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Survival can sometimes depend on the restaurant’s ability to identify and capitalize on “windows of opportunity.” Small businesses are presumed to be more flexible, having the ability to react more quickly to changes when they occur—but the risk is also greater for them than for large organizations, which can more easily absorb losses. But although there may be differences in scale, an important question for all organizations is whether they have the willingness and the ability to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. On February 14, 1995, Drexler’s Bar-B-Que, a small “neighborhood” restaurant in Houston, the fourth largest city in the United States, had an opportunity to test whether it had what it took.
Drexler’s Bar-B-Que is located at 2020 Dowling Street in an area of Houston called the Third Ward —an economically disadvantaged neighborhood not far from downtown —and has been in the family “almost forever.” The more recent history, however, begins in the late 1940s, when a great uncle of the present owners operated the establishment as Burney’s BBQ. He died in the late 1950s, and an uncle of the present owners took the restaurant over and, because of a leasing arrangement with another popular barbeque restaurant in Southwest Houston, changed the name of the restaurant to Green’s Barbecue. In the 1970s, James Drexler, 12 years old, began working with his uncle and learned the secrets of the old family recipes for the barbecue beef, chicken, and sausage. He learned the business “from the ground up.”
In 1982, when his uncle died, James and his mother took over the business, ended the leasing arrangement, and, in 1985, renamed it Drexler’s Bar-B-Que. To this day, it continues to be a “family affair,” but there has been increased specialization in tasks as business has grown. James Drexler continues to do all the meat preparation, his
mother, Mrs. Eunice Scott, handles the other food preparation (the “standard fare” is potato salad, cole slaw, barbeque beans, and slices of white bread), and his sister, Virginia Scott, manages the “front operations”— customer orders and the cash register. There are only two or three other full-time employees, although sometimes during the summer a couple of nephews work part time.
Drexler’s is a family business with strong underlying values. It is in the neighborhood and is of the neighborhood. Despite the success of the business and the increased patronage of individuals from other parts of the city (many of whom previously had few occasions to do more than drive through the Third Ward), the Drexlers have never considered moving from their original location. The culture of the organization, and the values underpinning it, are influenced by the current head of the family, Mrs. Scott. Her values of honesty, hard work, and treating people fairly and with respect—and her faith in God—permeate the atmosphere and operations of Drexler’s. She moves through the restaurant inquiring about individual needs—equally for long-time customers and new ones—and always with a smile and warm greeting for all. She is there every day the restaurant is open and holds the same set of high standards for herself as she does for others who work in the restaurant.
Values also get played out in the way in which Drexler’s Bar-B-Que “gives back to” the surrounding African-American community.
Drexler’s has, for many years, sponsored a softball team and a local Boy Scout troop. Youths from the neighborhood have opportunities to go camping and visit a local amusement park because the family believes that a business should not just involve itself in the community but has the
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obligation to seek out aggressively opportunities to help others.
In some ways it would appear that Drexler’s is not very flexible or adaptable. The restaurant is always closed at 6:00 p.m. and on Sundays and Mondays. The menu has remained the same for many years. Drexler’s has always been well known in Houston’s African-American community, especially that in the southwest portion of the city. Regular customers have frequented the restaurant for many years, and a successful side business of catering social functions has also developed. Business has improved every year. During the early 1990s, the business had grown to a point where the small, somewhat ramshackle, restaurant could no longer service the demand —there simply were not enough tables or space. So the decision was made in 1994 to close the business for six months, completely raze the building, and rebuild a new and modern restaurant (with additional space attached for future expansion into related, and unrelated, businesses by other family members). It was a good decision—upon reopening, business doubled. But the biggest test of the restaurant’s ability to adapt to changes came on February 14, 1995.
Mrs. Scott has two sons, James and Clyde Drexler. James is the coowner of the restaurant, and Clyde is an NBA basketball player. In 1994, Clyde Drexler appeared at the restaurant to generate publicity for the reopening. But on February 14, 1995, he was traded from the portland Trailblazers to the local NBA franchise, the Houston Rockets. Clyde had played his collegiate ball at the local university and was popular in the city of Houston. He and Hakeem Olajuwon, the “star” of the Rockets team, had played together in college and were part of the team known as the phi Slamma