Entrepreneur expands his restaurant empire
No one truly knows the origin of the hamburger, but it has long been a staple of the American menu. Today, the U.S. burger market is a $73 billion business. So it should come as no surprise that Chanticleer Holdings Inc., which has made a name for itself with chicken wings and the iconic Hooters restaurants, is now heavily investing in the hamburger market.
Mike Pruitt ’84, the company’s chairman and CEO, was a stellar baseball player at Coastal Carolina University, helping the Chanticleers reach the College World Series in 1982 and 1983. The Maryland native says the success he’s experienced as a businessman, and formerly as a student-athlete, would not have been possible without the support of many people at Coastal. They include the late chancellor emeritus Edward “Dick” Singleton, retired finance professor Gerald Boyles, former accounting professor Jim Eason and Andy Hendrick, retired professor who taught business-related law.
“All of them were great mentors of mine,” said Pruitt, who earned a business degree from Coastal. “Professor Hendrick taught me something that I have never forgotten. He said that in business, you should figure out what you are good at and learn about as much as you can so you can be great at it. Then in all the other areas of business, learn enough so no one can pull the wool over your eyes, and you’ll do just fine. I took that to heart.”
Indeed he has. Established in 2005 and headquartered in Charlotte, N.C., Chanticleer Holdings (HOTR on Nasdaq) owns and operates multiple restaurant brands in the U.S. and internationally. It is a franchisee owner of Hooters restaurants in Australia, South America and Europe, and two locations in the U.S.
The company’s latest venture is in the better burger market, a concept Pruitt refers to as a throwback to yesteryear.
“Real quality burgers, milkshakes and fries,” he said. “Fresh ground beef, never frozen. Our business view is that the younger generation, and even some of the older generation, is steering away from fast food chains. They like the local concept that has built a loyal following. All the companies we have acquired had a very strong, localized following.”
Chanticleer Holdings’ portfolio now includes American Burger (Charlotte), BGR: The Burger Joint (Maryland/Washington, D.C./Virginia area), BT’s Burger Joint (Charlotte) and Little Big Burger (Portland, Ore.). BGR was voted “Best Burger in DC” and second in “Best Fries” in 2015 Best of Washington, D.C., metro area in Washingtonianmagazine.
When Pruitt finds the time to take a breather from his ever-growing suite of companies, which also includes Just Fresh restaurants, a Charlotte-based fresh food-focused casual dining establishment, he often turns his attention to his alma mater.
He fondly recalls his strong relationship with the late Robert “Bob” Brooks, who was chairman of Hooters of America Inc. (HOA) and one of the University’s most generous donors. In 2006, shortly before Brooks’ death, Chanticleer Holdings purchased a minority ownership interest in HOA, and in exchange, it was also given the right of first refusal to buy HOA in the event of a future change in ownership. Chanticleer exercised this first right and acquired HOA in January 2011.
Through the years, Pruitt, much like Brooks, has been a staunch advocate for Coastal, supporting both the University and the Chanticleer baseball program.
“I bleed teal,” Pruitt stated. “There is a strong nucleus of people who are committed to doing what we can to support Coastal. I always tell people that the foundation I received from my business degree allowed me to have the ability to give back to Coastal and to the things that I am passionate about. I always think in terms of paying it forward. If you get the opportunity, always remember that someone before you gave you that opportunity.”