The Rail Bar & Grille
By: Terri McClung
This is the eighth in the series of interviews conducted by the Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation about small business entrepreneurship in our area.
The Alleghany Highlands Economic Development Corporation offers entrepreneurial services, one-on-one business planning assistance, training, mentoring and operational assistance to existing local small businesses and startups.
We are located on the Dabney S. Lancaster Community College campus and can be reached at 540.862.0936 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
I recently sat down with Lee Roe and Aaron Fertig of The Rail Bar & Grille located at 905 Valley Ridge Road in Covington to get their view on the life of being a small business entrepreneur in the Alleghany Highlands. Lee can be reached by calling 540.965.6484.
Lee was born and raised in Richmond, VA. He later moved to Bath County and then in 1976 moved to Covington. He graduated Covington High School and later attended Anderson University. He worked Covington Motors, construction, Hercules, Lear and has been presently employed at WestRock for some time. He has one daughter Cathryn Roe and 3 grandchildren. He attends Life Line Ministries in Bath County and is captain of the Westvaco Rescue Squad.
Aaron is an honor graduate of Covington High School and athlete. He attended Ferrum College for 3 years and became manager of Applebee’s. He is now the General Manager for the Rail Bar & Grille
What sparked your interest in starting this business venture?
Lee: Actually there were two opportunities. One, the previous manager was ready to hand it over and secondly, the owner of the property was ready to sale.
Aaron was ready for a new adventure and with his experience in managing and me having the money to purchase the decision was made to move on with the idea.
Timing was the biggest thing.
What made you take the leap to become an entrepreneur while working a full time job?
Lee: Owning your own business is the only way you are going to make any money. When you work for someone else they are making money on you.
The building had already been remodeled, the building is structurally sound and so I made the move for the long term investment.
How do you generate all these new ideas for your business?
Aaron: A lot came from experience; my girlfriend has been a bartender for eight years so she has a lot of experience in making new drinks.
My mother loves to cook and she does the chicken recipe here. I make a lot of the specialty burgers and having the experience that I do in this industry, I can see things from other places, reinvent it and make it our own.
Some of the things have worked really well.
Lee: When you travel you a get a lot of new ideas that have not made it to this area.
One for example is the craft beers, between here, Lewisburg and Bath County the only other place is Sam Snead’s, but here you have a totally different clientele.
You can get a lot of ideas from Social Media which is a big thing.
You can get ideas for different drinks. It is also a good way to get contact information for bands, party ideas and it is an excellent way to promote everything.
One thing we are trying to kickoff now is a Teacher Appreciation with the school systems which will happen within the next couple of weeks.
People have been really good to me and my family since I have lived here.
Being from a small town you get a one chance deal and if people know you and your reputation, they will support you.
It works both ways too, we support everybody we can. Reputation can precede everything.
What do you look for in an employee?
Aaron: Character, trustworthy, honesty, integrity, and work ethic. Everything everyone wants to see in a person. All these things you should see in yourself as well.
We haven’t had to do a lot of hiring; our family has always worked together, my mom, dad and my younger brothers who help out with the dishwashing. Some of the others are those I have worked with before and I knew what they would be bringing to the table.
Lee: We give everyone here a chance. We have had a few who have had a checkered past but as long as you don’t bring any issues in here what you do at home is your business.
In here it is our business. This place is clean, drug free and honest. We have a lot of compliments on our food, our service, saying it is open with a fun atmosphere.
No hard heads allowed! If you act out in here, you are out. There will be no grey area.
We have anywhere from 150 to 250 people in here when we have bands or any other entertainment.
Everyone knows our goal here and we want a good clean atmosphere.
People want to come have a drink enjoy music and have a good time.
What would you consider the top three skills needed to be a successful entrepreneur?
Lee: Knowledge. Whether you do your homework or from experience it would be knowledge.
Honesty, if you run an honest business it will pay off. Do not try to short change people.
We have upped our quality of food here and the people are very satisfied. You need good service and good food in order to succeed in the restaurant business.
Aaron: Organization and it is not one of my best skills. Don’t think there isn’t a lot of work, it is ten times more work.
There is always something new popping up that needs to be taken care of.
It goes back to work ethic too; you must have the passion for it. You have to want to do it and prove it. It is a lot of long hours for the both of us but we love what we do.
What is your favorite aspect of being in this business?
Lee: Meeting people and having good music. I love music. Not necessarily the food part but the entertainment part.
Tell me about your products and services you offer and how you advertise?
Lee: The biggest and newest thing we did here was the craft beer. We have a six tap of craft beers and the food is more directed more towards Aaron’s end of it.
I developed a rough menu from the previous menu and Aaron tweaked it making it different.
He seasons the fresh made burgers, the wings and other items.
With the drinks, Aaron and Whitney got together and came up with some of our specialty drinks. It is a conglomeration of everyone’s ideas and it took off.
If you had one piece of advice to someone starting out, what would it be?
Lee: There is a lot of hard work. Now it will get better with time but starting out it is hard work. For example, we had a 16 day window and we were spending 10 to 12 hours a day in here sometimes so we could get open.
Aaron: We had to push it. You are definitely going to have some tough days but the good days always make up for it.
Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
Lee: In 10 years I see the possibility of another bar/restaurant. If this stays anywhere near or close to what it has been since opening then most definitely.
My goal at that time would be to either expand this place or look for another site.
We are pretty maxed out where we are right now.
How did you go about obtaining investors for this venture?
Lee: That would be me. I am the only investor in this. This is like a retirement investment for me in about 15 years. The money was there so the only way you can make money is to invest money.
How do you build a successful customer base?
Aaron: You must have good customer service.
It goes back to honesty and work ethic. You give people what they pay for and be consistent.
Being in a small town, you get to know people, recognize people, so you greet them by their names when they enter. You do things to make them want to come back.
Another thing is you want to offer what no one else has, like the entertainment we have here, the opportunity to have a good dinner on the deck, or in the fall watch football on a 60 inch TV.
We have a good little niche in our area. We always want good customer service, quality foods and quality drinks to keep our people happy.
Lee: You have to have a quality product and here it is service and food. The two big things we hear; the quality of our service and our people are friendly. You have about a one shot deal in Covington and if you start falling off they will stop coming.
Every six months we are going to try and change our menu.
Every month we are looking at changing the craft beers.
In the fall we are going to have different things with the football programs and local football where you get a discount if you come in with your ticket.
The only hang up will be after those local football games we will need some kind of control for those under 21 trying to come in. That will be our Achilles’ heel with some people.
There are three things with the ABC that can shut you down; over serving, underage drinking and taxes.
We offer rides for those that may need it.
We have had a few try to push their limits. We always want to keep peace offerings.
We hope to get a full schedule to advertise soon of what we plan to offer in the next several months!