The Athlete: Garrett Mills was a record-setting tight end at the University of Tulsa before being drafted by the New England Patriots in 2006. He played for the Patriots, Minnesota Vikings, and Philadelphia Eagles, among other teams, before exiting the league in 2012 to get his MBA at Northwestern University.
The Quick-Service Entrepreneur: Mills spent a few years working in investment management at Goldman Sachs’ Dallas office before connecting with Bret Chandler, founder of Chandler Hospitality Group, parent to full-service barbecue chain RibCrib, which now has 60 locations in five states. Mills joined the company in 2017, serving as vice president of strategy before being promoted to CEO and president in 2019.
Before the pandemic, Mills was overseeing an aggressive franchise strategy for RibCrib, one that includes a counter-service prototype and smaller footprint. That direction is even more important today. “For us, understanding that shift in off-premises business, even in the full-service units, is something that we’re thinking about both from back-of-house setup to drive-thru windows to expanded pickup counters,” he says.
The Appeal: RibCrib has established a loyal following with its slow-cooked, hickory-smoked ribs, brisket, and pulled pork. To date, it’s been a regional success story, but Mills believes it’s something that will resonate nationally, and franchising can help it get there.
“We see big opportunity for this,” he says. “[We’re putting] our brand out there to hopefully get some interest from some big multiunit heavy-hitters. We see the opportunity being more on a national scale.”
The Future: Like most full-service brands, RibCrib’s sales plummeted in the immediate aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. But by summer, Mills says, year-over-year sales drops were in the single digits, and the company was still pursuing its growth strategy, which includes new markets where RibCrib will expand with both full-service and counter-service stores.
The athlete in Mills is enjoying the challenge. “The competitive nature of our business motivates me and makes this fun,” he says.