A rendering of what the Uncle Jack’s Tavern will look like when it opens in Lawrenceville, Georgia … [+]
Courtesy of Uncle Jack’s
Willie Degel, a former Food Network host and steak impresario, is plunging ahead on opening three new Uncle Jack’s eateries including two Uncle Jack’s Tavern’s and an Uncle Jack’s Meat House. He’s intrepid, and he’s not letting the coronavirus pandemic or people’s fears about dining inside deter his growth.
Creating the right funding and choosing sites in states that cost less to open have been keys to his expansion.
Degel. who is 52-years-old and resides in Old Brookville, Long Island, made a name for himself in the New York City area by running three successful steak houses: one near Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, and two in Queens, in Astoria and Bayside. That success contributed to his opening Uncle Jack’s Meat House in Duluth, Georgia.
And Degel has Georgia on His Mind, as the old song goes, because each of his new eateries will open in that state. Degel is debuting an Uncle Jack’s Steak House in Peach Tree Corners, Georgia and an Uncle Jack’s Tavern in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Both are slated to open in late 2020.
And in 2021, he envisions another Uncle Jack’s Tavern in Roswell, Georgia, right outside of Atlanta.
He’s also known for his wicked sense of humor. His LinkedIn profile says he graduated from “the school of hard knocks.”
When interviewed Degel was bursting with enthusiasm despite all the shut downs in the New York area and upsurges in Georgia. Asked why he’s expanding when the restaurant industry is so volatile and unstable, he replied, “When everyone says no, I say go. I believe there are opportunities for me in negotiations with developers and landlords in this period of time.”
He also described the atmosphere in Georgia as being much more open than in New York City where the pandemic ravaged the city. “In Georgia 50% of people wear masks and 50% don’t,” he says.
At its Duluth location for Father’s Day, which seats 140 people, he served meals for 300 guests, as opposed to 600 last year. “Not bad,” he notes. In New York, take-out and delivery constituted a mere 10% of its normal Father Day revenue.
In terms of raising money to capitalize his new eateries, Degel has employed a multi-faceted approach. He hires private equity firms to raise money. But as a former real-estate developer, he also relies on some of his own funding. Moreover, he derives funding from real-estate developers and the detailed data from local Georgia cities, gives him a better sense of the demographics.
Degel differentiates each one of his brands. He describes Uncle Jack’s Steakhouse as a premium upscale steakhouse with tablecloths, and yet friendly, outgoing service, where the average checks range from $100 to $125 a person.
He calls Uncle Jack’s Meathouse “more of a meat factory, like a hip and cool warehouse, where we serve an all-day burger, and sandwiches as well as choice steaks. It’s more versatile than the steakhouse, without any dress code, with an average check of $55 or $60 a person.”
At Uncle Jack’s Tavern, portions are smaller, with more affordable prices, where guests spend $35 to $40 a person. And there are only three steaks on the menu, an 8-ounce filet, small boneless steak of 14 ounces and a 12-ounce New York strip. It also has a lighter menu with more vegan items and more fish options (though all the brands offer that as an option).
Degel has found a following in Atlanta and its suburbs. He previously called it a “great eating city, with outdoor eating nine or ten months, which makes it a perfect fit for what I do.”
In fact, he termed the Georgia area, “very pro-business, with a more preferable minimum wage, and more reasonable rent.” Moreover, Georgia added two million people to its population so it’s growing.
“The world has changed. You can work from anywhere now,” Degel adds.
All of his restaurants were shut down due to the pandemic but continued to offer takeout and delivery. But the Duluth, Ga. outpost reopened on May 13th for indoor dining.
He doesn’t see New York City getting fully on its feet and opening indoor dining until early fall, though outside dining has recently started up.
And he envisions extending his footprint. Degel has talked about expanding to Chicago, in various casinos in Las Vegas and Pennsylvania, opening in North Carolina and South Carolina, and making a move in the Orlando area. The world is waiting for more Uncle Jack’s is his underlying theme.
Degel says he has the “corporate infrastructure in place and the operational staff. I’m looking for investors who want to work with me, investing in locations, though I’ll also put up my own money. We have the marketing staff, social media, PR.”
In the next two years, he expects to have 12 Uncle Jack’s eateries in place.
But Uncle Jack’s could play out in a variety of ways, Degel opines. “We could become a publically traded company or get bought out or merged with a publically traded company,” he says.
And what will it take for Uncle Jack’s to succeed? “It’s always about your people and picking the right locations. It’s about being totally focused and having great discipline, and executing every day, every steak, every burger, every martini, and making sure your customers leave happy,” he says.