Stewbos President Billy Mann has risen prominently since taking a part-time job with the restaurant group, but he says one of his favorite places to be is at the “expo” (pass-through) window at Harvest Moon. (Staff Photo: Carlton Fletcher)
ALBANY — As the Stewbos Restaurant Group has grown from Bo Henry’s crazy idea to open a little restaurant downtown to one of Southwest Georgia’s most respected business models with some 160 employees, Henry and his business partner, Stewart Campbell, have become the familiar faces of the company.
It’s Stewbos President Billy Mann, though, who is the heart and soul of the restaurant group.
Hired by Henry as a part-time, fill-in worker with absolutely zero experience in the food service industry some 10 years ago, the unassuming Mann quickly proved himself an invaluable part of the Stewbos group, the man behind the scenes who puts in 80 to 90 hours a week … and loves every second of it.
“We look at our organization of 160 employees, and they’re the ones who make this work,” Henry said. “But there’s got to be someone to lead the other 159. Billy’s that guy. He’s the one who keeps the wheels turning every day. He’s just as much a part of everything we do as Stewart or me.”
Campbell is as effusive in his praise of Mann, proclaiming, “Billy knows the vision we have for the company, and he’s as much in the driver’s seat around here as Bo or I. He has the ability to make customers feel like a king or a queen; he has qualities that you just can’t teach.”
Mann deflects such praise with a borderline aww-shucks attitude that belies the confidence he’s developed as he’s grown into his position with Stewbos. It’s a confidence born of trust given by his bosses.
“Every day I go to work, I think about how cool it is to be a part of this,” Mann, 36, said. “For people like Bo and Stewart to make the kind of investment they’ve made in this business and trust me with the day-to-day operations of their restaurants, well that takes faith and trust. I think maybe one of my biggest accomplishments is earning their trust.”
Mann, an Albany native and Byne Christian School graduate, and his wife Jen married early, and he worked any number of jobs to support his young family. He was cutting grass when work ended with the winter of 2005, so he had Jen — who had worked at Henry’s Harvest Moon restaurant when he first opened it downtown — set him up an interview for a part-time job.
“I’d gone to Albany Tech(nical College) for a short time to study Hotel/Restaurant Hospitality and Management with the thought of getting work at Harvest Moon,” Mann said. “This sounds funny now, but originally I wanted a job there just so I could help them book bands.
“My goal was to work that job through Christmas — to have a little more spending money for the family — and then get back to work cutting grass in the spring.”
Mann never made it back to the lawn mower.
“When I went in for the interview, they ended up having an emergency opening, and I started work that night,” he said. “I started out running food, then started waiting tables. I enjoyed it so much, I started asking for any shift that was open. If someone had to be out, I was glad to take their shift.”
Henry marvels at the speed with which Mann entrenched himself as a valuable employee.
“Within a short amount of time, Billy was pretty much handling the whole downstairs area of the restaurant during a busy lunch by himself,” the restaurateur said.
Enjoying what he calls “impeccable timing,” Mann quickly advanced as he learned the restaurant business. When a Harvest Moon manager failed to show up during the busy 2006 downtown Mardi Gras celebration, Mann stepped in with no hesitation.
“I’ve never looked back since then,” he said. “I really took to this business. I discovered that I love it.”
So much so that when Henry moved Harvest Moon from downtown to its current Dawson Road location, Mann and a core group of the restaurant’s employees were an integral part of transforming the old Gus’ Barbecue restaurant into the new Moon.
“Folks kind of abandoned us downtown, and those of us who worked at Harvest Moon started worrying,” Mann said. “When Bo and Stewart opened The Catch (at 2332 Whispering Pines Road) and it was such a success, we started wondering about our future. But when they decided to make the move to the west side, we just knew it was going to be a success. I did things I’d never done before to get the new place ready — laid tile in the bathroom even — but I loved it. I wanted to be a part of the whole process.
“I never doubted that we were going to do well.”
Trey Greggors, who started work with Henry a month or so after Mann and now manages Harvest Moon, said the Stewbos ownership team generates loyalty by the loyalty they show their employees.
“Having started work with Bo about the same time Billy did and seeing him move up the ranks to his position shows all of Stewbos’ employees that hard work not only pays off, it is rewarded by the company,” Greggors said. “When Harvest Moon closed, none of us who worked there could have afforded to lay out of work for six weeks while they got the new restaurant ready. They let us do work we might not have done before, but they kept us on the payroll. That meant a lot.
“And it’s meant a lot that they allow employees like Billy and me to grow along with them.”
Henry closed the downtown Harvest Moon location on Jan. 1, 2008, and on Feb. 15 reopened it on Dawson Road. Basking in the success of The Catch and the new Moon, Stewbos opened the upscale Henry Campbell’s Steakhouse a short while later. Mann jumped at the chance to help manage the new restaurant.
“I didn’t want to miss out on being part of the opening,” he said. “It also gave me an opportunity to learn a lot about fine dining. It was an opportunity to grow.”
As Stewbos, which was named the Albany Chamber of Commerce’s 2014 Small Business of the Year, expanded, adding the Merry Acres hotel, event center and Manor House restaurant to its holdings, Henry and Campbell loaded Mann with more and more responsibility. Last year, they officially named him president of the company. He oversees day-to-day operation of all of the company’s restaurants, heads up catering operations, and hires and fires employees.
“A lot of our employees used to play Bo and me against each other — like ‘Mama said it was OK’ or ‘Daddy said I can do it,’” Campbell said. “Billy eliminated Bo and I being the bad guy all the time. He’s such a nice guy — comes from a wonderful family — but he’s all business when he has to be. He’s had to fire friends before. He understands that that’s part of the job.”
David Campbell, Stewart’s father and the more silent part of the Stewbos ownership team, said the group’s trust in Mann is unflagging.
“We don’t do anything associated with the business without involving Billy, and we don’t second-guess his opinions,” David Campbell said. “He’s earned that respect. And I think it’s also important that our employees see Billy as an example that their only limit to success is themselves.”
Even in his new, loftier position, Mann’s outlook has changed little. He calls the “expo” (food pass-through) window at Harvest Moon one of his “favorite places to be in the world.”
“I’m a worker; I like to get in the trenches and work side-by-side with our employees,” he said. “That’s why the expo window at Harvest Moon is one of my favorite places to be. That’s where I feel most in control. Bo Henry is the absolute best at going to tables and talking with customers. That’s what was always hard for me.
“I feel more at home picking up an order at the expo window.”
Henry, meanwhile, says Stewbos was fortunate to land an employee like Mann.
“I saw from the beginning that Billy was a good, honest, hard-working, humble guy who was good with people and had an incredible attitude,” Henry said. “You don’t know how rare that is in this industry. There may be some who have one or two of those qualities, but very few have all of them. Billy’s just a natural.
“And while he may come in at 9 in the morning and sometimes stay until 2 the next morning, he still finds time to be a good husband and daddy. He’ll work all those hours, but you always see him pitching batting practice for his son’s Little League team or at some event of his daughter’s. Billy does as good or better than anybody I’ve ever seen at juggling his time. I wish I could be more like him. Everyone says, ‘You can’t do everything,’ but somehow Billy does.”
Having risen rapidly to his key position with Stewbos, Mann would be an excellent candidate for other restaurateurs to poach. And, with his vast knowledge, no one doubts he could open his own restaurant one day.
That, Mann says, is not in the cards anytime soon.
“Hey, I drank the Kool-Aid,” he laughs. “Sure, those ideas hit me every now and then. But right now, everything we do is so exciting. We’re getting ready to open the new location (at the former Wagner’s Barbecue on Dawson), and there are great things going on at all of our places.
“I feel like I already own a part of everything we do.”
Stewbos President Billy Mann has risen prominently since taking a part-time job with the restaurant group, but he says one of his favorite places to be is at the “expo” (pass-through) window at Harvest Moon. (Staff Photoa: Carlton Fletcher)
Stewbos principals, from left, Stewart Campbell, Billy Mann and Bo Henry are preparing to open a new drive-through restaurant on Dawson Road. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)
Stewbos Restaurant Group co-owners Stewart Campbell, left, and Bo Henry, right, say employees with the qualities of company President Billy Mann, center, are hard to find. (Staff photo: Carlton Fletcher)