There’s no rule stating that someone must reach a certain age in order to become a restaurant franchisee. Gary Chhina became one at 24 years old.
Chhina, a Ventura native, owns three Dickey’s Barbecue Pit restaurants across the Central Coast, including the one in Santa Maria, located at 2212 S. Bradley Road. Chhina’s other restaurants are located in Goleta and Ventura.
Dickey’s is a Dallas-based chain that specializes in fast-casual slow-cooked barbecued meals, namely brisket, ribs, sausage, and chicken.
How Chhina came to be a business owner in food service is not necessarily by accident but because of hard work and a little good fortune.
Chhina worked as a stocker at his parents’ grocery store starting at age 15. When he turned 18, his father made him part owner of the store, which came at a time when the store experienced a successful expansion. But that wasn’t exactly what Chhina wanted to do. He wanted to franchise.
Franchising is paying a company to license its brand and business model, which often relies on franchisees for success of the entire company. Many restaurants in America and throughout the world have such a practice; McDonald’s franchises, Starbucks doesn’t.
“My goal was to always go into food because when I was younger, my parents had Subways and I just had more interest in food versus a grocery store,” Chhina said. “It’s more controlled.”
He had enough money saved up to allow him to feel comfortable branching out on his own, so he did.
Chhina looked into several major restaurant franchises, including Subway and some non-food options to “test the waters.” He got some callbacks from a few chains, but ultimately went with Dickey’s. A representative got back to him immediately at the end of 2015, he said.
In September 2016, Chhina celebrated the grand opening of his first Dickey’s restaurant in Goleta. The store was a brand new location. Chhina thinks he’s technically the company’s youngest solo franchisee, although he is aware of younger people who come from families of owners.
He met one of them and their parents at BBQ U, the month-long school in Dallas where Dickey’s sends their franchisees. The school is held at an actual restaurant open to the public.
Things moved swiftly for Chhina once he opened the Goleta store. After a conversation with his franchise director, Chhina took over the Ventura and Santa Maria locations.
“It was an extremely fast thing to happen,” Chhina said. “I thought it was going to take me longer.”
Chhina conceded that at that stage in his life, he didn’t have many bills to pay. He also extolled the virtue of having a good credit score, which he said helped with the financing side of franchising.
The path to business ownership may have come early for Chhina, but now he’s aiming to make a positive impact, which for him requires not only providing quality customer service but giving back to the community.
One detail Chhina prioritizes is remembering guests’ names. It’s a practice he began at his Goleta restaurant, which has kicked off a chain reaction to the point that he’s now sponsoring festivals and events. Joining the local chamber of commerce also helps, he added. During franchisee training, Chhina learned about community marketing.
Several months into being a restaurant owner, it feels like he’s getting to know why all this effort is so important, he said.
“Dickey’s wants you to be very connected to your community,” Chhina said. “Our intentions are to let people know that our heads aren’t up here. We’re still human.”
• The next generation of business professionals is emerging. To connect them, the Santa Maria Valley Chamber of Commerce is hosting Santa Maria Connect!, a forum for young adults to build professional networks. Eric Bravo, a financial advisor for Edward Jones for nine years, will be on hand as a guest speaker. Beginning with a cocktail mixer, the event runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on March 21 at the Far Western Tavern located at 300 E. Clark Ave. in Orcutt. There is no cost to attend. For more information, email Alex Magana at [email protected].
Staff Writer David Minsky wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, email, or mail.
Correction: This column was edited to correct the spelling of owner Gary Chhina's last name. The Sun regrets the error.