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How CEO at Flix Brewhouse turned an old grocery store into its first movie theater and beer brewery

By: Austin Business Journal

Though his grandfather and mother were newspaper editors, Allan Reagan never really wanted to be a career journalist. Yet his skills as a wordsmith indirectly led to a connection that set him on a path to own a thriving business that blends beer-making and entertainment.

Reagan’s mom was editor of a small weekly paper in upstate New York, and she made sure her son knew exactly where to place a comma in a sentence. When he was sent off to boarding school out of state in Deerfield, Massachusetts, he was sports editor for the school paper.

Still, Reagan was an entrepreneur at heart. At age 4 he had his own pumpkin patch and would pull them around in a wagon to sell them to the neighbors.

“I cleaned up,” he recalled. “It worked pretty well. I was always interested in commerce.”

He was also a bit of a showman. Reagan organized neighborhood carnivals and variety shows, with his sister and friends as the performers, and charged admission. It taught him some skills that still apply to his entrepreneurial pursuits today as he runs Flix Brewhouse LLC, a combination brewery and movie theater chain that has ambitious plans to more than double in size to 10 locations in six states by the end of 2019.

“I learned then that not everything you try you succeed at. Some of the [variety] shows bombed so I’d tweak them and do better next time,” Reagan said. “I learned you have to keep coming back. You can’t give up and you learn from failures.”

Though he worked part-time at grocery stores during college and initially was leaning toward the food services sector for a career, taking his MBA set him on a course into finance for eight years as a CPA with a Big Four accounting firm in Chicago. He went on to be chief financial officer at a couple of tech companies before eventually going full-time into the commercial real estate business by 1990.  He came to know Austin entrepreneur Gary Hoover and was an original seed investor in Hoover’s Bookstop Inc. retail business that was acquired by Barnes & Noble Inc. in 1989. He then worked part-time as an editor of company profiles for business data firm Hoovers Inc.

It was Hoover who was approached about buying a shopping center in Round Rock. Though he wasn’t interested, he figured Reagan might want to take a look.

“I came down in 1992 and laid eyes on Round Rock for the first time,” Reagan recalled. “The retail center was 70 percent vacant and had structural problems. I said ‘This is right up my alley. I love a challenge.’”

Reagan bought the Sky Ridge Plaza, anchored by an Albertsons grocery store, just off I-35 at Hesters Crossing Road for $10 per square foot. He also invested in a Round Rock business park, and in 2005 Reagan and his investor partners scooped up a couple of hotels — one in New Orleans and the Wyndham Garden Austin off I-35 near Woodward Street. He wraps up all of his real estate management and investment business under a holding company, Aramcor Inc.

He also became an investor in Austin’s North by Northwest Restaurant and Brewery, paving the way for his next idea that he bounced off NXNW owner Davis Tucker: opening the first Flix Brewhouse in that former Albertsons space. That combination of a microbrewery and a moviehouse came to fruition in 2011. The company has seen revenue surge each year since, and recently completed a $13 million capital raise for an expansion.

Reagan said maintaining the company’s five core cultural values is of paramount importance while it grows. The first letter of those values spell out the word GREAT: guests, respect, excellence, achievement and teamwork. He said Flix Brewhouse employees follow them, by the letter, or they just don’t last very long.

The main way Reagan keeps employees loyal is by offering stock options to theater general managers. He has also instituted an achievement-based compensation system for lower-level employees that encourages them to take online and in-person training to expand their skills, and he eschews formal performance reviews.

“If your initial job is in salad preparation and you want to learn the fry station, you can do that and get a raise and don’t have to wait for a year [for an annual raise],” he said. “We think it’s a great career path for kids who didn’t go to college who are serious about pursuing a career.”

How would you describe your management style? My style varies contextually. People who work with me on a regular basis know that I can be the world’s worst micromanager or totally hands off … I can be an SOB when it comes to grammar. I pay attention to the details.

What’s a management mistake you made and what lesson did you learn? All the people who work for me are different, so one mistake I learned early on was to think I could hire a bunch of clones of myself who are wound up the same way and work as hard and be as driven as I was. We need a whole diversity of psyches in our company, and we need to be respectful of that.

You must face plenty of comparisons to Alamo Drafthouse Cinemas. How do you handle it? There’s a constant comparison and I’m sure it’s as tiresome for them as it is for us. I say the same thing [Alamo CEO] Tim League says, that the competition makes us all better and ends up delivering a better guest experience.

What’s a typical day like for you? My day is usually about 12 hours. I love work and can’t help it. I’m wired that way. There’s no such thing really as a typical day. Early in the morning I knock out the accumulated emails.

What’s the last movie you saw at the Brewhouse? “Paddington 2” with my youngest granddaughter.

What’s your favorite Austin restaurant? Truluck’s. It’s the special occasion hangout for Mr. & Mrs. Reagan.

After growing up and going to college in Massachusetts you’re a lifetime Boston sports fan. What are your favorite Boston sports memories? The Red Sox finally breaking the 86-year “Curse of the Bambino” and winning the 2004 World Series; and the amazing comeback by the Patriots in Super Bowl 51 against the Falcons [in 2107]. Absolutely stunning.


ALLAN REAGAN 

Title: Board chairman and CEO (chief enthusiasm officer), Flix Brewhouse LLC; president and CEO, Aramcor Inc.

Age: 64

Hometown: New Rochelle, N.Y. (grew up in Massachusetts)

Education: Bachelor’s degree, food marketing management; MBA with finance concentration; Michigan State University

Family: Wife, Jan; two children; three grandchildren

Phone: (512) 238-0938

Emailceo@flixbrewhouse.com