Bob Barry is the president and CEO of The Greene Turtle Franchising Corporation. Founded in 1976, The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille is a casual, all-ages restaurant that provides a one-of-a-kind dining experience for the whole family. The restaurant’s menu features American comfort food classics as well as local beer, fine wines, and an evolving selection of cocktails. The Greene Turtle currently operates in over 40 locations across Maryland, Delaware, Virginia, West Virginia, DC, and New York, with plans to expand further throughout the Mid-Atlantic region and the US as a whole.
Bob Barry spoke with citybizlist publisher Edwin Warfield for this interview.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Can you give us some background on The Greene Turtle and how you became CEO?
BOB BARRY: The Greene Turtle was started in 1976 by Phil Anthony and Mike Holden. They had the vision of bringing The Greene Turtle from the Bahamas. They were over there in ’74, ’75 and they came across a really unique bar that had silver mugs hanging, and serving Rum Runners out of them, and they decided to come back to Ocean City and build The Greene Turtle of Maryland. It was basically canned beer and shelled peanuts, and that’s how it started, with backgammon boards and used books that they got from garage sales. Then, two years later, Phil and Mike decided they were going to sell it, and they sold it to two employees: Steve Pappas and Tommy Dickerson. They’re still going strong in Ocean City 40 years later.
I started my career with Marriott Corporation. From there I went to W.R. Grace. At that time, W.R. Grace were the third or fourth largest restaurant company in the United States. We had about 13 restaurants in our portfolio. We had just purchased the American Café, here in the Baltimore–Washington market. I took over and worked in that division for a while, and took over a division called Grace Hotel Services, and I was running food and beverage facilities throughout the United States. We were leasing food and beverage facilities in Holiday Inns, Embassy Suites.
After 14 years of big business, I decided to move on and go out on my own. I got involved in a company called The Great Cookie, which is in the malls and selling cookie by the pound. After two years of running that business, we fell short of trying to manufacture our own cookie dough in our plant in Owings Mills, and I came across a bakery in Baltimore called Miss Desserts. We purchased that from George Weston in 1997, ran that for five years, and sold that in 2002 to Bakery Express, who is the largest commercial bakery. They do all the doughnuts and cookies for 7-Eleven. Charlie Burman came in and purchased that. I stayed on for a little bit to help them.
Then I went to get reacquainted with my children. I was working real hard, so I decided to start a consulting business—did that for three years, and then in 2006, I was introduced to the founders of The Greene Turtle. I came on board and started to look at the opportunities for them at that time.
Q. When did The Greene Turtle’s acquirer, JPB Capital Partners, come into the picture?
A. Yeah, JPB came in a little bit after that. When I came on in 2006, the founders were deciding whether or not they wanted to continue how they were growing their business, which was basically using cash from the business and their personal money. I came in and did a quasi business plan with a friend of mine, and gave them some options. One would be to continue what you’re doing. The second would be go out and raise money from friends and family, which is a more aggressive growth plan, but you’ve got to sell your soul to your friends and family. Or, go out and try to raise money through a private equity group. They decided the private equity group would be what they wanted to do, so I took it out to market for them and came across JPB.
JPB is a group of guys that used to work for W.R. Grace, so I had a relationship with them and they certainly were interested in the brand. They knew the brand was based in Baltimore. They’re based in Columbia, Maryland, so it made a lot of sense. Originally, my plan was to get them connected and then move on—go back to my consulting business—but the more I got involved… We put the deal together in 2007, they wanted me to stay around, and so I took an active role in July of 2007 as the COO.