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What do you get when you combine delicious food and a unique, funky atmosphere? There can be only one restaurant in the competition – Mellow Mushroom. With its emphasis on unique locations, psychedelic decor, and incredible pizza, Mellow Mushroom is a favorite restaurant nationwide with which Paragon is privileged to do business. Paragon has multiple ties with the Mellow Mushroom franchise with SBA loans to multiple franchises around the country, a traditional loan to the Eastgate Mellow in Memphis, and an SBA loan to the Germantown location. So what makes Mellow Mushroom successful and different from other pizza joints? We sat down with the folks who keep tabs on the day-to-day operations of Mellow Mushroom in East Memphis and Germantown to find out.
Steve Meek, owner of Mellow Mushroom Germantown, has extensive experience in the food industry ranging from Disney World to Harley Davidson’s executive office to general manager at Newk’s. But it was his stint as a personal chef for former Grizzlies player Mike Miller that brought him to Memphis and into Mellow Mushroom Germantown for the first time. Searching for a former Old Navy, Steve found a Mellow Mushroom in its place. Their bar quickly became a watering hole for Steve and his wife Julie, and this led to a friendship with then owner Cary Fairless. So when Cary was selling Mellow Mushroom, Steve was one of the first that came to mind, largely because of the way he values relationships and hard work. “It’s about being part of the community, part of being here all the time,” Steve says. “Some owners like to check in and go home. Julie and I actually run shifts.”
Scott Mathis, owner of Mellow Mushroom at Eastgate, came by his involvement in Mellow Mushroom through his family whose group has grown to become the largest Mellow Mushroom franchisee with seven locations across the southeast. During Scott’s college years, his mom and dad were looking for something different from their corporate lives when they opened their first store in Atlanta right before the 1996 Olympics. “The day I graduated college I came to Atlanta and started helping them at that store,” Scott says. Since that day, they have opened two more locations in Atlanta, two in Knoxville, one in Pensacola, and, of course, one in Memphis.
Pizza isn’t the only thing that unites the Mellow Mushroom franchises across the United States. Both Steve and Scott emphasize the customer-focused and community-centric attitude that each location has. The care that Steve has about his customers is evident in the way he speaks of his patrons by name. He spouts off story after story of his regulars whether they are bodybuilders who come in every Friday after their workout or a little girl who is proud of drawing him a picture to hang on the wall. “Everyone knows who we are, they expect us here. People know that it’s like coming home,” says Steve. Scott echoes the importance of a family atmosphere when looking at new Mellow Mushroom locations. “We’ve looked for locations where we could become part of the community between schools and churches and everything like that,” Scott says. “Everything we do on a day-to-day basis is very customer centric – serving great food and providing great customer service.”
One of Mellow Mushroom’s distinct qualities is its strong brand and freewheeling, hippy-like culture. While each Mellow is different in design and artwork, they all have the same quirky yet mellow (pun intended) atmosphere. “I love it. I love this culture. The culture is about having that freedom of expression," Steve says. With seven stores, Scott has a good bit of freedom with how he builds out his restaurants. Jon Oswald, Director of Operations for Scott, says, “Mellow’s unique, there’s no doubt. Every single buildout is different. Every single theme inside each of the restaurants is different. And that’s what draws a lot of interest from potential franchisees to the group.” The Germantown location has incorporated local influences with a mural that depicts Memphis musicians, and the Eastgate location is housed in an iconic circular Memphis building complete with a curved bar.
The future is bright for Mellow Mushroom. New restaurants continue to pop up around the country. Scott hopes to take advantage of this and set the tone as the largest Mellow Mushroom franchisee, as they are actively looking for continued acquisition and growth with Mellow Mushroom. “We want to be the gold standard for Mellow Mushroom,” Jon says. “We want to be the model franchisee."
Paragon is proud to have helped with the success stories of a fantastic franchise like Mellow Mushroom by helping get franchises up and running. “We work closely with Paragon…and connect the franchisee with Paragon at the beginning stages of the process so that they are able to secure the necessary funds,” says Kacey Brackin, Franchise Development Coordinator with Mellow Mushroom. “Paragon has been an extremely valuable resource when it comes to facilitating the financial aspect of our franchises.” Beyond just a loan transaction, Steve enjoys the personal touch Paragon provides, “It’s nice to have an old-school banking relationship where, whenever I’ve gone into the branch, everyone knows you.”
Scott summarizes Mellow Mushroom best when he says, “At the end of the day, it’s all about pizza and beer.” And if Mellow Mushroom franchisees continue to keep quality pizza and great customer service in their sights, the future is wide open.