Huske Hardware House Restaurant and Brewery
Josh Collins hates clichés. But the owner of the Huske Hardware House Brewing Company in Fayetteville, N.C., just can’t help himself when asked a particular question. “It means a band of brothers,” Collins, 41, answered when asked what the phrase military alumni means to him. “And I really, really don’t want to be cliché about it, but you have a relationship with people while you’re in the military that says we have all experienced the same things. There are some in our society who have never experienced the things that happen to people in the military, and that makes those of us who have experienced those things a band of brothers.”
Without those experiences, Collins admits he doesn’t believe he would have achieved the same amount of success with Huske Hardware House – doubling the restaurant and brewery’s revenues to more than $3 million since opening in 2007. And why exactly is that, you ask? Well, if you ask him, it’s easy.
“The one thing that is imperative to a great business is leadership,” he said. “Leadership, and that is the number one take-away from military service, and what separates the ‘vetreprenuer’ from the entrepreneur. I learned more about that than anything else while being in the military. The problem I keep seeing people run into when starting a business after serving is that their ideas stay in the concept phase. The military taught me how I should treat running a business like running a mission. Analyze everything, organize everything, and run your business operation like you would a military operation.”
If Collins hates clichés, one would think he has to love accidents. After spending 20 years in the U.S. Army, most recently in special operations, he decided that he wanted to get in the real estate business. Along with a group of friends, he decided to put in a bid for his first piece of commercial property, a piece of property he had originally envisioned to use as apartments for rent.
What he didn’t realize, though, was that attached to the apartments was a restaurant. Talking it over with the friends with whom he had formed a small corporation, they decided to buy the restaurant outright and have a lease option on the real estate. All of this change in direction forced the veteran’s hand pretty quickly.
“That weekend, I went to Barnes & Noble and bought five books on how to run a restaurant,” he said. “From there, I started learning from other people. I had some really great mentors and for a long time. I thought, ‘I’m in the real estate business, not the restaurant business.’ But the best advice I eventually received was that I needed to understand I was now in the restaurant business, and not the in the real estate business anymore.”
The move to completely dive into running a restaurant eventually made a lot of sense to Collins, though only after he decided to look into his family’s history.
“I found out I come from a family of entrepreneurs,” he says. “My father owned a café in Illinois and my grandfather was also in the restaurant business. This has been a family tradition.”
“I always thought I was a 30 or 40-year guy,” Collins said when initially asked about how he got so involved with running a restaurant after spending 20 years in the military. “But I lost my first wife to Leukemia after we were married for 15 years, and that changed things.”
Upon losing his wife, Collins took a staff job to be with his children as they figured out what their next step as a family would be. Though he says he had every intention on returning to the military, a small conversation with his daughter turned out to be the lasting force behind him giving up his special ops duties once and for all.
“At first, I knew my children really weren’t looking for their dad to go to Afghanistan or Iraq,” he explained. “But after a while, I kept thinking about how much I really wanted to get back into combat. Then, one day, I was talking to my 12-yearold daughter, and she said ‘I don’t want you to go back because I know friends who lost their dads in Iraq,’ and that’s hard to hear. A 12-year-old girl, staring at me with her big blue eyes, I knew I couldn’t do it.”
Still, Collins said, he believes his productivity in the Army was complete when he officially retired in December of 2008. And it’s precisely that productivity he was able to convey for 20 years that he insists led him to be successful with Huske Hardware House.
“When I was in the army, I learned the value of discipline – early to bed, early to rise,” he said while reflecting on his past, adding that he believed being in the Army was a way to contribute to society. Then, after adding how much he hates to use those darn clichés again, he added one more.
“Now, I want to contribute to society in a different way,” he says. “You know what they say: Making a small contribution can go a long way.”