Talking Shop with Bill Zellmer, owner of Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger Dave's

Monday, June 18, 2012
Bill Zellmer inside Cape Girardeau’s newest restaurant Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern. (Laura Simon)

Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger Dave's owner Bill Zellmer started several businesses of his own before he found success as a franchisee. Zellmer didn't take no for an answer and kept pursuing his dream of owning a successful business. Today, he operates six Buffalo Wild Wings restaurants and just opened his second franchise concept, a burger joint called Bagger Dave's in Town Plaza in Cape Girardeau.

Q: How did your career evolved to get you to where you are today?

A: My parents had a huge role in inspiring me to be self-employed. They owned their own business back in the '80s. The crazy hours and huge risks didn't scare me. My first venture was a parking lot cleaning business my freshman year at Arkansas State. It didn't last long. Years later, Doc Cain hired me at Port Cape as a bartender. I really fell in love with the restaurant business and tried to get involved at all levels. I opened Cool Beans, a coffee bar in 1992 in the West Park Mall. That lasted almost a year. I worked seven years with Garfield's restaurants as a manager. Once again working with the people that started the concept. I ran into my first Buffalo Wild Wings in 1994 in Morgantown, W.Va. I got really serious about buying into the concept in 1998 but after two years of every bank and lending institution I talked to turning me down, I gave up. I met my wife in 1999. I told her I had a neat idea about buying a franchise but couldn't get a bank to take a chance on me and had basically retired the idea. She encouraged me to give the idea another chance. A bank did come through in 2001, and here we are.

Q: After your success with Buffalo Wild Wings in Cape Girardeau, how did you know it was time to branch out and take the franchise to other markets?

A: To put it simply, if I didn't open the Carbondale, Ill., market somebody else would have. I was very hesitant since our first several years in Cape were such a struggle. We opened Carbondale in May 2006 and set overall sales records, first day and first week. I realized that operating two restaurants was nothing like operating just one. My brother-in-law, Lonnie Griggs, who operated multiple high-volume restaurants for Darden Restaurants, expressed interest in getting involved with Buffalo Wild Wings. We agreed on the roles we would play in the business and soon opened our first Buffalo Wild Wings together in Sikeston, Mo., and Poplar Bluff, Mo., in 2007, Farmington, Mo., in 2008 and Mount Vernon, Ill., in 2010.

Q: What attracted you to the Bagger Dave's concept?

A: Several years ago we began a search for a second concept. Our territory with Buffalo Wild Wings was limited. We felt that having a second option to grow and develop would be important. I researched lots of other restaurants to find one that made sense, mainly that it didn't compete with our existing Buffalo Wild Wings. Bagger Dave's didn't franchise when I first started making inquiries. I followed the concept and kept in touch. When Bagger Dave's was ready to franchise, we were one of the first groups they contacted. I really liked the fact that Bagger Dave's isn't a typical burger restaurant. It's got a big-city feel. I liked the full service, full menu and full bar aspects. I love all the woodwork, the nostalgia decor package, and of course the food is awesome. They brought on some familiar restaurant faces, mainly Bill McClintock, who sold me my first Buffalo Wild Wings franchise in 2001. I've known several of the Bagger Dave's members for years as they are also Buffalo Wild Wings franchisees.

Q: What's a typical working day like for you?

A: I miss operations but realized that we had people with better skills than I had at those jobs. I partnered with Lonnie so he could oversee multiple units. We recently hired Jessica Mobley as director of marketing for all our restaurants. Putting the right people in the right places has helped in ways hard to describe. With all the talent that runs Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger Dave's, I have put myself behind the scenes, as restaurant support; liaison to Buffalo Wild Wings and Bagger corporate offices, landlords and our vendor partners. At this point I still handle all accounts payable, payroll, all legal and insurance-related issues, lease negotiations, all financials and other restaurant support needs.

Q: What do you love most about what you do? What are some of the biggest challenges you face?

A: I love what I do because it's me doing it at my own pace. I guess I wasn't meant to work for someone else.

A tremendous amount of our challenges are contained within our four walls, basically things we can control -- customer service, food quality, cleanliness, etc. I try not to worry about things that I have no control over but do keep a close eye on what's happening in Washington that may affect our business.

Q: Describe the atmosphere you try to create for someone who walks into one of your restaurants.

A: Welcoming! Fun! Casual! We make a great effort to take care of our teammates and take a lot of pride in being a good employer. Happy teammates usually equal happy customers.

Q: What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a restaurant?

A: Personally I enjoy the franchise concept. There's a lot of structure and a proven track record. I bought Buffalo Wild Wings because I loved the concept and had the skills to run a restaurant. Opportunities don't come around very often, so I've done all I can to make the most out of mine.

Pertinent address:

2106 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

2136 William St., Cape Girardeau, MO

Map of pertinent addresses

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