Dustin Brown is a Manager on the Business Valuation team at Blue. When he’s not calculating a client's market value for assets, you might catch him slinging some dough at Top Hat Two in New Castle, Ind., where he and his family have been serving Pizza King pizza for more than 50 years.
In this interview, learn how Dustin came to own this local, town favorite, how he balances two careers, and the experiences he draws upon when working with small business owners at Blue.
Blue & Co. (Blue):
Can you tell me a little bit about your pizza shop business?
Dustin Brown (Dustin):
Sure. The pizza shop is called Top Hat Two – Pizza King. We’re a Pizza King franchise that started with Top Hat in New Castle back in 1958. It was one of the first franchises in Indiana. Top Hat Two was established in 1972. It was owned and operated by my ex-mother-in-law, Kathy until 2020.
We’re a carry-out only store with 1 location, about 7 employees, and a very strong and loyal customer base. We continue to use the old stone/brick ovens which definitely makes a difference in the pizza taste!
What inspired you to venture into this entrepreneurial endeavor?
My ex-mother-in-law, Kathy, was looking to retire in early 2020 and had mentioned closing the store. Top Hat Two – Pizza King is a staple in the New Castle community. It’s one of 3 things that everyone who left New Castle always gets when they come back: Top Hat Two Pizza, Jack’s Donuts, and Bill’s Tenderloins.
The restaurant was my first job at 14 and I’ve been a part of the business ever since, filling in as needed, running the store during owner vacations, etc. When I heard Kathy say she might close the business, I immediately decided that I wanted to explore owning it.
Doing Business Valuation at Blue, I was able to value the business based on the cash flows and come up with a structure for the transaction. The transition started in late 2019 and was official in January of 2020. I knew I wanted to keep the business in the family for my 2 sons if they wanted to get involved.
What were some of the key challenges you faced while starting and running the business, and how did you overcome them?
Everything was new to me as a business owner. Bank accounts, Local, State, and Federal registrations, legal documents, taxes, operations, employees, HR, time management, etc.
You learn real quick what works and what doesn’t. I’ve made MANY mistakes, but none that aren’t fixable. I have learned that most mistakes ARE fixable, but it takes work.
I’m still learning and growing in the business, but I do feel very confident in my skills as a business owner. Those skills crossover into my work at Blue very nicely in the sense that I can speak to small business owners with a strong understanding of what they’re going through!
As an entrepreneur, you wear multiple hats. How did you manage your time and prioritize tasks effectively to ensure the smooth operation of your business?
This is a NEVER-ENDING BATTLE and I’m still learning. I still struggle making sure that I’m doing everything I need to do to ensure smooth operations in business and life. Luckily, I have a good management team in place who have been instrumental in my success as a business owner. I rely heavily on others at the restaurant to run the place efficiently and effectively.
I had to learn to trust people at a much higher level than I had ever done before. I still struggle juggling everything, but I’m much better at it now than I was when I started. You truly have to pick and choose your battles and not sweat some of the small things! Mistakes happen and you have to just accept them, learn, and move on.
How has your role at Blue allowed you to thrive while running two businesses?
Blue has always been flexible with me and my schedule. There are times when I need to leave to do things at the restaurant and I’ve been able to do that. My hours are flexible at Blue, so whether I’m working the traditional 8am – 5pm or off hours from 8pm – 12am, there have been no issues or concerns.
I strive on doing great work, but that can be difficult while doing multiple tasks at the same time. I’ve come to learn this and I’m actively and constantly adjusting to be better!
What skills or traits do you think you have gained as an entrepreneur that make you better at your day job here at Blue?
I think I’m better at relating to clients who also own small businesses. Being able to understand their pains and frustrations, but also their wins has been really rewarding.
Time management, interpersonal skills, relationship development, and general management skills are just a few that have been magnified by owning and operating the restaurant. I use these skills at Blue every day.
About Top Hat Two
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At Blue, our team believes in embracing the spirit of innovation and forging our own path to success. It’s with this mentality that we serve our clients and communities, but also in the way we approach our own personal initiatives and interests.
In the Vision to Venture series, we will interview and highlight members across the firm who are passionately pursuing entrepreneurial projects in their professional and/or personal lives.
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