Mike McFall has a lot to say about being an entrepreneur.
Most of the advice and strategies are not what you’d expect to hear from the co-founder and co-chief executive of Michigan-based Biggby Coffee, a 25-year-old, $100 million franchise with more than 250 locations in the Midwest.
McFall shares his thoughts, ideas and much more in his recently released book “Grind: A No Bullshit Approach to Take Your Business from Concept to Cash Flow.” The anecdotes, information and calls to action do exactly what the book title infers, McFall says, by providing real-world experiences in building a start-up.
Here’s a sampling of outtakes about the book from a recent conversation with McFall:
- “People will talk about market research, price points, competition, the commodity, but you never hear anyone talk about the mentality and mindset that you have to have to do the work. Being an entrepreneur is not a get-rich-quick idea. If you’re not willing to invest 7 to 10 years of your life and be the most dependable part of the business, you’re going to fail.”
- “Are you comfortable being a salesperson because 83 percent of CEOs on the Inc. 500 list were the only or primary salesperson in their business. If you’re scared of sales, if it’s not your thing, you really have to think about if this is a good idea.”
- “Being an entrepreneur is no super power. The real key is you have to understand your strategic abilities and be clear about what you don’t know, can’t do or who you need to bring in to get the job done. You can’t have an ego that you know everything.”
- “Partnerships have all the complexities of a marriage without the benefit of the hanky panky. Just like committing your life to someone, you have to make sure you’re right for each other.”
The book project has been a decade in the making for McFall as he evaluated how Biggby’s growth mirrored – or more importantly didn’t reflect – what he had read in other books about entrepreneurship. The others, McFall said, were either written from the perspective of jet-setting, ultra-successful billionaires who were looking back through rose-colored glasses or written by academics who were presenting their theories and case-studies.
“I didn’t see any who were in the middle of it,” McFall said. “I wanted to bring the practical side of starting a business with the voice of somebody who lives it day in and day out. It’s not a textbook.”
Grind tracks different situations that McFall and his co-founder/co-CEO Bob Fish encountered while building their business from a single location in Lansing. He writes about a loyal customer’s willingness to buy them outdoor furniture so that others could sit and relax, and how that gesture left an impression that helped form the company culture.
The book also tracks successes and pitfalls from both the Biggby perspective and franchisees who achieved beyond initial projections, as well as those that weren’t able to make it and why they came up short.
McFall shares how he and Fish made Biggby work by defining clear expectations and roles, and the importance of holding each other accountable while also not meddling.
Throughout Grind, McFall shares the necessity of entrepreneurs to be themselves while being aware of others. Leaders need to be brave but balance it with humility and display a willingness to understand differing perspectives.
“In 25 years, we’ve not had one knockdown, drag out battle, and that’s because we approach each other with a high degree of respect,” McFall says when talking about being a leader and a partner. “We can call each other out and do it while listening to why we feel so strongly and so passionate about something.
“If you can’t do that, maybe you shouldn’t be in business together.”
Praise for the book has come from business leaders, educators and investors, including:
- Tasha Eurich, New York Times bestselling author (Bankable Leadership & Insight): “If you have ever wondered what it might be like to open your own business, read this book. Even if you have no interest in starting a business, the insights in this book are valuable for life in general.”
- Michael Williams, Director of Entrepreneurship Activity & Director of the Business and Entrepreneurship Clinic, University of Wisconsin, Madison: “This is a must read for every new start up. Every entrepreneur needs to learn how to sell and discern good advice from bad. Mike does a great job breaking all of this down through real life examples.”
- Michael Soenen, Partner, Valor Equity Partners: “If more entrepreneurs considered this message it would be great for my business, as I would have more late stage companies to invest in.”
McFall said readers have offered great feedback and engagement since Grind’s debut in August.
“It’s been fun to listen to what others took away from it or how they got through some of their start-up positions,” he said. “Being an entrepreneur is satisfying, but it takes commitment and desire. You can’t walk in talking about an exit strategy or accumulating wealth. It has to be about being the best at what you do and giving everything you have. If you don’t do that, it probably won’t work.”
The death of the lumbering industry in the late 1800s helped bring about the birth of the sugarbeet industry to the Saginaw Valley’s farming and food-processing economies.
After loggers had cleared the pine forests in the area, the land was virtually unusable due to the massive expanse of tree stumps left behind. State and local leaders were searching for a substitute for the jobs and money generated by now-departed lumber barons. A solution was needed that could be replenished each year, bringing a stabilizing influence to the economic base of the region.
Enter the sugarbeet.
In 1884, during a trip to Germany, Joseph Seemann, a Saginaw printer, observed how well the sugarbeet was doing in that country. He sent a sample of seeds to his partner, who forwarded them to Robert C. Kedzie, professor of chemistry at Michigan State Agricultural College. Kedzie’s enthusiasm for the beet’s potential earned him the title “Father of the Michigan Beet Sugar Industry.”
He imported 1,500 pounds of seeds from France and distributed them to farmers across Michigan. The success of the planting helped encourage people to clear the stumps and better utilize the once-again valuable acreage.
Michigan Sugar Company was founded in 1906 when six smaller sugar companies merged their operations. In 2002, Michigan Sugar Company became a grower-owned cooperative and in 2004, it merged with Monitor Sugar Company to form the company that exists today.
Headquartered in Bay City, Michigan Sugar Compay has sugarbeet processing facilities in Bay City, Caro, Croswell and Sebewaing. Its nearly 900 grower-owners plant and harvest about 160,000 acres of sugarbeets each year in 20 Michigan counties, as well as Ontario, Canada. Those beets are sliced at the factories and turned into about 1.1 billion pounds of sugar annually. That sugar is sold to industrial, commercial, and retail customers, primarily under the Pioneer Sugar brand.
In 2020, the company launched its new line of red retail bags for its white granulated, Golden Light Brown, Dark Brown and Confectioners Powdered sugars. The company sells white granulated sugar in retail sizes of 2 pounds, 4 pounds, 10 pounds and 25 pounds. The brown and powdered sugars are sold in retail sizes of 2 pounds and 7 pounds.
Michigan Sugar has 930 year-round employees and an additional 1,100 seasonal workers. The company’s annual payroll is more than $65 million and its annual local economic impact is about $500 million.
Michigan Sugar Company runs robust Young Farmer and Youth Project programs, offers internships, and provides a variety of scholarships, including the annual Michigan Sugar Queen Scholarship. The company annually donates upward of 100,000 pounds of sugar to food pantries, soup kitchens and shelters across the state and supports countless community events and festivals throughout its growing region.
Of the nine sugarbeet processing companies in the United States, Michigan Sugar is the third largest and Michigan is one of 11 states where sugarbeets are grown in the country.
Read more at michigansugar.com.
The Halo Burger legend was built on three things: Fresh ingredients, treating people with respect and having a community-centered spirit that was created under the decades-long ownership by Bill Thomas and his family members.
Those founding principles have returned to the seven drive-through and dine-in restaurants since the leaders of Halo Country LLC took ownership of Halo Burger restaurants in 2016.
“It’s obvious to me that they’ve tried to go back to the similar stuff that we had,” said Terry Thomas, who took over from his dad and now serves as an ambassador for Halo Country.
Terry Thomas sat down with MLive’s John Gonzales recently to talk about traditions and the importance of being a leader in the community.
Watch as Terry talks about how he started working for his father at the age of 13 and what his first responsibilities were at the restaurant that has been a Flint area icon for 97 years.
Steve Stallard has lived by the mantra “Because Life is Short” since he was a teenager, but the creation and impact of one of the most popular Michigan-made line of food products is anything but fleeting.
Stallard, who was trained at the legendary Culinary Institute of America and later worked at gourmet restaurants including Taillevent Restaurant of Paris, The Greenbrier Club, Dow and The Amway Grand Plaza, created Grand Rapids-based BLiS Gourmet in 2004.
He pioneered using barrel-aged items with the launch of domestic roes and maple syrup, following up with one-of-a-kind products such as barrel-aged vinegar, hot sauce, soy sauce, steak sauce, and fish sauce, as well as salt and spices. The ingredients were all chef-driven and developed as the finishing touches to dishes.
Stallard began dabbling in barrel aging while working professionally and using maple syrup and bourbon as his “house” cure. He wondered: “What would happen if I put syrup in a barrel?” The discovery, through trial and error, was a revelation.
He began a quest to source the best barrels and perfected the craft syrup. The barrels that hold syrup for 6 months to 1 year then get another use as roughly a gallon of the syrup is absorbed into the wood, providing an environment that boosts flavors of other ingredients used in food prepration.
“Essentially, what we’re doing is we’re adding products that would benefit from that (syrup),” Stallard said, noting the items are used in professional kitchens around the world but are equally friendly and adaptable in home kitchens by cooks of all skill levels.
DISCOVER THE STORE: The complete BLiS product line is available here
The recognition of BLiS products is long, including awards as best in show at the Bissel Maple Farm Craft Maple Syrup festival the past two years and a SOFI award from the Specialty Food Association for the best dessert topping.
The sauces, syrups, rubs and oils have also earned praise in nationally renowned magazines and food sites such as Food & Wine, Wine & Spirits and Bon Appetit as well as cooking show and media celebrities like Rachel Ray, Martha Stewart and Oprah Winfrey.
On the horizon, BLiS teases, is a limited-edition Jamaican rum that will launch at Mammoth Distilling tasting rooms Labor Day weekend.
Check out the video below to learn more about Blis Gourmet products:
Here are five of the favorite recipes from the BLiS creative team:
Vegetarian “BLT” (sans bacon)
- Good whole grain bread
- The best heirloom tomatoes available
- 2 tbsp Duke’s or homemade mayo
- 1 tsp BLiS rye aged apple cider vinegar
- 5 tbsp BLiS hardwood smoked soy sauce (per 3 slices of tomato)
- 1 tsp extra virgin olive oil
- Organic leaf lettuce (Bibb, Boston, Red Leaf, etc.)
- Cracked black pepper
- Marinate 3 thick tomato slices in BLiS hardwood smoked soy sauce and olive oil for 45 minutes
- Blend mayonnaise and apple cider vinegar, and apply liberally to toasted bread
- Layer with marinated tomatoes, lettuce, and top the tomatoes with cracked black pepper
- 2 pounds meaty chicken wings
- Frying oil (we recommend peanut oil)
- 5 cups BLiS “Blast” hot sauce
- 1/3 cup BLiS bourbon barrel aged maple syrup
- 1/3 cup melted butter
- Fry wings until crisp and done
- Combine hot sauce and maple syrup, and then whip in the melted butter until emulsified
- Toss wings in sauce and enjoy
Elote (Mexican street corn)
- 6 ears fresh corn
- 1/3 cup Duke’s or high-quality mayonnaise
- 2 tbsp BLiS Santa Fe spice rub
- 1 tsp lime zest
- Mexican crumbling cheese (we recommend Cotija)
- Grill corn in husks until tender
- Peel back husks and liberally spread the mayonnaise on the corn
- Sprinkle with BLiS Santa Fe seasoning
- Top with cheese, cilantro, and lime zest
Green Chile Bison Burgers
Ingredients: (makes 2 burgers)
- 1 pound ground bison meat
- 5 tbsp BLiS smoked soy sauce
- ½ tsp BLiS Elixir
- Sliced Monterrey Jack Cheese
- 1 large onion sliced thin
- 1 small onion diced
- 2 cups roasted, diced, and peeled hatch peppers or green chiles
- 1 clove garlic
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- 1 tsp Adobo spice
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp Mexican oregano
- Mix ground meat and 1.5 tbsp smoked soy thoroughly, let rest
- Caramelize the large sliced onion, adding the maple syrup and elixir at the end to make an onion jam
- Sauté the diced onions and garlic in olive oil until clear, add the chilies, spices and 1.5 tbsp smoked soy and cook for 15 minutes on low heat
- Cook burger to medium rare, lightly grill the bun
- Add heaping tablespoon of chili sauce, then sliced Monterrey cheese and melt the cheese. Add the onion jam on top of the cheese, and one more scoop of the green chilies.
Lime Glazed Salmon
- Four 5-6oz Salmon fillets – skin on – scaled (cross score the skin with a razor blade or very sharp knife)
- Olive oil or Grape Seed oil
- Kosher salt
- 2T BLiS Blast Barrel-Aged Hot Sauce
- 2T BLiS Bourbon Barrel Aged Maple Syrup
- Zest of one lime
- Juice of ½ lime
- 1 small clove of minced garlic
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees
- Prepare glaze by whisking Blast hot sauce, maple syrup, lime zest, lime juice, and garlic together in a small bowl.
- Set aside.
- Rub salmon with olive oil and season with salt
- Heat a liberal amount of grape seed oil in a large oven-safe nonstick pan over high heat until very hot
- Place salmon in the pan skin side down (making sure there is plenty of oil beneath the salmon to prevent sticking)
- Sauté for a few minutes until a crust begins to form
- Remove from heat, spoon/brush some of the maple syrup/Blast glaze over the salmon (reserving about half the glaze)
- Slide the pan into the oven and continue to cook the salmon until just cooked through
- Remove from the oven and baste with the pan sauce
- Plate salmon and spoon the remaining lime glaze over the salmon
Fresh beef that is never frozen.
Lettuce, onion and tomato that is cut as burgers are made.
It’s a recipe that has been serving Halo Burgers well since it was founded in 1923 and then later led by Bill Thomas and his family.
And it’s those practices, as well as locally made toasted buns, that Halo Country LLC has restored to the iconic Michigan restaurants in and around Flint.
“The freshness is what makes us a cut above everybody else,” Megan Ahejew, Halo’s community relations manager, told MLive.com’s John Gonzales recently. “It’s just like you’d make it at home for yourself. We make everything fresh as you order it.”
Halo Burger fans share their thoughts frequently with Terry Thomas, who took over from his dad and now serves as an ambassador for Halo Country.
“People come along and say, ‘Terry, these are still the greatest hamburgs.’ I say thank you and I feel the same way.”
Watch as the Halo Burger process is described by those who know it best.
When Bob Fish, the co-founder of Michigan-based Biggby Coffee, talks about the future of the business, some might be shocked to hear his assessment that “coffee as a product is unsustainable.”
But that’s exactly what Fish says and why Biggby is trying to change the equation.
And it starts with the goal and benefits of farm-direct sourcing 50% of Biggby’s 2 million pounds of coffee purchased each year by 2023. After that accomplishment, Biggby will set its eyes on buying 100% of its product from farmers with whom Biggby has a lasting relationship.
Here’s why that’s important and what it means both for Biggby and its farm partners:
There are more than 200 labor hours to produce a single cup of coffee, Fish explains. It includes a supply chain that involves farms, workers who are often mistreated, brokers, roasters and more middle layers that seemingly work against each other.
“Between climate change and traders driving the price down, farmers simply cannot economically survive,” Fish said. “So, what happens? The farms can’t make it and are being abandoned. This puts the whole supply chain at risk.
“We believe businesses are here to solve problems, not create problems, but that’s what’s happening in coffee, and it’s why we are focused on doing business directly with farmers that treat the planet right and treat their people right.”
The straight line from farmer to Biggby involves extensive research and travel to confirm that the grower has the same passion for social responsibility and community investment, Fish said. As part of the evaluation, Biggby requires:
- Farmers who pay workers above the national average and employ no child labor.
- Farms that employ sustainable and organic practices.
- Farmers who engage others with strong and local social missions.
Fish and his wife, Michelle, visit farms and stay for days at a time, and at different times – during the growing, harvesting and off-seasons – to assess the commitment, he said. Biggby can be a stabilizing force for the growers, providing a premium payment by eliminating the broker/middleman and granting the farmer financial safety and security for their coffee. That allows for future investment in the farm and the community. It also ensures Biggby a sustainable pipeline of coffee for the future.
Follow the journey: Bob and Michelle Fish blog about farm-direct sourcing and local heroes
One of Biggby’s farm partners is the El Recreo Cofffee Estate in Nicaragua, the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. There, Leanna Ferrey and her family have an established farm that pays its workers fairly, shares a quest for growing a quality product and displays a care for its people that goes above and beyond.
Ferrey established an on-site school for the workers’ children to attend through the fourth grade, and she does not allow youth to work on the farm. Each child earns a scholarship and transportation to attend school in a nearby town through high school. She helps them find a way to go to college, if they choose, Fish said. She’s also helped educate the workers, many of whom were illiterate, provide basic health care and provide certainty that there is food for three meals a day.
“It’s really just amazing what she and her family have done,” Fish said. “And this wasn’t because of us but because it’s what they believed in and how they think people should be treated. She is making a difference now and for future generations.
“It’s exactly what we want, and it fits with our belief that you should feel good about doing business with people. And to take that to the next step, we hope a consumer can feel good about doing business with us because they know what our establishment stands for.”
Biggby has a second relationship with a Zambian farm that supports an orphanage. Fish and his team are cultivating more partnerships that create an impact abroad and reflect the coffee company’s values.
“We could go out and get the cheapest coffee and continue to pressure the fragile coffee economy, but we’d rather put money directly in the hands of the farmers who are doing their best,” Fish said. “We want to be involved with people who care for and are engaged with their community just as we are with ours.”