Restaurateur Jeff Garrett
● By Kerri Regan
Photo: Brett Faulknor
With $2,500 in his pocket a few years out of high school, Jeff Garrett didn’t have his sights set on a fixer-upper hot rod or a lavish vacation overseas — it was a hot dog stand that caught his eye.
After working for restaurants and a gas station, he’d scraped together enough money to open Indognito in east Redding about 22 years ago. “It was out of business, so I offered $1,500 for the equipment and I had $1,000 to buy food and start it up,” Garrett says. “I was able to hire an employee, and we opened for breakfast and lunch. I hired one more person and we opened for dinner.”
He’s owned a lot of businesses since then, and today, Garrett sits behind a mahogany desk, strategizing the growth of his own franchise. Lumberjacks restaurant in Redding now has nine sister stores in the western United States. Five others are looking to open restaurants now, and he hopes to establish 50 to 100 before retiring. He employs more than 80 people in Shasta County, and close to 400 altogether.
The road to franchise development, however, has had all sorts of twists and turns. In 1993, Garrett sold Indognito and bought California Cattle Company on Cypress Avenue. “I didn’t have enough money to change the signs, so it was Jeff’s California Cattle Company,” he says.
He gutted and remodeled the place about 10 years ago, and it gets busier every month. For this, Garrett is quick to credit his employees, some of whom have been there for more than a decade. “The employees make your business,” Garrett says. “Everybody has decent food. But here, they see your blue car, the cook starts your breakfast and the waitress has your coffee when you walk in the door.”
And no matter how many restaurants he develops, California Cattle Company will always hold a special place in his heart — it’s where he met his wife, Susan, some 20 years ago. He hired her as a waitress, then took her as his bride more than 13 years ago. The couple have two daughters— Madylin, 10, and Abigail, 6.
The Garretts have owned a diverse array of establishments over the years — they owned the Impulse nightclub, along with Quizno’s, Jimboy’s, Planet Burgers and Planet Java. In 1999, they opened Jeff’s California Cattle Company 2 in the space where Mary’s Pizza Shack now resides in downtown Redding. They own Cindy Lou’s mini-mart in Cottonwood and Duke’s Steakhouse on Churn Creek Road, which he operated for several years as a Cool Hand Luke’s franchise before making it independent.
But the restaurant that he hopes will evolve into a retirement plan is Lumberjacks, formerly a Lyon’s Restaurant that he bought out of bankruptcy 12 years ago. “It took my wife and me six months to think of a name: ‘Lumberjacks, Where the Big Boys Eat.’ I knew it was the perfect name for a restaurant,” he says.
His experience working with other franchises has helped him fine-tune his own. “I’ve been in a few franchises and I know what not to do,” he says. “It was always franchisee against franchisor, and that’s not how we are. I make them like a part of a family. I take other people’s advice. People see things I don’t always see.”
When he and Lumberjacks partner Scott Bailey sell a Lumberjacks franchise, a team goes to the site to get it rolling. “We do everything from helping the guy do buildout to hiring to ordering to marketing to day-to-day operations,” he says. In addition to the Redding flagship, Lumberjacks is also open in Sacramento (two locations), Grass Valley, Yuba City, Willits, Susanville, Petaluma, Stockton and Las Vegas.
Though each of Garrett’s restaurants has a distinct personality, he strives to ensure that their core qualities are the same: Quality meals, clean facilities, friendly staff. “If you don’t take care of your customers, they won’t come back. You can’t have trash in the parking lot, people walking in the front door and no one saying ‘hi,’ dishes or silverware that aren’t clean. So many things can go wrong,” he says.
And although business ownership isn’t for the weak of heart, he says he is living his dream. “You’ve got to take chances. Bill Gates and Apple took chances — some good and some bad - but it worked out pretty good for them,” Garrett says. “This gets me out of bed and I can’t wait to get in and start a new day.” •