Tim Bair doesn’t pass up a good opportunity.
The owner of Bair’s Sports Grill, The Bent Penny Tavern, T-Bairz Sports Bar and Grill and The Rock says it all started in December 2007.
He borrowed $140,000 from his father and father-in-law to open a restaurant – the first Bair’s Sports Grill, in Republic. He says there was no option but to succeed.
“I couldn’t fail. I had three kids; I knew I’d have to do whatever it takes,” Bair says.
Now, Bair and his wife, Jennifer, have four Bair’s Sports Grill locations across the Springfield area that generated $4 million in 2018 revenue. The local chain is most known for its large selection of burgers.
Bair caught the entrepreneurial bug and now operates multiple restaurants, which he says have all come about through an unplanned opportunity and a gut feeling. He and his wife also opened JL Bair’s Home Decor and Gifts in 2017.
Mike Danzer, director of operations for all Bair’s restaurants, says Bair sees inspiration where others don’t. When Bair decided to add The Rock, which opened in June in Galloway Village, Danzer says he was worried about selling something other than burgers. So far, Danzer says The Rock has been a hit.
“Most of the time, Tim doesn’t go out looking for these things,” Danzer says. “They just show up, and we jump in with both feet.”
The only opportunity Bair has turned down so far is franchising the concept. His name is on the door, so he says it doesn’t feel right to hand the reins to someone else.
While Bair’s Sports Grill has dozens of burger options, customers can order custom burgers, bringing the options to 150 variations. Bair says the team recently made changes to the menu, which brought the number of burgers to 35 down from 50.
“It was huge. You could hide from each other or hang glide,” Bair jokes about the oversized printed menu. “This menu is streamlined a bit. … You see what sells, and you see what people like.”
Some of the crowd favorites are the Cheesy Bacon Ranch burger, the Black Mamba and the Chili Cheese Burger. Other burger options come topped with a fried egg, macaroni and cheese, or teriyaki sauce and pineapples.
“If you can imagine it on a burger, we put it on a burger,” Danzer says. “When you go into a restaurant and you have to choose from 50 burgers, that can be overwhelming to some people.”
For all of his restaurants, Bair uses the same suppliers, including SGC Foodservice, Wil Fischer Distributing Co. and local microbreweries.
Through a partnership with 4 by 4 Brewing Co. LLC, Bair’s Sports Grill soon will offer a Bair’s Brew.
Derek Shimeall, co-owner of 4 by 4 Brewing Co., says the new brew is a wheat-style beer. He says he’s been friends with Bair for years, and this partnership made sense for both of their businesses. Bair said he’s sold over 135 kegs of 4 by 4 beer at all of his restaurants so far this year.
“Tim has a very devout following and many different restaurants, so the hope there is that if we’re selling 10 kegs now, maybe that moves to 20,” Shimeall says. “I think we financially gain from just visibility and marketing.”
Shimeall says 4 by 4 Brewing also is making customized brews for Tortilleria Perches and Flat Creek restaurants, as well as for the Members Only band.
For Bair, it’s all about the relationships with customers and the communities in which he operates. There are two Bair’s Sports Grill locations in Springfield and one each in Republic and Nixa.
“You can get a cold beer anywhere,” he says. “I tell my staff that we’re not in the restaurant business. We’re not in the bar business. We’re in the people business.”
To teach his philosophy, he has six “Bair-isms” for employees to follow: have a great attitude, have a smile on your face, don’t lie, don’t steal, show up on time and take pride in their work.
“In this town, there’s so many restaurants and places to eat. Anymore, probably one of the biggest things is that it’s about the experience,” he says.
He’s right. There are over 650 active restaurant licenses in Springfield, according to recent data from the city business license office.
Danzer says upgrades to all of the Bair’s Sports Grill locations is on the horizon. Declining to disclose the planned investment, he says the team plans to keep the sports theme but revive the restaurant spaces.
As part of Bair’s community emphasis, Bair’s Sports Grill offers a fundraising program called Bair Hugs. Through a pancake breakfast, groups can raise funds by selling tickets to an all-you-can-eat breakfast, with $2 from every ticket going back to Bair’s. Bair says there’s a pancake breakfast almost every Saturday.
“Your kids can only sell so much advertising, so much popcorn, so many candles,” he says, “so Bair Hugs is a way for us to open the doors to the community.”
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