What does an independent chemical sales broker do when he grows tired of constant traveling and missing the “firsts” of his young children? He opens a Zaxby’s franchise in Shelbyville, Kentucky. And that’s just what Steve Brewer did.
Early beginnings were tough
Although Brewer no longer traveled away from his family, owning the new Zaxby’s franchise meant he often left home in the early morning hours and returned in the late evening. “Early on, it was a tough row to hoe without brand recognition,” he said. “I put in long hours in the beginning, but thankfully I’ve hired good people and I have a lot more freedom to spend time with my family.”
Brewer opened his first location in early 2006. That same year he forged his relationship with Citizens Union Bank’s (CUB). “The folks at CUB saw me struggling and they helped me with cash flow and watching where my money went. CUB has always been there. They’ve also supported me by eating at the restaurant and using Zaxby’s catering services for bank events.
CUB offers advice about expansion
“When he first came to me with the idea of expanding locations, we had a frank conversation about whether it was the right thing to be doing,” Brian Webb says. Webb is CUB’s Sr. Vice President of Commercial Lending. “We went through the scenario of what that would do to cash flow. Steve may not have gotten the answer he wanted that day, but a couple of months later he thanked me because it was the right decision for that time.”
“Brian is down-to-earth,” Brewer says. “He is creative and finds a way to make a deal work.” That creativity and support has helped Brewer grow the stores significantly in the last three to five years.
Taking on an apprentice
Ten years ago, 22-year old Jerry Ayres Jr. was fresh out of college and newly married when his father sold his Jeffersonville Ohio Valley Ready Mix business and retired. The elder Ayres planned to open a Zaxby’s franchise and told his son that before he could join as a partner, he would have to find a franchisee and work for free for a year to learn the business.
“I found Steve and trained with him for a year before my Dad, brother and I opened our first store,” Ayres Jr. explains. Since no one in the family had been in the restaurant business, the elder Ayres thought it would be a way to gain the needed knowledge. “Working for free was a learning experience, and I’m really glad my Dad had me do that. My wife and I lived in my brother’s basement. It made us grow up quickly, but I believe it is what made me successful.”
Unique partnership complements strengths
Ayres became familiar with CUB during his apprenticeship, so when the two franchises joined together in August 2018, Citizens Union was the banking partner of choice. “It’s been great,” Ayres says. “CUB treats you like family. Brian makes it feel like the bank is on your side and tries to make your ideas work – one way or another.”
“We love serving people,” Brewer says. He and Ayres believe it is important to be involved in the community and support the local high schools and Little League teams. They also support Kentucky Wounded Heroes, a nonprofit organization serving Kentucky’s police, fire, EMS and military members injured on the job. Brewer’s father died of leukemia, so he’s also a big supporter of the American Red Cross, having served on its board and getting the blood mobile to set up every 56 days at each location. Donors receive a free meal.
“The partnership between Steve and Jerry is very complementary of their strengths,” Webb says. “They really immerse themselves in the restaurant and neither is afraid to work. Both get in there and roll up their sleeves.” They now own and operate eight Zaxby’s locations in Shelbyville, Louisville, and Southern Indiana.