “post” oak wood for its smoke. He cut a deal with Kreuz to use its sausage. He scoured Texas antique shows for memorabilia and artifacts to lend the ring of authenticity to the restaurants. He emptied Glosserman family scrapbooks onto the walls. He even brought in Texas Blue Bell ice cream and Big Red soda.
The first Hill Country opened June 1, 2007, in 11,000 square feet on two floors at West 26th Street in New York.
Within a few months, Hill Country was turning a profit. I estimate all three restaurants together turn a profit of between $2 million and $4 million a year, with some of that disbursed in dividends for each investment group.
The real secret to the profitability is the business model. Unlike many restaurants, Hill Country is not restricted by the number of seats. Hill Country can exploit vehicles like catering and pop-ups and special events to sell the 3,000 pounds of meat it can cook at any one time. The company has partnered with New York distributors to feature Hill Country guest chefs at corporate cafeterias throughout the city, including Hearst Corp., the New York Times and Goldman Sachs.
“He didn’t realize at the time just how good his model could be,” Mike Glosserman said. Now, both Dad and son get it.