Next Gen Biz: Millennial Entrepreneur Taking Small-Town Restaurant Scene by Storm
Jackson Kysar may only be 23 years old, but a savvy business sense, indelible drive, and entrepreneurial spirit has rewarded him with successes well beyond his years. The result has been not only personally rewarding, but also taken the tiny town of Marengo, Wisc., by storm.
Jackson is well aware of his youth, but uses that to his advantage when developing innovative, social-media driven programs to drive business at his latest venture, The Burger Barn. The restaurant, making a name for itself in and outside the Marengo area, is just one of a remarkable list of ventures this highly motivated entrepreneur has tackled in his young career.
He’s not alone, either. According to research, millennial entrepreneurs are shaking up the business world. In fact, one in five millennials say they want to quit their jobs to work independently. It’s an attractive path, too, as 47% of millennial-led businesses exceeded revenue goals last year.
A millennial himself, Jackson graduated high school just a few short years ago and assumed he’d head off to college. But then an opportunity that proved too good to pass up presented itself, and he went for it. During a trip to North Dakota, Jackson and his dad, who had experienced a drastic dip in business at his cabinet shop during the recession, were impressed with all of the oil activity in the region and thought that could be a booming business given the location and heavy amount of truck traffic. Upon returning home, Jackson’s cousin came across a run-down gas station that happened to be for sale. Before Jackson knew it, he was part owner of Jack’s Store, a combination convenience store and gas station, ironically named after a store back where he’d grown up in Washington State – not after himself.
Jack’s Store remained open for about two-and-a-half years, but closed when another golden opportunity came up just two miles down the road. Jackson, along with his father and cousin, purchased 17 acres of open land on corner of highways 85 and 68, between Watford City and Williston, ND, and built – from the ground-up – a giant truck stop they named the Wild Basin Travel Center. Business was good – selling over 35,000 gallons of fuel a day – but the plan all along was to be in business for about three years and then look to sell to a commercial buyer like Flying J or Travel Centers of America for a large profit. That’s exactly what happened in July 2014, as Travel Centers of America took over and the Kysar clan collected their profit and moved on to the next adventure – back in Washington State – or so they thought.
On a trip back to his wife Stacy’s hometown of Marengo, Wisc., plans changed in a hurry. Jackson became aware of a large, historic property in the heart of tiny Marengo – population less than 100 – just popped on the market.
“The funny thing is that I used to joke with Stacy that we were going to move here someday and buy that store,” says Jackson. “But I never really meant it.”
Jackson isn’t a fortune teller, but perhaps it was fate talking. After a grueling purchase process, Jackson opened the doors of the space in November 2014. He went back to his roots in a number of ways, but carrying over the “Jack’s Store” name and installing fuel pumps were the most natural directions for his first venture in the massive, historic building.
There were plenty of areas primed for expansion, and it didn’t take long for Jackson to kick start that process. One area of the building of particular interest to Jackson was a full-service, commercial kitchen that he saw as an eventual restaurant.
“Marengo was the perfect location for a new restaurant and one that brought new life to the town,” he says. “There’s not a lot of competition, so I felt pretty good about business heading into the project.”
And a project it was. Jackson settled on a barn motif, calling it The Burger Barn. The decor spoke to the theme, too, thanks to walls of barn wood, tin from an old chicken coop, and even light fixtures made out of old farm buckets. The wait-staff wears jeans, plaid shirts, straw hats, and pictures of local landmarks and people pepper the walls.
“Marengo is a small town, but I wanted people dining to experience a big-town feel,” says Jackson. “Everything was professional and intentional. I worked with a designer to develop a logo, marketing and promotional materials, and the menu.”
That logo and other materials can be found all over The Burger Barn’s Facebook page, which Jackson says has been a major reason for the restaurant’s early success in bringing in patrons from Marengo and as far as 30-45 minutes outside of town.
Jackson relies on a blend of organic and paid promotions through Facebook, acknowledging that “Today, people are always on Facebook. It’s a social media world. If you don’t embrace that as a business owner, you’re more likely to be left in the dust.”
He started with simple, word-based posts and saw little to no return on investment. Once Jackson began incorporating photos of his delicious menu items, along with injecting a bit of personality and humor into the posts, that all changed. The Burger Barn now has 1,000 Facebook likes in just a couple short months and is engaging patrons for miles.
“In the restaurant business, you need to get patrons’ senses going,” Jackson says. “You need to get them to smell, taste, and see your food. Incorporating photos and descriptions of the food items in our posts helped business tremendously. If I hadn’t started leveraging these social media and marketing tactics, we wouldn’t be where we are today.”
Jackson also sees the value in tracking the metrics behind his Facebook posts, which is something he can’t easily do with more traditional advertising like radio and print. So for now, patrons can count on learning about promotions like Senior Monday, Kids Tuesday, and Whitefish Wednesday via the most popular social media tool in America – Facebook.
“We’re in Marengo,” Jackson says. “It’s an unincorporated town, so there’s not much here. We have to pull from at least 15 minutes away, so we need get creative and remain relevant.”
Jackson still has more room for expansion in Marengo, and you can bet Marengo can’t wait to see what this young businessman does next.