Hibby’s Sports Grille — West Plains, MO
- Published: Tuesday, March 3, 2020
While living in West Plains, Missouri in 2012, Mike Hibler noticed a need for a restaurant where he could enjoy good food and watch a sports game. On his way to work every day, he noticed an abandoned building that looked like a log cabin. He always imagined what he could turn the building into, and one day, he decided to pitch the idea to his wife, Stephanie, and his mother, Cheryl. The family contacted city hall to inquire about who owned the building, and they developed a rough business idea for a restaurant. Once the building owner agreed to rent it to the Hiblers, Hibby’s Sports Grille was officially born.
The restaurant started small with a simple menu. They purchased a food truck to use as a kitchen and built a deck around it to connect it to the back of the building. With Cheryl’s accounting and bookkeeping experience and Stephanie's restaurant management skills, Mike found it easy to implement new ideas and a strong culture. However, there was another member of the team that made it possible to overcome startup obstacles. Early in the process, Mike contacted Darrell Hampsten at the Missouri Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in West Plains. Before Hibby’s Sports Grille ever opened its doors, Hampsten was setting up and attending meetings alongside the Hiblers, communicating with the bank and other key people, and sharing his knowledge to best help the team.
"He wanted to see it happen. He wanted to see the transformation, and he believed in us the whole time," Mike said.
As the years went by, Hibby’s Sports Grille continued to grow and thrive, but that brought about its own problems. The building was lacking a proper kitchen, and the family had to consistently add things on to keep up with their growing popularity and demand. Everything they had acquired in 2012 was purchased to test out their ideas, but nothing was sustainable. Around this time, Mike followed a business opportunity to Texas, where he stayed for three years. Stephanie joined Mike in Texas while Cheryl continued to run Hibby’s. Mike and Stephanie traveled back and forth for a few years, but with the building's lease continuing to rise, they had a decision to make: sell Hibby’s Sports Grille and move the whole family down to Texas or jump in and renovate the West Plains building. In 2018, after much consideration, Mike and Stephanie moved back to Missouri and prepared for a complete overhaul of Hibby’s Sports Grille.
Hampsten walked alongside the Hiblers as they secured a guaranteed loan from the Small Business Administration (SBA). This loan allowed them to purchase and renovate the building they had been renting. They were able to build an actual kitchen and add new bathrooms, an extra dining room, and an outdoor patio area. After Hibby’s transformation, the Hiblers saw profits rise tremendously, and they are still expanding. They are preparing to launch a new website and a fresh menu with hopes of continual growth.
Like most restaurants, among Hibby’s Sports Grille’s biggest challenges is that of staffing. They combat high turnover rates by investing in a strong culture. Being a family-owned business helps add to the family environment among the employees, and the managers aren't afraid to get in and get their hands dirty. It's common to find Mike, Stephanie, or Cheryl behind the register or cooking and serving food.
"Culture in a restaurant is everything," Mike said. "You have to make the employees believe in what you’re doing. It’s about the atmosphere. When you invest in people, they notice that."
Through the obstacles, Hampsten and the SBDC have been a constant support for the Hiblers. Hampsten continues to introduce them to people in the community and has helped them get involved in the Chamber of Commerce. As they prepare to introduce Hibby’s new menu, Mike and the family continue to work with Hampsten to produce more growth than they’ve seen in the past eight years. Now that renovations are almost done, the Hiblers have big dreams and goals for Hibby’s Sports Grille.
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