Friday, July 19, 2013
More on Mio's: Words from the Owner and CEO
It's no secret how hard the city was rooting for Mio's Fort Thomas. 15 North Fort Thomas Ave. is an important property within the city and the business community. Two failed restaurants in that location in the past five years had the stakes for Mio's very high. When somewhat of a household name, Mio's, came to Fort Thomas, it should have been a match made in Caketown.
"I've never seen a community band together as much as they did to try to support a business." said Debbie Buckley, Renaissance Coordinator and Economic Development Director of Fort Thomas.
But for whatever reason, it did not work out.
Sole proprietor and first-time restauranteur of Mio's Fort Thomas and owner of 15 N. Fort Thomas Ave, Mark Fowler, acknowledged those reasons that led to the abrupt closure Tuesday afternoon. "We did have a fair amount of things go wrong early on. Guest management, seating people all at one, money management, we were basically just juggling debt. There are a lot of things I wish I could have done differently. Hindsight is 20/20."
CEO of Mio's LLC, Allen Harless, was at the Mio's Fort Thomas location to help the restaurant try to get on "auto-pilot" as he had done with other Mio's locations throughout the area. "I was spending the majority of my time in Fort Thomas trying to get it up and running smoothly,"he said. "I should have been at other locations at times, but I had to try my best to get Fort Thomas going. We were turning it in the right direction."
Both Fowler and Harless acknowledge there was a meeting in January of this year to discuss whether to close Mio's Fort Thomas.
"I didn't want to close," said Harless. "It's takes time to turn things around. We were going in the right direction. Sales were (trending) up and costs were (trending) down."
Harless was admitted to the hospital for health reasons Monday night. He received notification that Mio's was to be closed Tuesday. With no cell service in the hospital, he didn't know the extent of what was happening at 15 N. Fort Thomas Ave until some Mio's employees came to visit him on Wednesday afternoon.
"I didn't want to close the way we did because it makes it very difficult to keep the restaurant a Mio's now," said Harless. "By closing you sort of put a stigma on the restaurant now. Ideally, we would have liked to have another (franchisee) buy it from the current owner. Now that's not very likely."
"If we could break even, we'd be open," said Fowler. "I am going to be financially devastated from this. We thought the the spring was going to whittle away the debt, but that did not happen. We should have closed earlier."
Personally and from others' anecdotes it seemed like Mio's had started to figure it out. I had been three times last week. Service was good, the food (which was never really an issue) was great, and the atmosphere was starting to feel like Fort Thomas. The manager team, which was a virtual revolving door for the first year, had a solid group of people.
According to Fowler, to date the restaurant was up $5,000 over last July. "It was extremely hot last July. It surprised me that we weren't doing better than we are currently doing this month."
It's just a sad situation. There's no other way to put it. There was so much potential for Mio's and that location is an important one. The business community cannot afford to have 15 N. Fort Thomas sporting a "For Sale" Sign instead of a business marquis. It should have been a success and under the right circumstances, it absolutely can be.
The way in which the store was closed was probably the most shocking part of the Mio's closure as employees came to work to find a sign that the locks had been changed and they were out of a job.
"Closing a restaurant was out of my knowledge base. I'd never done it before and didn't know how to do it right," said Fowler. "I have a sizable debt and at some point you have to stop the bleeding. My house and family are on the line and it wasn't working. I've taken zero income and put every dime back into the business since opening. It's just been a negative situation financially, set aside the first two months. My family is first."
"As a property owner by closing Mio's I'm going to have employees and customers that may take their frustration of closing out on the building or theft to occur. I've got to make sure it's a marketable property. There was no good way to close it. It's not easy for anyone," said Fowler.
So what's next?
Both Fowler and Harless believe the ideal situation would be to sell Fowler's interest to another Mio's franchisee, although both have doubts that can happen at this point.
Fowler has had the building for sale for a while, but said that a "For Sale" sign should be going up on the property shortly. "At this point, I am going to try to sell the building, pay the vendors and try not to have too much debt, but that's worrisome at this point," said Fowler.
Harless said that he had at least two interested parties looking to buy Fowler's interest. "One had come to look at it. He looked at the sales and knew how much it normally takes to open a Mio's," he said. "He said that he was interested and that the two changes he'd want to make was to move the upper kitchen downstairs to where the banquet room is currently and have a walk-in area in the back. They were all resolvable issues."
This story will be updated.