‘Changing Lives for the Better’ Is What Drives Federal Grill’s Brice, Whose Biz Is Fast Expanding

Matt Brice, Owner, Federal Grill restaurants

WHAT THE SECRET to running a successful business in such times as these? Staying focused on employees and pivoting when things don’t go according to plan, like Covid. You must be able to think outside the box and adapt to keep your business moving forward. You must make retaining employees a focal point as they are the heart of the company, and during times like these it is harder to do, as many people, especially in the service industry, have opted to stay home. So, if you can, somehow come up with incentives and make a point to show your employees that you really care about them, and why they want to work for your company rather than any other.


Also, you must change the way you do business, and by this I mean watching every single line item, especially in the restaurant industry, so that you can improve your cost right now, while everything is inflated so high. Watching and adapting every single line item you buy or sell will help you to ultimately understand your business more.

What’s unique about your approach? I’m always thinking of who I can talk to today to help. Always. I’m always reaching out to somebody, texting someone, meeting with someone and usually it’s not to do with Federal at all. It’s about them and what I can do to guide or help support them.

What’s special about your team? They all have three things: They get it, they want it, and they have the capacity to do it. The core values we have — sense of urgency, hospitality, integrity, empathy, lifetime learning and discipline — are truly inspirational, and are bigger than our business. We put such a huge emphasis on these because they help our team to truly understand and execute our “why,” which is to improve the lives of everyone we touch. Every day, that’s it. It doesn’t matter if I’m in the restaurant business, or if I was in the oil and gas business or something, my “why” would still be the same, and our team understands that.

The money is the after affect to the “why.” I never did this for that; I was always dishwashing, serving, bartending, cooking, cooking, cooking and working in kitchens for so many years, but I loved every minute of it of it. And then after all those years, I understood the business so well and just decided that I wanted to be my own boss.

I also think that a lot of “bosses” — I more so like to say “leaders” — are very unapproachable, but because I’ve been in every role in the restaurant, it makes every part of my team feel like they can truly come to me and ask questions or bring things to my attention, more so than a lot of superiors. Unapproachable leaders and lack of a “why” kills restaurant culture, and any businesses culture for that matter, and I think our understanding of that sets us apart.

Who or what inspires you as you seek to reach greater heights of success? Man, there are so many. There are so many leaders out there that I watch and that I get inspired by. I think I’m very much inspired by — and I don’t really like to say this — but I’m inspired by people’s failures, and especially my own. These failures inspire me because they cause me to drive so much harder than if everything was easy and everything went perfect all the time.

You know, I didn’t come from anything. I had the best family — no money — but it wasn’t about that. It was about putting one foot in front of the other.

The success story of Johnny Carrabba is also an inspiration for me. I like listening to what he has gone through and all the things he has overcome. There’s also this other guy I used to work for in Milwaukee; he was one of the most inspiring guys because, God, he was such an ass to work for, and everyone got fed up with him and quit. Except for those who really got him, like me. I learned a lot about the business from him. He had eight restaurants and five of them were failing, and he called me to come help him run them, to bring them back. After working so closely with him, I just saw right off that bat that he would always find a way to make it happen. And that inspired me, and still inspires me, to realize that there’s always a way through, even if the odds aren’t exactly in your favor.

What’s new for 2022 that you’re excited about? I’m excited now not just about 2022, but beyond. We have our fourth Federal Grill location opening in The Woodlands this Spring, but my goal is to sign two more restaurant deals for this year while successfully opening this Woodland’s location at basically the same time. Scottsdale is looking like it will be the next location for us, and hopefully Frisco after that. Those are the official goals, maybe getting another restaurant (other than The Woodlands) open this year. But that may be a little too aggressive.

Another thing I’m so excited about is that the entire infrastructure of our team is growing. Everyone is getting settled into their roles at HQ. We’re finally getting an HR person, our accounting, marketing and events teams are doing really well, and our CFO is officially going into her role. We are just setting higher goals for ourselves and for everyone.

In my office, I have pictures of jets everywhere — I love jets because they are so efficient and streamlined — they are an example of how our infrastructure is going to become in 2022. And I couldn’t be more excited. We are also enabling systems across our whole company that are also going to take us to the next level.

All of that, and personally just staying healthy. I’m getting healthier and healthier everyday —and we’re putting a gym in our new office, so I’m really excited for that.

Why do you do what you do? God has given me the ability to be a leader. You’ve got to work at it, it’s not just given to you. But when you’re in any position of leadership you have an obligation to take care of the people that work with you.

For example, during Covid all businessowner’s employees were sitting at home waiting on them. And every businessowner was waiting on what? The government, right? In my mind that was a BIG “no.” We had no time to wait. Right then and there, at that moment, I had 225 employees looking to me for answers and help. There was no time for sitting at home and “waiting.” Everyone was calling and asking, “Hey, can I borrow money” or “Hey, can I have an advance” just trying to feed their families. My answer, of course, was always yes, but for how long are we going to do this was something I asked myself?

So basically, what I’m saying is, my “why” is to lead people genuinely, and to better their lives the best I can. The rest that comes with being a good leader will follow — success, notoriety, etc. But it shouldn’t be the reason why we do what we do.

Opening during Covid was for that reason. It wasn’t because my family or I needed more money, so we wanted to keep our doors open. It wasn’t about that at all.

My wife and I had been saving money to buy our first house, and, during week two of the shutdown, we decided together that we would instead take that money and give it to our employees, vowing we would never lose an employee during this shutdown. We had enough money to pay everyone for about eight weeks.

After week five of doing that, we decided we had to take a stand and open our doors for our employees and to stand up for our community. We had all these calls coming from our employees asking about what was going on, what was the plan? So, we decided that we had to stop sitting around and do something for our people. Even today, I still have small business owners and people in general come up to me and let me know that I gave them hope during that time.

Earlier this week I was playing pickleball with this group of guys, and one of the guys I had never met who owns a sprinkler system company pulled me aside when we were done playing and said, “Hey, I just want to let you know that what you did for everyone during Covid was just amazing, and you gave me and a lot of other businessowners hope. Because of the stand you made, I decided to also just keep my business going at a steady pace, and 2020 was the best year my business ever had, all because I didn’t wait around. I didn’t stop.”

That’s why I do what I do, to change people’s lives for the better.

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