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2138 Michigan Ave
Detroit, MI 48216

Brian Perrone on slowly growing the Slows footprint

Success is a bit of a double-edged sword in business. When it seems like everyone wants a company’s product there are often a lot of people who also want a piece of the company. It's a dilemma Slows Bar BQ has been dealing with ever since it opened.

The restaurant captured lightning in a bottle after its launch in 2005. The tasty food. The eclectic beer selection. The cool renovation of a once-blighted storefront in Corktown. It all played a part in the company's near-instant success as patrons jammed its doors and endured Godot-like wait times for a table.

"We didn't intend to have this phenomenal success that we had," says Brian Perrone, co-founder & executive chef at Slows. "It's not like we didn't want to be successful but the magnitude of the success was totally unexpected. It's not like we had this grand plan for growth."

So other people came up with growth plans for them. Fans of the barbecue joint inquired about opening up a Slows in their favorite place. The offers became more exotic as the restaurant's popularity gained momentum. One person even made a case to open a Slows in Dubai.

"It's a nice problem to have," Perrone says.

Perrone and his co-founders turned them all down. The company stayed focused on figuring out what it is all about before surrendering to market forces and expanding. Slows opened Slows To Go (a take-out location) in Detroit’s Midtown neighborhood in 2010. It has expanded the footprint of the original restaurant a couple of times in the early years.

Slows also played a key part in renovating its block of Michigan Avenue between 14th and Wabash streets into a conglomerate of attractive businesses. It culminated with the opening of Gold Cash Gold restaurant this month in a newly renovated space that was once a pawnshop. In short, Perrone and his partners turned down numerous offers of expansion around the world to focus on growing their business in Detroit.

"We did get a lot of people asking about opening a Slows here or there," Perrone says. "It took a while to understand exactly what Slows is." He adds, “We talked about it but we have never been in a rush to grow. Our main focus is on the quality of food."

It’s quite the Zingerman's outlook on a slow-food business. The Ann Arbor-based deli-turned-foodie-Mecca is famous for growing its offerings in Ann Arbor over the last 30 years while saying no to legions of offers to expand its footprint around the world. Instead the company focuses on its product and service quality in Ann Arbor with a heavy emphasis of local first. Over the years, the co-owners have only publicly considered opening in one of other city, neighboring Ypsilanti. Otherwise, Zingerman's and Ann Arbor are joined at the hip. It's a business practice that has inspired Slows.

"Zingerman's has always been our model," Perrone says. "They have always been so smart. It's what we want to emulate our model after."

That's not to say Slows will never expand outside of Detroit. The restaurant is already working on its first foray outside of the Motor City, opening a satellite location in downtown Grand Rapids in 2015. Michigan's major city on its west side has dynamic scenes for both food and beer. So when the right opportunity came up to open in Grand Rapids (far enough away from Detroit to be new but close enough to ensure reasonable quality control) Perrone and his partners jumped on it.

For now the expansion plans only call for Grand Rapids. Perrone and his partners would seriously entertain other offers for Michigan cities but not until Grand Rapids is up, running and successful.

"We have to keep our options open and see what makes sense," Perrone says. "Getting Grand Rapids open will teach us what makes sense and what works."

- Written by Jon Zemke

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