An honest look at doing biz in Austin
#WhyAustin is a special ongoing series featuring interviews with business leaders, politicians, and even outsiders. We’re taking a meaningful look at what makes Austin great while honestly examining the challenges our business and startup culture has.
Instead of talking about how Austin graces nearly every desirable Top 10 list ever published, we’re asking some of the most relevant names in business to opine. We’re interviewing company founders, politicians, startup investors, programmers, artists, musicians, and we’ve even interviewed leaders outside of Austin for their perspective. That is how you get honest feedback, folks.
#WhyAustin interview with P. Terry himself
In the video above, we chat with beloved local burger company P. Terry’s Owner, Patrick Terry who has a unique view on doing business in Austin. Below is the full transcript:
When did you move to Austin? What brought you here?
I went to school here as a University of Texas student. I started here in 1976 and graduated in 1980. I left for Dallas for five years wanting to come back. Back in those days, it was very hard to find a job in Austin. There was government or University of Texas and not much else.
I got an opportunity to move back in 1985, actually, with a state government position as the director of the Texas Sesquicentennial Commission, celebrating our 150th anniversary. That got me back to Austin. That was in August of ’85, and I’ve been here ever since.
Why was P. Terry’s founded in Austin?
Everything is timing. There’s no doubt that Austin had a big part to do with the creation of the concept and the fact that we opened it here. No question about that. It’s a very educated city and very conscious of what they eat.
It’s not a coincidence that Whole Foods started in and grew success out of Austin.
In a way, we mirrored that with the quality that we set. There’s no question that this -my concept- using all natural beef, hormone free, vegetarian fed, antibiotic-free meat doesn’t play in all the world. There’s plenty of places that it isn’t, I think. In Austin, it is. That definitely had something to do with opening in Austin.
What is the most attractive part about doing business in Austin?
I think it’s the population. I don’t think there’s any doubt that when you deal with people conscious of their surroundings and a good sense of what they’re about, it makes it easy to work with, too.
How does Austin’s quality of life compare to other cities?
I think that when you look at it, the quality of life in Austin is exceptional. If you look at the Hill Country, the Lake, the environment that surrounds it, the physical topography, it’s very unique.
It’s, in many ways, an oasis.
I think that has a way of transcending itself into everyone’s day to day life. It attracts a certain individual as a result.
I think everyone kind of “gets it.” Again, when you understand that, you’re able to market your concept to that, it’s a nice partnership.
How does Austin’s business culture differ?
To be honest, this is a tough town [due to] regulations. The city has an idea of what it wants to look like, and there are proper zoning laws. This is not Houston where anything goes. As a result, it’s different. I think that’s an issue, and you have be aware of that. It’s not going to change. Does it improve the overall environment of the city, and the way things are? You are going to get two different perspectives.
We [the population of Austin] are very successful. I don’t think there’s any doubt about that. I think the people who come here combined with the environment that’s here, I think everyone recognizes what they have to deal with.
How many current and future locations do you have?
Right now, P. Terry’s has 12 locations. Two are under construction. One’s opening up pretty soon. They’re both opening up at the end of 2016. We have two more in the works for next year.
You know, it’s another interesting thing about the city. If you go through the city, you’re really able to grow with it.
I think there’s a really good chance that we continue adding on just in Austin and the central Texas area. We’re growing. And as the population grows, we have an opportunity to grow with it. Maybe not later this quarter but in a few years.
Is Austin as small business friendly as polls proclaim?
I think there’s no question that it is small business friendly, certainly to a degree. The fact that there are several small businesses that have started here and have grown is just proof that that exists.
It happens everyday. Somebody opens up a trailer and is selling something and it goes to brick and mortar. Then, all of sudden it’s featured in a national publication. From there, there’s a three hour wait outside its door. That’s happened more than once in this town.
I think there is a sense of gold rush. A lot of people come here with high expectations, and a lot of places are opening up. It’s accelerated as a result.
What are the challenges to finding and retaining talent
The challenge is that we have very low unemployment. It’s easy to get a job here. Employees at every level can be picky.
We have a policy here of no politics. We don’t play games. If you come on here, we feel like you get a very fair shot. If you have a problem with your boss or your boss’ boss, you can call me. Everybody has my phone number. You can call me.
We start with a level playing field. From there, we try and take care of our employees. We pay way above the minimum wage. We’ve never paid below, never once. We give people birthday cake on their birthday. We offer non-interest loans if you’re in trouble.
If we have a good employee, the last thing we want to do is lose that employee. We go to great pains to keep our employee with us. We also offer Christmas bonuses to everyone. I think we paid almost $70,000 to our staff and employees, not including me.
You have to go to great lengths, but that’s part of our culture. We were doing that when we started. It helps us that that’s always been the way that we are because as the city has gotten more popular and unemployment has gone down, it was nice to have that already plugged in.
Which is brightest – Austin’s past, present, or future?
I don’t think there’s any question that it’s brighter today than it was yesterday. I can’t imagine it would not be brighter tomorrow.
When you live in Austin as long as I have and you’ve seen the economic ups and downs of the city, the country, the world through the first tech bust in the late 90’s. You’ve watched Austin fully recover just a couple of years later. It was astounding.
Then, in 2008, to watch Austin just bounce back ahead of everyone else in the country and places in the world, it’s very hard to knock this animal down.
It’s very hard. My assumption would be that [Austin’s future is] brighter today than yesterday and brighter tomorrow than today.
What does Austin need to do to attract more talent and business?
To be honest with you, I don’t think we have to do very much. I think the town, the city, speaks for itself. I don’t think anyone’s going to slow it down or that anyone’s going to stop it. I really don’t.
The diversity of the city now makes it pretty much bulletproof. You look at who really started this, the tech group, and the transplants from California who started coming here. Now, it comes from so many different angles.
Just imagine a beautiful three days of Austin City Limits and 80,000 people leaving Austin, that there is a percentage that are coming right back as soon as they can pack their bags. South by Southwest, the same thing.
From the technology, from the entertainment aspect, the music industry, there are just too many different angles to slow this thing down.
Does having so many colleges in town impact the Austin business ecosystem?
Absolutely. It has a huge effect. We’ve been fortunate to hire students while still at UT and keep some of them on, maybe not for the rest of their careers but certainly for several years.
The sources with the colleges here, Austin Community College especially, is huge. St. Edwards, University of Texas, even Texas State in San Marcos – these are all the lifeblood of the city, I think.
How do you feel about Austin being on every “best of” list?
I think being on the “best of” lists, there [are] pros and cons. There are a lot of people moving here, and there are times when, frankly, you wish we’d just take a breath. Just take a breath to maybe get our roads a little more square, all of our construction done to make transportation a little smoother. I honestly wouldn’t swap it.
What’s the biggest challenge to living here?
Traffic. It’s the single biggest change in Austin. Even in the last three months. You have to adjust your life to the time of day that you’re driving.
Is enough being done to improve public transportation?
I don’t think you’re ever going to be on track, but I’m not sure it’s [the city’s] fault. I don’t know where you add a lane on some of these streets, some of these roads. It kind of is what it is.
I’m also not quite sure that everyone’s going to ride a bicycle or jog in Austin. It is Texas. We like our cars.
How do you feel about Austin being dubbed “The San Francisco of the South”?
I think it’s becoming closer and closer to that everyday. I don’t think there’s any doubt that the venture capitalists that have started in Austin 30 years ago-I think that they’ve planted a lot of seeds in the tech community and a lot of stuff is getting done here without the expense of living in California.
Any advice for someone wanting to relocate their business to, or start their business in Austin?
I think you can’t be fooled by where you go. I don’t think that it is as simple as just planting a seed in this city. I think you had better know the city pretty well to understand the nooks and crannies.
It’s not all one blanket, and I would say learn the city first and know where you are and where you want to be. South is different than northeast. I’d be aware of that.
Do you call yourself a native Austinite?
I don’t. I’m from west Texas. Those are my roots, where I grew up. I feel like I’ve been here long enough to consider myself an Austinite, but since ’85, how many years is that?
What has changed since you moved here in ‘76?
6th street was just – there was just nothing else but 6th street. It was pretty small. It was pretty small. I remember standing on South Congress looking at the Capital from around where Hotel San Jose used to be, and none of that was there. Those were all ripped down hotels, literally. That’s not why I was there.
I remember seeing the Capital and thinking, “This makes no sense that I can stand here and see the Capital.” This is here. This is crazy. This is incredibly valuable.
Of course, over time, that’s what happens. It catches up, and just to see all the different changes? It’s amazing.
I think at some point, you can only tear something down and rebuild it so often. At some point, I would assume, it starts to slow down. I can see where people would come here and say, “Wow, the traffic is really bad. I don’t want to live here.” I don’t think it just continues. Maybe it does.
I know that it will continue to grow. I just can’t imagine it will continue to grow at the pace it’s growing. It’s crazy.
If we weren’t in 100 here three months out of the year, no one could afford to live here. We’d be San Francisco on steroids.
Any final words for anyone about “Why Austin”?
There is a perfect storm that has brewed over Austin for the last few years. It’s not a coincidence that this city has boomed.
Look at the natural environment and the resources that are available here, the schools, the tech industry that continues to thrive, and the entertainment industry.
When you look at everything that’s happened here at the same time, that’s just been building up, it’s not a shock. Yeah, traffic’s an issue here, but none of the other things that I mentioned are going to change. They’re just going to continue to grow and they’re going to grow better.
That’s going to bring a higher quality of individual into the city. It will fuel upon itself. It will not stop.
Do you intend on retiring in Austin?
I’m in an unusual circumstance. I’m 58 and I have an eight- and a five-year old. We’re not going anywhere. I’ll probably die here.
More leaders on Austin:
Here are some of the other locals we’ve chatted with:
Special thanks to our friends at StoryCraft for their phenomenal videography skills!