By Clare Venegas
You might not know FB Society, but if you call Dallas/Fort Worth home, chances are you know its brands or have dined in one of their locations: Whiskey Cake, The Ranch, Mexican Sugar, Sixty Vines and the Legacy Food Hall in Plano, among others.
Creating great dining experiences is something FB Society’s CEO, Jack Gibbons, MBA ’05, learned during his 25-year career with the Pappas Brothers, another successful restaurant group that operates nine restaurant brands, including Pappadeaux’s Seafood Kitchen.
But it was the mentorship he gained from University of Dallas professors while pursuing an MBA that gave him the confidence he needed to venture out on his own. We sat down with him to talk about his journey, what inspires him and where he sees the Dallas dining scene heading in the coming years.
It was born from a shared desire to change the hospitality business and dream a little bigger than most! Randy DeWitt, our chairman, and I met while I was working in Houston for the Pappas Group and began discussing our ideas, thoughts and hopes. Seventeen years later we’ve traveled the world, dreamed lots of dreams and birthed more than 20 concepts together. We probably learned more from our failures than the successes we’re most recognized for.
I could have never imagined doing what I do for a living. It’s really not “working” at all. I get to work with incredibly talented and creative people, build experiences that bring joy to people and make visions a reality on the daily. There is no way I could have ever dreamed this would be my real life!
I grew up in Pennsylvania, then went to the University of Houston for my undergraduate degree, where I majored in business. I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, and was just trying to figure it out when I got a part-time job first as a waiter. It was the early ’90s, and restaurants weren’t trying to necessarily get people with degrees. But at Pappas, to become a general manager, you had to have a college degree to move up. So I started as a waiter, and worked my way up to general manager. I ran multiple Pappadeaux locations in Houston and helped grow that into Dallas and Chicago. I spent 25 years there, so FB is the second job I’ve had.
Learning with the Pappas was amazing. I had been working in a senior operations role at Pappas for quite a while and felt it was time to invest in myself to grow beyond the role I was in. The independent thinking that the University of Dallas is known for was most attractive to me.
The professors had all been in the trenches. The program allowed me to gain perspective necessary to help me shape my own career beyond operations. Hearing the professors talk and reading about Peter Drucker and other inspiring people helped me think differently about business. So I’d say it wasn’t one class or experience, but the whole well-rounded education, from accounting and looking at P&Ls to marketing and learning about branding.
Those are actually my top five strengths from Gallup’s Strengthsfinder program. We took the time to assess each FB Society team member and learn their top five, which allows us to leverage each other’s strengths and build diverse and dynamic teams. As far as advice to aspiring entrepreneurs, I’d say two things: Dream bigger and be prepared to work harder than you have ever imagined.
Falling in love with my own ideas is certainly kryptonite, not just for me, but any entrepreneur. It’s critical to gather thoughts and opinions from a diverse group of trusted partners before moving too far down any path.
We worked our ***** off. Honestly, I’ve begun to hate this question because my answer is similar to what I share about success in general in the hospitality business. We had to adapt quickly, identify how to translate each brand’s DNA into a to-go model, and then find ways to best support our team and keep them employed. We hosted a daily strategy session with our brand leaders and made fast, continual improvement daily.
From a finance side, we tightened our belts, became as savvy as possible about government plans, and then our CFO, Dan Lawler, worked to quickly ensure our businesses were first in line to leverage available funds. The collective efforts of our leaders and field teams ensured we survived, and the trust built among our leadership team is unmatched.
I have many. I really see every successful entrepreneur as a role model in some way. I’m an avid learner and listen to podcasts, read articles and will always find time for coffee or a Haywire “Jack style” [Haywire’s signature whiskey cocktail in which agave replaces simple syrup] to hear someone’s story.
I love the evolution of the Dallas food scene. We’ve abandoned the idea that “celebrity chefs” are necessary to build high volume, over-the-top experiences, and I love the way our dining scene is embracing emerging talent. Chef Skyler Gauthier, our culinary executive at Haywire, is a prime example of the kind of talent we’ve begun to nurture in Dallas.
We’ve also become a destination for bigger brands to thrive. They know Dallasites appreciate incredible hospitality, and they show up to support.
I’m proud of the way folks like Iris Midler [founder of the Chefs for Farmers Food & Wine Festival] have also created food experiences outside the confines of traditional restaurants and really encouraged exploration and discovery. Dallas is a place where you can color outside the lines and experiment — which suits FB Society brilliantly.
Global, boutique, automated.
This story was originally published in the Winter 2022 edition of UD's alumni magazine, Tower. Read more of Tower here.