05 Nov Bikinis, Texas Love and Philanthropy: Building an Empire with Mr. Doug Guller
You’d never think it, with his laid- back attitude and the coolness to his voice, but Doug Guller has singlehandedly built an impressive portfolio of over a dozen brands in food, drinks, and music throughout Texas. One of the reasons I wanted him in our magazine was the fact that he was introduced to me as “the guy who wants to open a Bikinis in each state.” … Oh, now you know who he is.
This six-foot money making machine is a classy guy with an amazingly positive attitude and self-confidence to spare (who turned out to be a natural in front of the camera). What’s it like to spend a couple of hours with Doug? It’s inspiring and it’s fun. He’s the man behind over a dozen awesome brands and venues in and out of the city, he actively gives back to charity and in the next couple of years, he might very well take over the world (or at least the ‘super fun, live music eateries’ universe). EV sat down with the very, very busy Doug Guller, CEO of ATX Brands and we found out a lot about this cool guy (and no, he’s not constantly followed by an entourage of babes in bikinis).
An unstoppable Entrepreneur
Bikinis was the start of it all. “I didn’t have any experience in the restaurant business, but I had learned firsthand that sex does sell”, Doug explained. “I found myself, after trying jobs that weren’t really what I needed to be doing, thinking about my next project of my own. When I thought of it for the first time, it occurred to me that sex, booze, food and sports are recession-proof. They are all basic necessities!” he joked. After his soaring success, he’s not too proud to admit that through most of it, he was basically “making it up as he went. I just started really small and hustled to fund myself. A lot of people say you should ‘play with other’s people’s money’, but I’ve never done it and I’m not a fan. It involves people who will always hold you accountable and now I get to call all the shots, enjoy my big successes and don’t have to explain any of my failures to anyone else. To me it’s like a big Texas Hold’ em and I’m all in!” I have to say, I could not agree more. As for his Bikinis crusade, he explained, “I’m not actually thinking of opening one in every state, just one in every state below the Mason-Dixon line. I do plan to have around 30 in Texas, though.”
Doug Guller’s other brands include some pretty hip spots downtown, such as Parish and Parish Underground, Vinyl, Chicago House and 508 Tequila Bar. My favorite is Pelons, not just for the amazing Mexican food, but also for its story. When I asked Doug about the name, he immediately chuckled. “I was talking to my right-hand guy and brainstorming about the name” – explained Guller – “and he suggested ‘let’s call it what the guys (in the kitchen) at Bikinis call you.’ I asked him, ‘Jefe?’ and he laughed and said, ‘No, the other name they call you…” So, as a testament to his bald-headed glory, Pelons proudly serves not only great dishes, but also pitches in with a great cause by contributing to the St. Baldrich’s Foundation. He’s also behind some awesome music venues, including the Historic Scoot Inn, Guller Hall and Schroeder Hall. I guess that he was really in the mood to diversify when he went and bought a small town…
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To me, it’s no wonder that Doug has enjoyed huge success. He is passionate and determined; the guy went on to brand himself as the ‘breastauranteur‘ (he actually has the trademark for it, and we’re not kidding). I mean, this guy’s got guts. Sharp as a tack, he’s made the most out of unexpected opportunities as they have presented themselves, and learned an amazing deal from his hits and misses throughout his entrepreneurial adventures. “I didn’t go to school for business and I don’t have any fancy titles and designations, but to me, it was about much more than that. Yeah, I had some stumbles, I learned a lot from them and I just moved on to whatever was next.”
During our exchange, it was quickly evident to me that Doug doesn’t spare a moment to further the ATX Brands realm. It was so funny that we were both on edge during the whole interview, as he was bidding online on a new domain for his newest venue out in Houston, Hoppies. The Woodlands will be the setting for his new Neapolitan pizza and beer eatery, set to open this Fall. It seems kind of ironic that at the time of this interview, the new chapter in his journey was a pizza parlor, when the first step he took in his entrepreneurial path – which was kind of a flop – was an order-by-phone pizza service, called 1-800-CHOICES.
A MENTOR AT HEART
While establishing a successful chain of venues and brands, Doug takes the time to better himself not only as the CEO, but also as a mentor to his team. He’s part of MIT’s Entrepreneurial Masters Program and is going through his first year of three. “I lead my team the best way I can, but part of it I’m learning myself. I keep looking for different avenues to be successful and for ways to transmit it to my team.” Doug credits most of his success to his fantastic team. “I don’t want it to sound cheesy” – he told me – “but I really have to say the reason for the success of ATX Brands is the incredible group of people around me. That is simply the reason. We are not a big team, we still need more people on it, but my team really brings great ideas.” It’s evident that Doug’s team serves as a big motivation, and inspires him to take on more and more. “Whether I’m doing it for myself or finding ways for my team to do it, I’m charged”, he explained.
ON A PERSONAL NOTE
Guller is a confessed workaholic, hungry and full of energy to take on even more work. However, and according to the 41-year-old restaurateur, “the amount of work has been very unbalanced, which is why I haven’t found FMG (the “Future Miss Guller”) yet. It’s not that I don’t want to settle down, it’s just that everything else has taken a backseat to all the projects I’ve taken on.” When I teased him about time ticking away to start having kids, he told me “Oh, I plan to have lots of kids. I’ve always wanted a big family… so tick-tock, right?!”. Doug also wants to take two months off, sometime between January and February, to take a trip to the South Pacific. “I love to travel! It’s so hard to make time, but this trip is something I’ve been really wanting to do and it’s long overdue.”
ATX BRANDS GIVES BACK
The donations made to St. Baldrich’s through Pelons have not only made a tremendous impression on the kids benefited by the organization, but has also brought a lot of joy to supporters and his own patrons contributing to the initiative. “This decision just started as a play on the restaurant’s name, but so many good things have come out of it. I love getting Facebook messages and emails telling us how much clients love that we support this charity. I want to show people how much this particular project has grown and I want to add a ticker to the website showing how much we’ve been able to give back.”
In the mood to contribute? Swing by the restaurant to try their Shrimp and Lobster Enchiladas. For every plate sold, ATX Brands donates $2 to the charity.
This article was originally published in the Fall 2014 Issue of VETTA Magazine.