Philip Sobeck is the grandson of the founder of Chicken Shack, John Sobeck, and the son of Mark and Mary Sobeck. He attended St. Dennis elementary school in Royal Oak, Michigan and De La Salle high school in Warren, Michigan. He has a Computer Science degree from Kalamazoo College.
After graduation from Kalamazoo College, Philip Sobeck started working as the store manager at the Chicken Shack on Woodward Ave. in Royal Oak, MI. He maintained that position for approximately two years. He then decided that he wanted to become an owner in the business. He purchased a portion of that Chicken Shack location in 1999 and became a co-owner. In 2001 an opportunity to purchase an existing Chicken Shack location in St. Clair Shores, MI, presented itself and Mr. Sobeck purchased that location. A few years later in 2005, another opportunity to purchase an existing Chicken Shack location on Mack Ave. in Grosse Pointe, MI, presented itself and Philip purchased that store as well.
The Chicken Shack businesses were all successful and Philip Sobeck decided that he wanted to pursue opening additional locations. The recession of 2008 made the business banking industry resistant to new loans, putting a delay in his plan of opening up new locations quickly, but 1n 2011, he opened up a new Chicken Shack location in Livonia, Michigan, with his business partner Jason Gould. Being successful at this store, Jason and Philip opened up another new Chicken Shack location in Riverview Michigan in 2013.
Philip Sobeck still wants to continue to expand the number of Chicken Shack locations he owns in Michigan and built another new store in Brownstown, Michigan, in 2018. Ideally, if the current business conditions continue, his plans are to try and open new locations approximately every three years.
In addition to the Chicken Shack business, Mr. Sobeck has also participated in the real estate industry as both a landlord as well as a house flipper. When Philip turned, 18 he was talking to his uncle who is a real estate agent and was incredibly interested to hear that landlords can make money each month just for providing a house for someone. Philip convinced his parents to co-sign on a loan so that he could purchase a house that he could rent out. It was a four-bedroom house in Ferndale, Michigan, that Philip rented out during the time he was in college and then a couple years after. He sold it in 1999 for a profit and used that money to buy into the family business.
In 2008, the great recession hit the United States and it hit the Detroit area faster than the other areas of the country. Philip saw that houses were being sold at ridiculously cheap prices that were artificially low because of the economic conditions in the country. He discovered that there was a list of homes that came out each Friday that the government was auctioning off starting at $10,000 and requiring a highest and best offer by Monday at 4 p.m. Philip participated in these auctions over the next couple of years, purchasing 26 houses (approximately one per month) generally in the $15,000 per house price point. These were all in the Detroit suburbs where houses typically had sold for above $100,000 prior to the recession. Philip rented these houses out for a period of approximately five years until the real estate market stabilized and the sold them off as tenants left. The money earned in this experience was enough to be able to build and open additional Chicken Shack locations.
In his personal life, Philip Sobeck married his high school sweetheart, Francesca Sobeck, after graduating from college. Philip and Francesca lived in Warren, Michigan, for approximately 10 years in their starter home before moving to a slightly larger house in Royal Oak, Michigan. As time has gone on Philip’s family has grown beginning with the birth of his first child Alexander in 2000, Emily in 2003, Anthony in 2005, Katherine in 2009, Isabella in 2011, Joseph in 2015, and Ryan in 2019.
Whenever time permits, Philip Sobeck tries to be active in some hobbies that he enjoys. In high school at De La Salle in Warren, Philip was a champion Track and Cross Country runner, setting the school record for the 5k cross country race at 15:06 and finishing in the top 5 in the state of Michigan 3 years in a row. Also, in his senior year he was the National Champion at the AAU meet where he set his personal best time and school record at 15:06 for the 5k. In addition to cross country in high school, he was an all-state runner in track in the 800M, 1600M, and 4x800M relay. After high school Philip continued running at Kalamazoo College in their cross-country program. Kalamazoo is a division 3 college, so there was limited availability to compete in larger national meets, but was a top regional finisher each year he was in college.
After college, Philip Sobeck competed in the Detroit Marathon in 2008 and ran the 26.2-mile marathon with a finishing time of 3:05 which qualified him for the Boston Marathon. He was only intending to run one marathon to cross it off his list of things he wanted to accomplish, but after qualifying for the Boston Marathon he decided to compete in that as well. At the Boston marathon in 2009, he finished with a time of 3:06. The Boston Marathon was a highlight event in Philip’s life because he said it was so cool to be in a race that featured the top runners in the world, and his qualifying time placed him in a position to be close to them at the start of the race. Both marathon races were incredibly grueling events and Philip discovered that even with all the training he had done he ran out of energy in both races around the 22-mile mark. Up until that point in the race he was able to maintain a 6:45 min per mile pace, but after hitting the 22-mile distance it was difficult to even maintain a 8 minute per mile pace.
Additional hobbies the Philip enjoys include golfing, scuba diving, and cycling. Cycling is an area where Philip Sobeck finds his greatest interest at the moment, frequently cycling approximately 30 miles 3-4 days per week. One of his favorite routes is to start at his house in Royal Oak, Michigan, and then cycle down to Belle Isle in the Detroit River, do a lap or two on the island and then continue back to home. That route is approximately 50 miles. He has also been involved in the Make A Wish 300-mile ride three different times. That ride starts in Traverse City Michigan and concludes in Brooklyn Michigan. Approximately 1,000 riders participate in this ride, which raises money for kids with life threatening illnesses. The ride is around 100 miles per day, with overnight stops to camp out at local high schools.
Philip Sobeck’s involvement in the Make A Wish Foundation started when his daughter Emily was diagnosed with Leukemia in 2012. Going through that experience was very difficult, but Philip saw how much joy the Make a Wish people were able to give to his daughter, he and wanted to do as much as he could to provide the means necessary for them to help other children in similar circumstances. Emily’s wish was to be a celebrity and they were able to make that happen. She appeared on many television interviews, radio stations, and then performed a song playing her guitar and singing at the Make A Wish Ball in Detroit, Michigan. Going through a difficult health scare like the one Emily had was draining and being in the hospital daily for months was incredibly difficult. One of the only bright spots in conversation at the hospital was when the family would talk about the different possibilities that Emily could choose for her wish.
Currently Philip Sobeck is very satisfied with life and how things have progressed. Philip enjoys watching his children grow up and the new stages of life that they enter. Philip’s current business plan is to continue to do what he has been doing up to this point, building and opening up new Chicken Shack locations and also looking around for various other real estate opportunities if they present themselves. One day, Philip would like to get his pilot’s license and has taken classes in that direction but hasn’t had the time yet to finish that endeavor.
How did you get started in this business? What inspired you to start this business?
My grandfather started the Chicken Shack restaurant in 1956 and my family has been involved in this business since it’s opening. I worked in it part time through high school and college, and after college decided to continue working in the family business. I could see how successful it has been over the years and thought that I had the talents to expand the business to more locations.
How do you make money?
Customers purchase food at our restaurants and as long as I am diligent about watching the costs associated with running a restaurant, it is profitable and I can make money in this business.
How long did it take for you to become profitable?
The general Chicken Shack business has been profitable for as long as I have been working in it. When I open a new location, it typically takes a year or two for that location to develop enough loyal customers that it becomes profitable. The first year or two I spend a lot of time advertising and promoting the new location before it has enough customers to become a profitable location.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?
I always have been confident that I was smart enough to figure out how to be successful in this business. There are times though that I get worried that customers tastes will change and that it will become less profitable. The fast food casual segment of the restaurant business has exploded in the past 10 years so that now there are a lot of different choices that customers have when deciding where to eat, and that increased competition has cut into our sales and profits compared with 10-15 years ago. Sometimes I get worried that this increased competition will mean our restaurant chain will not be profitable. I’ve noticed many different restaurants close over the years and I don’t want that to happen to me. I try and overcome this thought process by focusing on making sure that our employees are doing everything right and that the customer experience is consistent so that hopefully that will never happen.
How did you get your first customer?
When I open a new location, we put out the open sign and customers do come in. It isn’t difficult to get some customers that like our product, the difficult part is promoting each location enough so that we get enough customers to overcome all the fixed costs related to running a restaurant like rent, property taxes, utilities, and the loan payments necessary to open a store. In order to be successful, we need around 100 customers per day per location. A new location sometimes will only have 75 or so customers per day and we need to advertise enough to get over that 100 tickets per day number.
What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?
I utilize all the advertising options that I can think of to promote our brand. These include producing and purchasing radio advertising, television advertising, and direct mailing. Of the three types, radio is the cheapest, television is the most expensive, and direct mailings are in the middle. I think that in order for an advertising campaign to be successful it needs to have all three types of these advertising avenues. I also promote Chicken Shack on all the different social media platforms so that hopefully we can reach customers that way also.
What is the toughest decision you’ve had to make in the last few months?
The hardest decisions I have to make are related to employee issues. Recently I have had to fire some higher-level store managers that have been with me for a very long time, but I caught them stealing and I had to let them go. I don’t feel bad when doing that because I think the employees brought the consequenses on themselves, but after they are gone it is hard to train replacements for that position.
What do you think it is that makes you successful?
I believe that I have been successful because I am knowledgeable about all the little details that are required for a restaurant to be run successfully. I have to make sure that the staffing levels are appropriate that the customer experience is a good one, but not so high that I lose money with having too high of labor costs.
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
The most satisfying part of my business is when customers brag to others about how much they enjoy our product and when they place really large orders with us because they know that the other people at their parties will be happy with the food we are serving.
What does the future hold for your business? What are you most excited about?
The future sometimes feels a little scary because food and labor costs continue to increase and the profit margin has been trending downward for a few years. I know that I can still appropriately handle these challenges so that we are still successful, but it does require me to be even more focused on the details than I have been in the past. I am most excited about expanding the number of locations I have so that we can continue to grow our gross profits and introduce our brand to an increasing amount of customers.
What business books have inspired you?
I have read the art of the deal by Donald Trump and I thought that it was a really interesting book. I also like to read biographies of different successful business people in history and get ideas from that. I have read biographies on Rockafeller, Carnagie, Morgan, and Vanderbuilt.
What is a recent purchase you have made that’s helped with your business?
I recently purchased a food truck so that I would have the ability to handle catering larger orders onsite instead of having to deliver the food from one of the restaurants. Having the food truck available ensures that the food is as hot and fresh as possible giving the customer the highest quality and making them as satisfied as possible.
What is the best part of being self-employed?
The best thing of being self-employed for me is the ability to have a flexible schedule. I have seven children, so my personal schedule gets very hectic and it is nice that my work schedule can adjust to accommodate the other events that come up in my life. The second best part of being self-employed is the ability to implement any ideas I have into the company right away. I don’t have to ask anyone for permission or convince others that my idea is a good one, I can just implement it right away.
What is the worst part of being self-employed?
The worst part of being self-employed is that if there is a problem with something there isn’t anyone else that will fix it. I have to be available to take care of problems as they come up and I don’t have the ability to just let someone else handle it. The second worst part of being self-employed is that my pay is determined on the profitability of the business so I can’t always count on getting a steady paycheck. Some months the business is very profitable and I have to have the discipline to save some of that money so that when there are months when it is less profitable I have enough money to be able to wait until it gets better.