John (Chip) Gaberino is the Owner and CEO of Topeca Coffee Roasters. Topeca was established in 2002 after the global market crash. That’s when Chip and his family developed a way to salvage their coffee business by transporting the product from El Salvador directly to the consumer. Chip has spent nearly a decade managing, growing, and shipping coffee beans for Topeca, making it a household brand with multiple facilities.
Chip graduated from Loyola University New Orleans with a Bachelor of Science in information technology, after which he moved to El Salvador to pursue a career with Unilever. After returning to the US, Chip worked with Mercury International Technology as an IT developer before founding Topeca.
Here’s a glimpse of what you’ll learn:
- Chip Gaberino reveals Topeca Coffee Roasters’ unique history
- How Topeca grows and manufactures its coffee beans for maximum quality
- Chip’s secret to achieving entrepreneurial success
- The challenges Chip faced when opening a new coffee shop and how he conquered them
- How Chip ventured into real estate
- The best advice Chip has ever received
In this episode…
Building a business from the ground up requires perseverance and is often accompanied by challenges and failures. So, how can you attain success as an entrepreneur?
Chip Gaberino advises identifying and taking advantage of profitable business opportunities and developing innovative solutions to problems that may arise along the way. Shortly after opening a new coffee shop, Hodges Bend, Chip struggled to obtain an outdoor seating permit. To rectify the issue and make his voice heard, he took to local television to express his concerns. As a result, Chip became an inspiration for other business owners and was able to expand Hodges Bend into the thriving business it is today.
In this episode of the Same Day Podcast, Mat Zalk joins Chip Gaberino, Owner and CEO of Topeca Coffee Roasters, to talk about the struggles and successes of entrepreneurship. Chip reveals how Topeca grows and manufactures quality coffee beans, his secret to running a thriving business, and how he overcame the challenges of starting a new business.
Resources mentioned in this episode:
- Topeca Coffee Roasters
- Hodges Bend
- Saturn Room
- Be Atento Podcast
- Mat Zalk on LinkedIn
- Keyrenter Property Management Tulsa
Sponsor for this episode…
This episode is brought to you by Keyrenter Property Management.
Keyrenter Property Management is a full-service property management company who helps their clients buy, renovate, and operate real estate assets.
They help clients build wealth while taking the headache out of property management.
That’s why, no matter what rental you have — single-family homes, condos, townhomes, or apartments — they can give you the management solutions you need.
To learn more about their services, go to https://keyrenterpmc.com/ or send them an email at [email protected].
Welcome to the Same Day Podcast where we discuss driving incremental business growth and other topics related to real estate, property management and entrepreneurship now to the show at hand.
Mat Zalk 0:19
Now, Mat Zalk. I’m the host of the same day podcast where I connect with top business experts and real estate leaders. I always like to mention a couple of fun guests that we’ve had in the past, we had great conversation with Scott Reeves a Chickasaw Community Bank recently, who happens to be a mutual friend of Chip in ours that we’ve all we’ve done business with, with Chickasaw, and so has Chip Lee Easton AeroVision, Corbin Marcotte of the investors broker just to name a couple. But before I jump into today’s show, The episode is brought to you by Keyrenter Property Management, at Keyrenter Property Management. We’re a full service property management company helping our clients buy, renovate and operate real estate assets. We help our clients build wealth while taking the headache out of property management. listenership you know better than most because you and I talked about it a bunch, but I’ll say it anyhow, we’ve got a client that purchased a property from the Tulsa county treasurer’s auction a couple of days ago. Have you been at that auction?
Chip Gaberino 1:20
I never have I wanted to go. It’s fun. It’s great.
Mat Zalk 1:23
But he called me and he said, he wanted to do a couple of things. First, he needed a quitclaim deed deed, which is what you need. After you buy one of those. Sorry, you need to do a quiet title suit, I should say, which is what you need to do after you after you buy one of those properties. And he also said he’s the the former owner, who of course now is this client of ours was still in the property. He didn’t know what to do. And he wanted to issue a notice. But he didn’t have the notice. And I was like, Look, we can handle all that. We can do all that for you. Don’t reinvent the wheel, I’ll go post the notice. We can send it certified in 30 days, if you’re not out, we can handle the eviction. We’ve got the attorneys, you don’t have to do any of that stuff. Let us handle all that we do it free of charge anyways for our clients. So let us just do it. He was thrilled to know that we can handle all that stuff. And we would do it for him before the property was even able to be leased or even renovated. So we try to help our clients any way we can. You don’t need to struggle through any part of the property management lifecycle because we can do all that for you. And we’ve got it covered. So that’s why it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a single family home or condo townhome and apartment or 100 of those. We’ve got the solutions that you need. Go to keyrenterpmc.com For more details, or email us at [email protected]. Chip you are here because Mike Bosch have attended capital now. Tendo capital introduced us I think, is that right? I
Chip Gaberino 2:48
love that. He’s like, almost everybody met each other.
Mat Zalk 2:52
Exactly. So thank you to Mike Bosch for connecting us. And thanks for being Tulsa’s social chair. I want to give a shout out to Taylor Brown also who I’d love to have on this podcast as another mutual friend of ours doing his business, which is you need a budget.com I’d love to have him on. I think he’s scheduled for sometime in the next couple of weeks. That’s fun. So thank you to all those guys for introducing us. But today we’ve got Chip Gaberino. Do you ever do really go by John ever, or no?
Chip Gaberino 3:26
I do. It’s back and forth. Because if I’m sorry, if I’ve signed my name, my email says John. Yeah, my real name is John but my nickname is Chip.
Mat Zalk 3:35
We call them Chip. His real name is John Chip is the owner and CEO of the Topeca group in Tulsa. He started out at Loyola in New Orleans and 93 graduated with a Bachelors of Science in Information Technology Services. After that he moved to El Salvador to pursue to pursue a career in information technology with Unilever. After a couple of years in El Salvador, he returned to the US worked at Mercury International Technology as an IT developer in 2002. He started to pecker with his wife, Margarita, a great friend of ours, wonderful woman, a total rock star in her own right. And he got his MBA from, from Oklahoma State University, OSU. He’s been managing growing and shaping Topeca for the last 19 years into the brand that it is today. And right now it supports over 100 employees at their concepts including Topeca, Hodges Bend, Lowood, opening a tender Saturn Room and nine bar. I’d love to get into some of those all great facilities. I frequent them each. So Chip, you and I haven’t really discussed a lot of this stuff. I mean, we’re friends, we haven’t discussed a lot of stuff and I noticed or I’ve I’ve I was recalling in my life, how you know, being in the corporate world helped shape some of the entrepreneurial spirit that I have now. For, I guess better or worse, right? I mean, there’s things that that I do because I was in in the corporate world, what are some habits that I have? And there are also some things that I knew I didn’t want. And I some cultural things that I developed in our business as a result of being in the corporate world. But what did you learn about yourself working for Unilever that made you want to go start a coffee brand that made you want to do it in your hometown, come back to the United States, tell me a little bit about the origin there.
Chip Gaberino 5:23
I think I’ve just always been a problem solver. And so, if I see a problem, or something is not being done, in a manner that I think it should be, or that it could be done better than just naturally inclined to be drawn to it and try to fix it. You know, so I, I ended up getting my MBA in 2000, to 2003. And my daughter had been born, my son was about to be born. And it was, you know, wasn’t gonna get any easier to write to do that as I got older. So I figured to get it out of the way. While I was doing that, my, my mother in law came in town to visit her granddaughter, and asked if I wanted to get involved in the family business, you know, her family had been growing coffee for about 150 years at the time, now it’s under seven years. And you know, they were losing money, farms got paid at that time, it dropped to an all time low of about 40 cents a pound. And cost was about 90 cents a pound to produce. So pretty serious negative number. A lot of farms around the world are harvested by migrant workers, because of the nature of the amount of labor needed in such a short period of time and accessibility to that labor in a rural farming environment. However, El Salvador is unique. It’s super densely populated, there’s a large urban areas that are within the coffee farming region. And so we have generations of people, Salvadorans that have workforce rather than micro workers. And so my mother in law wasn’t about to just do what a lot of people around the world did, which was stop producing, stop managing the farm because he didn’t lose money. That way, you just didn’t produce any money. Versus if you actually worked your farm, you lost money. And so it took about a year of studying and I was kill two birds with one stone and got an independent study one of my classes and your business model that I thought would work of expanding what they were just beginning in El Salvador and expanding it in the US side. And the idea was that the precipice of it all was that at the end of the day, we determined that the coffee industry was in a bad industry, it was just that the farmer didn’t have the leverage in position to take advantage of the swing of the market. And that the people sitting at desks in New York are there to our and to unfavorable of a position or to favorable position to be able to always leverage the that risk and volatility.
Mat Zalk 8:23
But But So in essence, you took you figured out a little bit of the supply, side issue, labor, I’m sure other input costs, etc. But then you just begin to control the demand yourself so that you could, so that you could give a fair price, or you could help the farm in the end. And you can cut out an intermediate and actually just take it from the farm and put
Chip Gaberino 8:45
it on shelf. Yeah, I mean, it was the price point between what the farm got paid and what the consumer paid, there was more we determined that there was more than enough margin for funding the whole business model, it was just that too much of it was going to the people sitting at a computer trading in New York, Chicago, and around the world, so that the challenge of any commodity is that it is a it’s converted into a financial instrument. And so the supply and demand can be influenced by elements that have nothing to do with actual consumption.
Mat Zalk 9:19
But then, but then you had to actually manufacture the demand. I mean, you had you had to come back to Tulsa, you actually manufacture the demand because the solution is in cutting out the middleman in the in the case of tobacco going from farm, you know from being the actual coffee shop, but without the demand here you have no you have no way of of solving that intermediary problem.
Chip Gaberino 9:41
Absolutely. So you know, we worked towards connecting with roasters around the country. There are a number of specialty coffee roasters, really well known that will buy from our farm and visit our farm on a yearly basis and see incompetency stick Coffee and see how we operate you know, there’s there it was the development right about that time what is called direct trade coffee. And that that is where because the market was struggling so bad in the high end specialty roasters were, we’re seeing this market just really devastate the traditions and history of, of these farms around the world. And so they started cutting out the middle guy themselves and trying to buy directly from farms with the, with the incentive and idea that the differential of what a farm got paid for investing this much more, in order to make sure that the quality was was what it needed to be, they only got paid this much. And so yeah, but but the roaster knew that there was a market for the consumer would pay if the quality was there. And
Mat Zalk 10:54
so what is the farm doing that can actually like? What is it what what goes into coffee that of that a farmer can do that a eventually a roaster or, or a retailer, cares about can taste can smell can feel like what
Chip Gaberino 11:11
I mean, it’s it’s like any manufacturing and farming, right? So you got studying and understanding the botanical varieties that that grow best and taste best, but the soil and the terroir that’s there, you’ve got managing the trees themselves and pruning them and making sure that each tree is healthy, you have the idea of making sure that you’re controlling the fertilizer inputs correctly, and the harvesting themselves is a really big one, it’s very expensive, and a huge one, it’s the largest labor input is just harvest, and making sure that it is hard, we have to go through typically anywhere between three and five times a year, and pick only the most ripe cherries, it takes not only a lot of attention and time, but it also takes training to teach people how to visually see the right ones versus the unripe. You know if you think about the difference between picking an apple that’s a week and a half to two weeks early versus an apple that’s perfectly right, right, or if you if you wait too long, and then you pick it up where it’s over. Right, right, there’s that sweet spot where it’s just perfect. The manufacturing, we do all the milling ourselves, which is unique. And so we we actually take the cherry coffee comes in a little cherry has two seeds in it to beans. And you can there’s a multiple of different processes you can do from drying the seeds in the skin in the fruit all the way down to removing the fruit, skin the fruit and then soaking it in water for 12 to 24 hours usually, and then drying it on patios, and then you dry him and dry. Next, something as simple as we spent money at the very beginning to improve our dryers. And it extended the longevity of quality of the unroasted coffee by threefold because it was just a better dryer that treated the beam more gently. And
Mat Zalk 13:24
so Folgers for example, like mass manufacturers of coffee, they don’t care about little details, little bits of the process that help the coffee tastes a little bit better. They just need they just need huge quantities. And so it just doesn’t matter to them. They want price and they want the lowest price possible and other other roasters or other retailers want are willing to pay for for much higher quality. Is that right?
Chip Gaberino 13:48
I mean, at the end of the day, like you have different segments of lower margin higher lower price higher volume businesses and you have other segments, they’re always going to be higher volume, or lower volume, higher, higher price higher margin. And so we produce everything at the farm. We sell everything from what’s called a soccer, which is literally just the worst of the worst. We sell it right that’s how a farmer makes money is by selling everything. And so there’s a market for everything, all based on on price. And so one of the challenges of specialty coffee and specialty I think anything food wise is having not only high quality but doing it consistently. And so knowing and learning through the last 20 years of doing this. This is our 20th year is the challenge has been making sure that we can provide that same level of quality every single year.
Mat Zalk 14:48
And so before you before you have now you have I mean Tech has got the roaster which is a world class facility in Tulsa, downtown Tulsa. They’re right outside downtown Tulsa, and then you’ve got five locations. But prior to doing any of that you actually had Have you just had to create your sales engine? So you could go into coffee shops go into roasters and deliver them a product? How long did it take you to go from one to the other.
Chip Gaberino 15:10
I mean, as far as being an entrepreneur, I, I’ve been mixed. I think background in the sense that I’ve always been a problem solver, which is, if you can pick one thing that makes an entrepreneur, I think that’s what it is, is this, sometimes insane idea that no matter what I can figure it out. But at the same time, I was also when I started was very risk averse, and sometimes too frugal with my investment. And so, but I knew that I didn’t know a lot of things. And so when I started, I worked anywhere between minimum 80 hours a week, there was a year that I worked in average, probably have 100 100 and 100 210 hours a week, I took kids and young kids. And I worked, it was really rewarding in the sense of what I learned for a year, I worked a lot of the about about eight hours a day of that time was spent inside of a specialty grocery store in town, that we I got to speak with customers every day all day long. And understand, give them samples, understand their input, what they wanted, what they didn’t want, why, why and that was huge. And so once, once I got through that year, it really things started changing, of being able to have a better understanding of what market, what the market was, what segment of the market I really wanted to focus on, and how and what I needed to do in order to be successful in it.
Mat Zalk 16:49
What’s funny about that story is I worked in college at Freebirds, the original Freebirds in Santa Barbara, California, which then it was sold, franchised and sold the private equity and the rest is history. But Mark Orfila, who happens to be the cousin of Paul who started Kinkos. So it’s an entrepreneurial Lebanese Syrian family. He used to say a couple of things. One, it was reminiscent of what you just said, because he was at the store every single day. And he would take a piece of steak and he’d hand it to somebody and he would get the reactions that the right reaction, the wrong reaction with the taste, what do you what do you sense, like, it was just an insane process that he went through, it’s just awesome to watch. But he used to say, there’s nothing more intimate that you can do than put food into somebody’s body. And so yeah, it’s the same thing. I mean, you’re putting something into somebody’s body, they’re ingesting it. And so the the, you know, the the process of watching that and making sure that it’s a high quality product, so that you can deliver a consistent thing every time and it’s just an amazing to me and amazing, I have a vision of you like standing there by the by a by a, you know, by a bin full of beans and brewing a little bit of coffee on a table and helping people understand what do you like, what do you not like it was reminiscent of that experience that I had in college, it was just a great thing to do to see. And you know, Freebirds does more business than any other restaurant in the central coast of California despite being in a small college town associated with UC Santa Barbara. So on the on the topic of just entrepreneurship and doing what you need to I mean, 100 hours a week, 100 plus hours a week is a lot of hours. I mean, that’s a lot of time to put your business in. Elon Musk talks a little bit about you know, sleeping in his office on a couch when a you know, super starting their first business he and his brother. But part of being an entrepreneur is just that sense that you can’t fall back on anybody else to solve this problem. You’re not going to go to anybody else. You can’t go to a managing director in your office and go hey, I got this problem. What’s going to happen you have might have mentors and advisors. But there’s a feeling that you’re the backstop. And if if you don’t solve the problem, nobody else is going to solve the problem. I want to get into some of the restaurants some of the real estate and a bunch of other stuff but quickly you were telling me a story and I want to hear it again. But Hodges Bend the pandemic came, we needed some outdoor dining space and the permitting for the for the patio for this little parklet that you wanted to build and now there are many of them around Tulsa and they’re great for outdoor dining and alfresco dining I guess it’s called in in the many months of wonderful weather that we have. Tell me a little bit about this patio the permit the the rabbit hole that you went down in that entrepreneurial spirit, I want to capture some of that in terms of just not giving up on on when somebody says no.
Chip Gaberino 19:30
So actually started but a little before the pandemic. So we when we opened Hodges, nine years ago, in 2013 and we ended up in that area that we were opened it it was we were basically the only business that was an operation.
Mat Zalk 19:52
Yeah. What was the rest of that block? Nothing was there. I mean now low woods there now. Bohemian pizza across the street. Is there there’s, it’s like a thriving, thriving area, you guys didn’t even
Chip Gaberino 20:03
know the buildings between that. And as you go towards downtown, there, there used to be just lots of land, there wasn’t a built, there were no buildings that were out condos, there were no apartments. So there was a sidewalk that was there. And we put out and submitted in our permit some tables and chairs, and we got approved for the permit for the building permit, and then we built up tables, chairs. So lo and behold, about a year or so in, we get a notice from the city that we needed to have a permit, and we didn’t have one. So I said, Well, you know, we didn’t know. So just give me the form. And whatever fee I have to pay, I’d be glad to write. And it made sense, because the sidewalk is technically the city property. And so from a liability standpoint, there’s also the issues of making sure that the tenant that is operating a sidewalk cafe has gives right to the city to move everything in order to access anything that’s below sidewalks on so forth. And and so the challenge was that when I asked for assistance, the I was told that I didn’t really need to, I asked for assistance from city counselors at the time. And they, they were helping and guiding on what I need to do. And the end result was that they said that I didn’t need to fill anything out. So beautiful. This happened about two or three times over about a four year period, where it came up again. And they told me I had to fill out a form I said, every time I’m glad to fill out any form I need to fill out and pay whatever annual fee to pay. And then the issue went away. And so finally, the third time I said, I’m not I don’t want this to go away, I want to fill out whatever form I have to fill out and pay whatever I need to pay. Well, it turned out that the you know, the, the segment of the city that wasn’t controlling it. The way that it was supposed to work was that they were supposed to work with the applicant get the application filled out, form an opinion. And then that opinion was supposed to go to the city council, at which point the applicant would have a chance to argue their case of for or why they should have access to get a street parking or street, patio apartment. And but no one knew this, no one in the City Council at the time knew it. People were just getting denied. And while everybody throughout the city had patio seating, there was actually only one company that had actually filed and gotten approved for sidewalk patio. And that was a it was one single restaurant on Cherry Street.
Mat Zalk 23:00
And all they had they done it years and years before that institutional knowledge had been lost, like in the city or how that was the
Chip Gaberino 23:07
challenge was there wasn’t any logic to it, of why and why not, you know, and so there was no assistance or help being given on a path to doing. I wanted to do the right thing. But there wasn’t an option to do the right thing. And so I went on TV, finally, because I wasn’t getting heard. In the city ended up the mayor put a hold on all removal or implementation of any kind of permits or anything. And then actually did the right thing where the city hired an individual, this woman who did a study and figured out best practices throughout the country, and implemented a great application process that works. So it really facilitated after the pandemic did happen. I think it really facilitated the implementation of allowing all these companies in restaurants to have parklets in the street. Because there was already a process that had been created for that similar type of
Mat Zalk 24:09
club basically, without that catalyzing without that catalyzing moment, without you going on TV to be like what is happening? Nobody knows their value. Like that wouldn’t it wouldn’t have happened it wouldn’t have been clarified at any at any point. Potentially.
Chip Gaberino 24:27
It would have been more difficult.
Mat Zalk 24:29
I mean, I love it. That’s that’s just the nature of it’s like it’s got to get done. And I don’t care how it gets done. I just have to do it. And do you remember the point at which you thought I just need to go on TV? that the solution is that I just need to make this known and bring attention to it so that so that I can get something
Chip Gaberino 24:44
done? Yeah, I mean, it just didn’t make sense to me, right? Like there are times where systems break down to the point of plutocracy and there are and become dysfunctional systems become dysfunctional. It’s something And so, to me, it was just so clear that if people knew the reality they wouldn’t before, right? And what actually motivated me more than anything I think was I was asking through all different departments throughout the city and every one of them agreed with me but was afraid of, at the time repercussions of of them verbalizing their voice for what I wanted. In public, that’s that was the dynamic of, of how it was being up the city was being operated at the time. And and so when I saw people being afraid to do their job that meant to me that something needed to change. Yeah.
Mat Zalk 25:41
So on the on the spirit of that, that entrepreneurship and I just can’t I can’t get enough of it. Because it you know, working 100 hour days, sorry, weeks, not accepting no as an answer. Doing some of the work yourself. You know, I saw Dean West who owns the construction company westco and owns the building that that our business is housed in, was out vacuuming the corridor today. And I was like that is entrepreneurship. It’s just like something needs to get done. And I’ll just do it at some level, right? You can’t operate that way forever at scale. Elon Musk isn’t isn’t likely to vacuum all the corridors for all of his companies. But at some level, just things have to get done. Tell me a little bit about Hodges Bend started in 2013. First, that was the first f&b facility that you ran. After, after you’d kind of built up Topeca, right?
Chip Gaberino 26:36
Yeah, so we had done we had one coffee shop, I think at the time, maybe two. And then we opened up Hodges, and it was probably one of my most enjoyable experiences of building out a project and a concept and a business. It was more sweat blood and tears. I think then NDA that we’ve done to date where you know, I jackhammer, the floor is soft, cut them laid, PVC, ran the packs myself. We did the tin roof that’s in there. Most of that was done by one of my business partners, no Bush, but it was, you know, we ended up doing it for probably 50% of the cost than it would have been, if it someone else did.
Mat Zalk 27:19
But and that was driven purely by cost. Consciousness.
Chip Gaberino 27:23
Yeah, I mean, I’ve always been challenged. And it’s been a process of, of adjusting my risk aversion to be fit. Yeah, at the end of the day, if you don’t take risk, you can’t make money. Yeah. And it’s easier to take risk as you build your foundation. And so as I built my foundation, I’ve been able and able and mentally to handle taking bigger risks, but at the time, you know, I my resources were limited. And one of the things that I whenever I do something, I really want to do it, well, I want it to be the best. I don’t want to have something. And so we want, you know, at the time, we had to figure out a way to get what we wanted with the resources we had, which is a very valuable experience. Because also having enough money that you can just throw it something to solve, it isn’t necessarily the best option. And so being forced to actually figure out a way to make it work within a budget is important. That kind of stuff.
Mat Zalk 28:28
So fast forward. Now, you have Hodges that Hodges do well, from the beginning. I mean, was it even though it was in that corridor where there wasn’t so much activity at the time? Did it start off
Chip Gaberino 28:41
pretty strong? Yeah, you know, I mean, there’s a there’s definitely an element of stupidity that it takes to be ignorant or unfiltered. Yeah. Belief, zeal, and some reason it’s gonna work, right. Yeah. And so it because it was in the middle of nowhere, somewhat, it was definitely had to be for it to be successful, had to be a destination, alright. And we got lucky enough that we built an operation that people were more than willing and wanted to come to. So we got really fortunate that it’s been successful since day one. All of my f&b businesses were successful before the pandemic, and most of them are still struggling. And we’re, you know, myself as well as all the restaurant. Most of the restaurant operators that I know of, or their goal is just to get the businesses to break even there. There are some anomalies that including, you know, one or two that we have our cells that are still doing really well but the biggest challenge is just that you got everybody’s habits of when and where and what they consume was different. Their sensitivity to inflation. Have you have the challenges of, you know, full full scale restaurants, the food products just keep going up and up and up. And people’s ability to, to absorb, you know, our ability to pass on and maintain the same margins is just very difficult.
Mat Zalk 30:20
Yeah, when you guys open Saturn Room, I mean, did you take any of the lessons from Hodges I was Saturn Room at that point. I guess the was the Brady theater was now the Tulsa theaters was was still nearby, Keynes was around the corner. But Main Street wasn’t Main Street.
Chip Gaberino 30:36
No, and what so the big wave are somewhat seen because no one ever really tracked traveled or traffic added to that specific area and still to this day that there’s not the main walking flow goes between the gathered or the gutter green two, up to Main Street tick ticking, right. And so the we had to basically develop that knowledge within the customer base that we were there. And it was really just a bunker that we again, we’ve we have kind of a we’re always seems to be drawn to all beat up abandoned. Ignored locations, not really what what I’m doing now, right? It everything with the real estate that I’ve done over the last couple of years is finding gyms that I feel are not getting the attention and love that they deserve. So we turned what was basically a people call it a bunker. into kind of a, a place that transports you on to until vacation. Yeah.
Mat Zalk 31:54
And so fast forward now to the point where you’re doing all these real estate deals. What what do you what drew you to this business and what drew you into real estate? What lessons from your from development of Hodges and from Saturn? Do you now implement so you can do the real estate work that you’re doing? Tell us a little bit about the real estate work that you’re doing
Chip Gaberino 32:18
in general. So I think a lot of what I’ve done is about luck, luck is about being in the right place at the right time. And as you learn, you can narrow that window enough to have a better probability of being lucky. And so identifying those opportunities is just the key to and striking when you see something that’s worth investing in. You know, I realized that what I had been doing over and over again, was real estate I was just doing and spending my money on someone else’s property. And one of the things that I think resonated was there was a movie I was watching about McDonald’s and the founder and how he said, one time in one of his McDonald’s university classes, or whatever it is, he said something to the effect of what asking the class what business they were in. And everybody said the hamburger business or the fried business. And he said, No, we’re in the real estate business, because that’s basically where most of the, the business model the money comes from, is through real estate. And so I just determined that at that point, I didn’t want to spend the building that Saturn was in, got bought, and they weren’t going to build a high rise. And so we had a timeline for the lease to expire, that gave us plenty of time to it was a very successful concept. So we decided if we were going to spend another couple $100,000 in building out a new one, we might as well do it on our own property. And we wanted to stay in the same area in the arts district, and there wasn’t a lot available. And we finally found a building that we liked, but it turned out that the the owner did not want to sell it unless they sold all the buildings in that area that he owned. So I started trying to find a solution, right, like you just have to have the grit and then the determination to to find a way you know, as the reason why something isn’t hasn’t been done usually is because it’s not easy. And so it takes a little bit of effort to be able to to find that path to success. And so I put together a package through and learn about opportunity zone investments and I learned about historic tax credits and you know, the buildings were something that you could easily walk past and not blink an eye and but if you looked underneath the blanket, you would see how beautiful inside the buildings were and so
Mat Zalk 34:57
but how did you how did you even know that? I mean, how did you know, how did you get into the buildings? How did you when was the first time you walked into the buildings? How did you understand that these buildings were were gems, as you call them.
Chip Gaberino 35:08
So we engaged with some commercial realtors and asked what properties were available. And we looked about three or four different ones. And as we walked once you walked inside, and that was the cool thing was once I took other people inside, and at this point, we’re all leased up. We’ve expanded from so the building that we bought, the buildings that we bought was 35,000 square feet, we’re adding an additional 20 of new construction in a space that were one of the buildings that burned down years ago, we ended up buying and have negotiated a partnership to build out a building that’s across street, that’s another 120 115,000 square feet of old building all of these which, you know, give them another 510 years of being abandoned and leaking, that they would have gotten to the point where it would have been just a teardown. And so the the reality is that we in order for it to work well, to answer your first question was when I would walk people into the space, and their their eyes opened up, that was one of the most fun things was walking people in past that facade that just didn’t have much attraction. And they saw the soul that is inside of these buildings and the old patina on the brick. And like there’s even some brick that has exposed has been like, stained with the smoke from when there was a fire and it has like a really cool patina on it. Yeah. And so seeing those spaces after we’d go, we’d purchased we’d locked it down and then walking people through and seeing how excited they were, you know, made me feel confident. And then
Mat Zalk 37:03
how do you feel about you’re helping to shape Downtown Tulsa, whereas 10 years ago, 15 years ago, I heard somebody say the other day was, the only reason we would come downtown was because the spaghetti warehouse was there. But you wouldn’t go you know, at particular times a day, etc. I mean, what was What’s your memory of downtown? When you were a kid? Or when you’re a teenager? In? How do you feel about having shaped it to a different place today?
Chip Gaberino 37:27
You know, I think the cool part of Tulsa is it’s downtown. Personally. If I get if I could choose one thing, I mean, there’s obviously there’s lots of things that are going on the river and gathering place in Turkey mountain, everything is all the different developments are going on. But at the core and heart, what distinguishes us from a lot of the surrounding cities that are of similar size is that we do have a beautiful downtown. And what makes it unique is not only the full history of it and architecture, and the beautiful art deco buildings, but it is that the development, and the businesses down here are almost entirely local. And it’s that curation of what we as a city, and as citizens of the city, no, the city needs rather than it just being filled with a bunch of national brands and boxes. That’s I think, what makes it beautiful, so yeah, it’s fun, it’s a great, rewarding and enjoyable thing to do.
Mat Zalk 38:38
And the changes from when you were a kid.
Chip Gaberino 38:42
You know, I that’s the weird part for me, I think of I’ve always said is that I don’t see D’Antoni different, like I know that before it was a ghost town, and there was no, you know, we would come down and I would I would in the days that I would work 100 and some odd hours. So I’d work at the grocery store all day long. And then I’d go we were at the Mayo Hotel, which was at that time just vacant and gutted. And there was there was no business there. No roasting there. I was the only human in the building. And we were roasting there originally before we even had a coffee shop. And it was super late at night. And I mean all of that literally I would see drug deals going down right in front of our building. And they turned around every once a while and look inside the window. Because I was in a dark room with the light shining over the coffee beans and the roaster and just they would just sit there watching me while they’re doing drug deals. And so I know it’s different, but same time I don’t love it any less. You know? Yes. I loved it as much then as I do now. So
Mat Zalk 39:47
one other opportunity deal or opportunity. What is it called opportunity zone deals. What other historic tax credit stuff you want to do in the future. More in downtown more around Tulsa moron Oklahoma.
Chip Gaberino 40:01
So, I’ve got 1234 big projects underway right now. All of which have, historically, except for one. And then I have a building that I really love that. I don’t want to say what it is, but it’s a pretty large building that is absolutely gorgeous. And again, is one of those that people walk by and just see light. But I see I see the bones and what it could be. So I’m, you have to learn to say no, and to pick your battles. And yeah, I think by I’m starting already to have some coffee meetings with different people and and setting the groundwork. But probably won’t have time to focus on it until next year. Yeah. All right. But it would be a pretty cool project.
Mat Zalk 40:56
What do you what do you what are you listening to? What are you reading? What do you find inspiring for for your various businesses.
Chip Gaberino 41:03
So I’m kind of unique in that. I’m very numbers oriented, tested out of math didn’t have to take any in college. I have a love for the arts. But I in reading and literature and but my attention span, I’ve always had to go to tons of classes when I was young for reading because I was so slow. I’m the slowest reader in the world. Last I have to confess the last time I read a book was a comedy back in 2002. Wow. called Jesus, my best friend Jesus, his best friend named Biff.
Mat Zalk 41:45
Would you recommend that book?
Chip Gaberino 41:46
I laughed my ass off. It’s hilarious.
Mat Zalk 41:49
So how do you how do you ingest information
Chip Gaberino 41:53
products? So I do read articles in journals a lot. Wall Street Journal and economist and Financial Times and Washington Post and listen to lots of podcasts. Yeah, that’s my main.
Mat Zalk 42:08
So what are you listening to? Now? That’s That is interesting.
Chip Gaberino 42:12
definitely Atento Podcast.
Mat Zalk 42:14
Wow. I don’t even know Atento has a podcast. Oh, really? Oh,
Chip Gaberino 42:17
it’s awesome. Who ran it? And they haven’t had it posted recently. But they have some great ones. Wow. And then the standard. Daily and and we’ll go to his every morning. So cool.
Mat Zalk 42:32
Any any, any memorable advice from any mentors that helped you along the way that
Chip Gaberino 42:39
was worth repeating? Yeah, I mean, I think that you got to have grit, you got to learn to just suck it up, as my dad always would say. And
Mat Zalk 42:52
entrepreneurship is grit. Yeah, it’s I mean, that’s it.
Chip Gaberino 42:56
And then you got to also determine not just because you can do everything doesn’t mean you should. Sure. I think it’s healthy and fruitful to do it once and have enough perspective to be able to better manage the people who you ended up putting in that position to do that job and understanding what are the skill sets that are needed for that job. But I think that it took me a couple of years to learn that, but I learned very quickly, I think that just because I could do something doesn’t mean I should. And so finding and developing a team of people that are excellent at each one of those tasks is really that point of, of converting from linear to exponential, I think growth and successes. Yeah, being able to
Mat Zalk 43:51
I one thing I find frustrating those, you know, the feeling that you can do everything better than the person you delegate to. You don’t have the capacity,
Chip Gaberino 44:03
or we’ve talked about it, and it’s been fun watching you. Because like I remember, two and a half years ago when we met like that was that was a hardcore struggle. And you’ve done planning such an awesome, intentional effort at overcoming that and being able to empower other people. I’m sure you still micromanage a lot. But you know, at some point you can’t you have to make a choice, right? Like, you either have to decide that you want to be a one shop operator, and you’re there and it depends on you or you develop ability to be okay with other people’s failures.
Mat Zalk 44:42
Yeah. I mean, I appreciate you saying that I struggle for sure. I mean, I attempt to delegate I struggle but I also go back and I like check things and I go gosh, like why did it take us two days to do that? Why did it take us five days to do a unit turn when my my what I would have done would have been lining up the inspection five days prior having all my vendors in place, you know, paint day one of sheetrock paint day one. The second thing day two, they like it shouldn’t just it shouldn’t take that long I struggle and I get frustrated. And, you know, I guess the difficult part of any entrepreneur is understanding that not everybody else in the business lives and breathes and sleeps that business. Right? There are many people that this is a job, they may love their job, they may be great at their job, but at nine o’clock at night, you Chip were roasting coffee, you might be now thinking about your next deal or what’s going on in the business or how you can improve something, it’s naturally where your brain goes, but your people as good as they are, might not be thinking about that they’re with their families, enjoying family time watching the movie doing whatever else, and it’s
Chip Gaberino 45:48
expectations, that’s a lot of it is developing, instead of spending that time of sweeping the floor every time then develop, you got to spend some of it be okay with it not being as clean as it should, and then spend some of that time upfront to develop this SOPs. And then a metric that allows you to monitor it and enforce it. Rather than just doing it yourself,
Mat Zalk 46:13
the EOS platform has definitely gotten me to that point for I mean, a couple of things that I’ve realized you need capacity to build capacity. So if you’re in the business every single day, you don’t have the time to hire somebody. But you know, taking the time out of the business to hire that allows you to have capacity to hire more and do more and build those SOPs, et cetera. But I
Chip Gaberino 46:31
think that’s the interesting challenge for almost every business. Not all, but almost every business right now is that, you know, the great resignation is not necessarily that everybody’s just quitting, it’s that they’re constantly switching jobs. And so one of the challenges for a lot of businesses is that when that knowledge leaves, you like juggling, you can, you can gradually add more and more balls, but if someone just threw 10 balls at you to juggle at once, you’re gonna drop them off. And so one of the challenges is just been through COVID is rebuilding those teams and re reinvesting and figuring out a way to retain employees in this market and retain that knowledge that you’re and money and time that you’ve spent developing that right those structures. Those are the I think that’s the biggest challenge these days. Yeah.
Mat Zalk 47:19
Chip, thank you for being on I want to give you a huge shout out your local hero. I mean, you’ve just got you’ve built up downtown and you’ve got a bunch of awesome businesses. Everybody listening or watching go check out the websites of all Chip’s businesses topecacoffee.com Hodges-bend.com Lowood Tulsa which we didn’t even get into today, but it’s a delicious restaurant has a host of stories on its own. Bringing in the right chef, bringing in the right people updating the menu constantly. The food is amazing. The wine selection is amazing. The songs are amazing. So that’s all great Saturnroom.com Chip’s, various businesses specializing coffee, cocktails, exceptional food and a bunch of other fun stuff, including real estate Chip, anything else you want to say.
Chip Gaberino 48:07
You rock. Appreciate you.
Mat Zalk 48:08
I appreciate you so much. Thanks for being on. I
Chip Gaberino 48:10
appreciate that you came, made the decision to come to Tulsa and stay here and make it your home and continue making it a better place.
Mat Zalk 48:17
I appreciate that. I love Tulsa so much. Thanks.
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