There’s a secret, of sorts, to Scott Wise’s business success.
Wise, ’95, founder of Scotty’s Brewhouse, started with a single site in the Village near Ball State and slowly over time, has added locations around Indiana. But what’s likely to happen next could surprise even Wise, who is the hardest worker and biggest believer in his dreams.
“My restaurant is the heartbeat of me,” Wise said. “There’s a feeling, an energy … it’s the secret sauce, an intangible that is warm and good.”
That energy, he said, comes from the diverse skill set of many talented and smart people he’s gathered around him.
“We did this as a team,” Wise said. “Our success was a collaboration of efforts. I always believed I wasn’t the smartest person in the room. But what I was good at was finding incredible people and being able to motivate them toward a common goal of success. I pushed people to be great but did it with respect and by working hard right beside them.”
Beyond the food, lighting, music and technology that have played into the popularity of the restaurant, an environment that has championed teamwork and collaboration can be felt when walking into one of his restaurants.
Part of this is the hospitality that Indiana is known for, and so as Wise expands the business he is starting close to home.
“We say ‘protect the fort’—the fort being our home state of Indiana, and then growing from there and then slowly expanding into other states that makes sense,” Wise said.
Scotty’s first expanded beyond its roots in college towns, finding a place in the heart of downtown Indianapolis, along Carmel’s busy streets, and as far away as Punta Gorda, Florida—while still being a favorite in Muncie. The company grew by adding another restaurant name, Thr3e Wisemen with locations in Broad Ripple and Muncie, under its umbrella. Even with nearly 20 restaurants, Wise still wanted to see the company grow.
So when Due North Holdings, a private equity group based in Scottsdale, Arizona, shared Wise’s vision for growth and impressed him with their proven track record of growing restaurant brands, the business owner was on board.
“I needed someone to believe in the growth of the company. But they also had to buy into the entire brand, including our philanthropic causes,” said Wise.
Now, Wise is looking at as many as 100 new locations opening in the next five years, including eventual expansion internationally.
The success begs the question: Just how did Wise and his team get here?
Ingredients for growth
Matt Marvel, a distinguished professor of entrepreneurship, said that Wise was smart to be picky about which group to partner with to grow the business.
“The right fit is paramount. There’s really a parallel to relationships like these to a marriage,” said Marvel.
Just as Wise has surrounded himself with a terrific team the last 20 years, he wanted to continue to make his staff a priority during an acquisition.
Continuity goes for the menu, too.
“I want our ranch dressing to taste like homemade ranch,” Wise said.
The famed carrot cake recipe will stay the same. And, the menu items that often carry the names of people Wise knows will remain unchanged, too.
“Why would we want to change, if it’s done well for the last 20 years?” he asked.
For a restaurant to reach this level of success is rare, Marvel said, as roughly 85 percent of restaurants fail in the first five years. So, for a restaurant to survive is a feat in itself. But to be a “Scotty’s” is an accomplishment that not many entrepreneurs experience.
“He’s an outlier, there’s no question about that,” said Marvel, who is also the director of the Entrepreneurship Center. “He’s really good at growth and managing a lot of different skill sets. He’s well outside the norm.”
Marvel said successful entrepreneurs like Wise must be passionate about what they do, tenacious and tolerate high levels of ambiguity.
For Wise, zeal is at the core of who he is, his story and business.
“If you’re passionate about what you do, then things will fall into place,” said Wise. “And if the passion is there, then all of a sudden it becomes fun.”
Wise said he’s always loved learning about new technology, eating at different restaurants and reading about trends in the food industry.
His passion for business, marketing, and creative ideas is contagious.
“We do things differently. When the crowds are all going in one direction, I like to go the other way,” said Wise. “And by bringing together team members that are great in their specific areas, the tide rises with all of us together.”
Wise looks to his team to bring those cutting-edge, creative ideas forward, which in turn, benefits the customers.
“We want each guest to have a great experience when coming to our restaurants,” said Cory Rago, the general manager at Scotty’s Dawghouse in Indianapolis. “That ideology all started with Scott and his philosophy on service.”
Kids eat free, for example, every Sunday and Tuesday night. And he’s obsessed about customer and community service, often using social media to communicate with patrons who raise questions or offer praise.
“I started with the company a little over six years ago as a line cook,” said Rago. “I have worked my way up in the company through my work. But, I have stuck with Scotty’s because Scott has been so transparent and accessible. He has built a relationship with my team and myself.”
His 360-degree view on his business, and his life, are why he’s a highly sought after and popular speaker when he returns to campus.
In Fall 2016, Wise spoke to around 220 students, many business majors, in Pruis Hall as part of the Entrepreneurial Experience Lecture Series.
“He was someone who really resonated with the students because they could identify with his product, identity and brand,” said Marvel. “He had a lot of social media integrated into his presentation.”
Wise describes himself as playful, so it wasn’t a surprise that he came out on stage dancing.
“I think he moonwalked. It was hilarious,” Marvel said. “He was probably the most popular speaker last semester.”
Wise’s engaging and humorous presentation inspired the students and gave them a clear picture of who he is and his journey.
He didn’t shy away from his mistakes either, sharing how he came back from losing big on his second restaurant, Lucy!Lucy, which closed.
And, it didn’t take long for the students to see Wise’s pride in his alma mater and hometown. He’s quick to acknowledge both heartily.
“I love being able to tell people that I graduated from Ball State University,” said Wise. “I work really hard every day because in the back of my mind I want to represent Ball State as a success story.”
Wise often uses the adage, “It takes a village to raise a child,” to describe growing up in nearby Yorktown and attending Ball State.
From his coaches and teachers at Yorktown High School, to his marketing professors, Wise was forever positively marked by his upbringing.
With a marketing major and public relations minor, Wise benefitted from encouraging professors such as Ramon Avila, who instilled in him a passion and knowledge of marketing and promotions.
Avila said he remembers exactly where Wise sat—right next to Amy Wise, ’97, now his wife.
“They were both very enthusiastic. I had a lot of optimism for Scott and Amy,” said Avila.
Through the years, Avila said many of his students have worked for Wise, and they speak highly of him. The students can learn from Wise and his dynamic team.
“He exemplifies that hard working Ball State student who goes out there and takes charge of his career,” said Avila.
The supportive community Wise felt at Ball State is what he strives to create in his restaurants. People are Wise’s priority, whether they are employees, customers, teammates, or those in a community.
“Our people are clearly our No. 1 asset,” said Wise. His philosophy is that if the employees are happy, then the customers will be too.
He’s constantly working with his director of human resources to find ways to motivate his employees and provide increased benefits, such as gym memberships. Right now, they are creating a Fitbit challenge to motivate the team to exercise and stay healthy.
In addition, he and the leadership of his company are devoted to hiring those with special abilities. By the end of 2017, he aims to have 10 percent of his workforce be from this segment. Others are taking note and applaud Wise and his team. In February 2017, Wise was featured in Maria Shriver’s “Architect of Change of the Week.” In March, various media outlets shared how Wise is positively impacting Indiana by employing those with disabilities. In addition, the company was awarded Goodwill’s Employer of the Year for 2016 and will be honored with the award in April 2017.
“I believe it is important in life that when you succeed, that you reach back and give a hand to those that need a lift,” said Wise. “I want my kids, university and state to remember Scotty’s was not just an employer of thousands, did not just provide great memories, food and drink; but, his company left footprints in our lives that resonated beyond all of this by making our world a better place.”
Entrepreneur at heart
Wise has entered a new era with the sale of his company. He’s busier than ever, but his role will evolve over the next four years. He said he will be the face of the company and travel extensively, sharing the brand’s story and introducing himself to communities.
Marvel thinks that years down the road Wise will stay active.
“Most entrepreneurs, when they’ve had this type of success, it’s hard to stay away from the table,” said Marvel. “It’s hard for those type of people to stay complacent.”
Marvel said that Wise and others like him operate at such high speeds and cognitive levels that they tend to remain highly involved in their business interests.
As Wise looks to his future, he sees many opportunities to reach out to those groups, especially the Ball State community, that have been so good to him.
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Already an avid sports fan, he plans to continue to attend home and away football games with his wife and children. Coming from a Ball State family, his father Jerry Wise, ’73, and mother Debra Wise, ’72, also helps keep him connected to the area.
Wise wants to return to his alma mater more often, speaking to students and connecting with those who want to be entrepreneurs.
“I would love to get him back once a year to speak to our entrepreneurship seniors,” said Marvel.
Whether Wise is speaking on campus, cheering on the Cardinals from the stands or sharing his story to a group of investors, he will never forget where he came from nor pass up an opportunity to pay it forward.
“I’ve always come from a school (of thinking) to give back,” said Wise. “It’s just part of my fabric.”