For Bobbie and Bob Bacon, Gregg’s is all about family: their family, the families of their employees, and the larger family of the local community. The Bacons believe that by maintaining connections to their customers and their workers, they’ll maintain their success.
Bob and Bobbie Bacon are the co-owners of Gregg’s. They’ve held those titles since 2009, but have been with the restaurant chain for since 1982.
Bob Bacon came to run Gregg’s in the early 1980’s after forming a friendship with Ted Fuller, the former owner of the restaurants. Early on, Bacon made an agreement with Fuller that he would have the opportunity to buy the company when Fuller was ready to retire.
In 2009, Fuller was ready, and just as they had agreed, Bacon bought Gregg’s.
“For many years I was the face of Gregg’s,” said Bob, “Which made it attractive to investors.”
Since 1982 Bob has been the Vice President of Operations. He helped to grow the chain from two restaurants to four, adding the Providence and North Kingstown locations, as well as the commissary and food preparation facility in Pawtucket.
Bobbie has also been hands-on with Gregg’s since the early days, overseeing bar operations and keeping quality and cleanliness up to standards.
She also helped to develop a pub area, separate from the main dining rooms, to give patrons a different option for their Gregg’s experience.
The two are not only business partners, but partners in marriage, and reside in East Greenwich.
The pair, originally from Michigan, met in college and ventured to Florida for Bob’s graduate schooling. After that, they moved to Beverly, MA, where Bob landed a job managing the Barnsider. Enter Ted Fuller.
Bob and Bobbie formed a friendship with Fuller’s brother, who in turn introduced them to Ted.
Fuller took over the Warwick Gregg’s in 1972, only a few years after it’s creation, but kept the name of it’s original owner: Gregg.
At that time, there was only one location. Fuller added the East Providence restaurant in 1980. The Providence location came in 1984, the same year as the commissary in Pawtucket, and 1993 brought the opening of the fourth location in North Kingstown.
Fuller is also the co-owner and founder of PosiTouch, a computerized, touch-screen system made specifically for restaurants.
Fuller got the idea for the PosiTouch systems after noticing that some of his most experienced wait staff were struggling with the growing use of computer technology.
“We decided we had to do something else,” said Fuller.
When he and his wife went on a trip to Chicago to visit a restaurant expo, they noticed a touch screen on display at the Kraft Foods exhibit.
“I called my brother and told him,” said Fuller, “It was a company in Massachusetts that made the touch screens, and we came up with the PosiTouch technology.”
Fuller, his brother, and another technically savvy gentleman went into business together, developed the technology, and installed the PosiTouch systems in the Gregg’s restaurants.
After awhile, other restaurants showed interest in the systems, and PosiTouch soon expanded.
“We have dealers all over the country now,” said Fuller, “And we have installed touch screens all over the world. PosiTouch became a whole entity in itself.”
Despite their growth, PosiTouch is still based in Warwick, out of the same office building that Gregg’s is headquartered in.
In addition to growing the business and its technology, Fuller is responsible for making Gregg’s known for its desserts. Fuller said the original Gregg was a big dessert guy, and he wanted to keep the tasty treats on the menu.
But Fuller wanted to make them better, and so he began to use all fresh ingredients, not canned and jarred contents.
“Gregg himself had a flare for desserts,” explained Fuller, “But the difference was when I started, I began baking everything from scratch. Instead of using filling for the éclairs we would boil the cream, or instead of using canned filling for the apple pies we used 5 pounds of fresh apples in every pie.”
Bob said that Gregg’s desserts are now a local staple.
“We’re known for our desserts,” said Bob, “Gregg’s desserts are a major part of celebration traditions for many people.”
The partnership between Fuller and Bacon is what Bacon thinks has made the transition so smooth, and has kept Gregg’s success growing.
“Bob had been there for so long,” said Fuller, “He knew the business inside and out, so it was a natural transition.”
“Gregg’s hasn’t changed a lot,” said Bob, “Ted Fuller was excellent to work with, and let me operate it as if it was mine. It was a great partnership.”
After three years, Bob said he has finally begun to settle into his new role. Despite the invasion of chain restaurants, the poor economy and competition, Bacon said Gregg’s is on “solid ground financially.”
He attributes his success to being a clean, consistent local company with well-trained servers.
“There’s an influx of national chains,” said Bob, “But none have roots in Rhode Island like I do.”
Bob and Bobbie have worked to partner with local organizations like the Rhode Island Blood Center, the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation and Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Bobbie said their annual Giving Tree event is also very successful.
“There was no place to put the presents last year,” she laughed, “This office was jam-packed. It was amazing.”
Gregg’s also works to fundraise for schools and youth sports teams. Their “benefit nights,” where a group offers coupons to Gregg’s and in-turn receives a percentage, are extremely successful.
“They’re a fun family event for schools,” said Bobbie, “It makes it fun. Something to do and look forward to.”
The Bacons say they are often overwhelmed with how many groups and organizations want to have Gregg’s help them fundraise.
“We can’t say yes to everybody,” said Bob, “But it’s hard to say no.”
Their roots in the community go far deeper than just their charitable involvement.
“We have literally generations of customers,” said Bob, who also said that they often have multiple members of a family work for them.
“We’re in a third generation of workers right now.”
The Bacons say that’s the difference between Gregg’s and national chains.
“When you’re from here, [customers and workers] are loyal to us and we’re loyal to them,” said Bob.
He also said consistency is a big part of their success, too.
“We don’t have a fancy chef but he has a good sense of what our people like,” said Bob.
Bob’s favorite dish on the menu is the salmon Caesar salad, and Bobbie’s is the apple crisp.
“It figures,” Bob said with a laugh to his wife, “You look great and I’m heavy!”
Bobbie explained that their Pawtucket commissary ensures each Gregg’s provides people with the same food they love, no matter which location they visit. They also make sure to have well-trained and happy employees that keep standards up to par.
“We have key people that manage and run certain areas,” said Bob, “People work for us for many, many years. It’s important to us. We treat them well.”
The Small Business Association recently recognized Gregg’s for job creation. Gregg’s made the SBA 100 list, which lauds businesses that have hired at least 100 new employees since receiving SBA assistance. Gregg’s now employs roughly 430 people.
Bob said that running Gregg’s and ensuring its prosperity is no different than balancing a checkbook.
“In this business a lot of people are couponing each other to death,” he said, “It’s no different than balancing a personal home budget, you have to make a profit, but it’s got to be fair to the business and fair to the consumer. Be responsible. If we’re irresponsible that [fairness] goes away.”
He is careful to ensure his business doesn’t operate outside of its means. Gregg’s had to close on the Sunday Tropical Storm Irene hit, and Bob said it could have been a detrimental day to his business if they hadn’t been budgeting carefully.
“If you’re operating at a loss, [days like] that can tip the scale”
Bob hopes to continue expanding Gregg’s empire, but is in no rush to open a new location.
“We’re looking,” he said, “We’re fueled by opportunity. The areas we have interest in are Lincoln and Cumberland.”