2015 Young Entrepreneur Interview: Tom Armenti and Kevin Gabauer of Fat Shack
Starting a business isn’t easy. There’s fear, risk, financing and on top of that, sporatic moments of questioning why you even went into this business in the first place. But as you’ll see from our 2015 Colorado Young Entrepreneurs, when it’s your passion — your baby — these worries begin to dissipate and perseverance takes over. And then, you never work a day in your life.
Today, we get some life advice from the men behind Fat Shack, the notorious Colorado American food joint that makes good on its titular promise by offering late night food with more sauce and fried things than exists in the entire Southern United States.
There’s a chance that if you’ve been up past midnight and had a craving for late-night food, you’ve frequented Fat Shack at one point or another. You can thank Tom Armenti and Kevin Gabauer for that angelic late-night indulgence. Armenti launched Fat Shack in 2010 and was later joined by Gabauer after the two realized they had a winning concept on their hands. Today, the duo is on track to launch their 5th location in Colorado with plans for expansion into Michigan and Florida shortly.
Tom Armenti, 27, Founder and Owner, and Kevin Gabauer, 27, Owner
Life lessons you’ve learned:
Tom: Anything is possible. When you put your head down and work one step at a time, you will be surprised at what you can accomplish.
Kevin: Building a successful business is far more about building people and relationships than anything else.
What’s your best piece of advice for young entrepreneurs?
Kevin: Grind. You’ve got to be able to commit everything you’ve got, especially when everything else is working against you. You will have that defining moment when you realize anyone in their right mind and in your exact scenario would give up. And that’s exactly the moment you push through.
Tom: Focus on one business. When you constantly jump around between different things and try to grow multiple ideas, none of them will be really successful in the end. Pick your best idea, work on it every single day, and do whatever it takes to make it happen. Leave the other crazy ideas until later in life after you’ve made your millions … I’m still waiting on my crazy ones.
Tell us about how you envisioned this company.
Tom: In the beginning, I envisioned the company as a way to serve better food at night than the junk they were delivering to me at 2am during college. As we grow, my vision is now focusing on teaching young, hard workers how to do exactly what I did and become their own boss. Our first three franchisees are 22, 21 and 22 years old, and it’s really exciting to see these guys owning their own Fat Shacks.
How did you finance the business in the beginning?
Tom: To keep startup costs really low, I was able to partner with a local bagel place in our college town. The bagel shop closed at 3pm and then I would run the Fat Shack from 6pm till 4am in the morning. Most of the equipment I needed was already in the store and I was able to start the company for less than $5,000.
Did anything come close to holding you back?
Tom: When I first opened in Jersey, the bagel shop I worked out of at night was so tiny and there was no space to store the Fat Shack food. I used to get everything delivered to my college house, store it in freezers in my garage, and then bring over enough food to get through the night every single day. Luckily, I made the jump to Colorado and opened the first full Fat Shack, making it possible to start the expansion.
Kevin: Holding me back initially was the security of a “corporate” career back home in Jersey that I had began while I was still in school. When I drove across country, there had only been one Fat Shack in Colorado. Tom and I created our corporate entity, “Fat Shack America” which brought in $0 in revenue at the time. There was such an avalanche of work to be done with the Fort Collins store before we could even begin to imagine scaling the business beyond one location. My entire family and network of friends were all still in Jersey, along with a comfortable salary and benefits.
What’s the toughest challenge you’ve faced to date?
Kevin: Both of us are young. In the beginning, it was challenging to overcome some of those stereotypical beliefs that because we don’t have the “experience” to draw from we can’t be successful. When a property owner sees a couple guys in their mid-20s, they’re going to question if we have what it takes. We do still deal with these types of challenges a little bit but it has definitely gotten easier with each new location we open.
How do you overcome stages of adversity?
Tom: Being stupidly optimistic. We had been working on a deal to get our 2nd Colorado store open in Greeley and after a ton of work the deal fell through. We stayed positive though and got a call, literally the next morning, with a lead on a great spot in Boulder. We opened the Boulder store, then the Denver and Thornton stores, and here we are two years later about to have our grand opening in Greeley with an even better location than the one that had initially fell through.
What’s does the future hold for your company?
Tom: The plan is to continue growing our franchise system. We’re excited to see the Fat Shack spread across the country and are currently in talks to put stores in Michigan and Florida. What gets us more excited is that we are going to do this whole thing with young hard-working entrepreneurs in a market that’s typically dominated by older and wealthier business owners.
Have you accomplished what you’ve set out to do?
Tom & Kevin: Not even close.