HOOKSETT — Since 2014, “Good Eats, Great People” has been a winning formula for Tucker Restaurant Group LLC — better known as Tucker’s.
The New London-based eatery chain’s business model got one more stamp of approval last week when the U.S. Small Business Administration and the New Hampshire Bankers Association named co-owners Hale Cole-Tucker and Erica Cole-Tucker as the New Hampshire Small Business Persons of the Year.
Known for the long lines of enthusiastic customers that often stretch out the doors of the chain’s Hooksett, Concord, Dover and New London locations, Tucker’s has its roots in Erica and Hale’s 2014 decision to convert their 20-year restaurant experience into a business with a uniquely Granite State brand.
“We know how much New Hampshire people love New Hampshire, so that’s kind of what we wanted to make the brand all about,” Hale said. “From the get-go, we went out and started searching for partnerships with local businesses, and that has just continued to grow every year.”
Beginning with the pair’s flagship restaurant in Hooksett, Hale and Erica worked to create a menu that drew inspiration from locally sourced food.
The chain’s coffee comes from Mill City Roasting Company in Londonderry, many of their green vegetables are hydroponically grown by lef Farms in Loudon and approximately 90 percent of their eggs come from the free range hens at LaValley Farms in Hooksett.
Tucker’s places just as much emphasis on giving back to the community, including sponsoring local sports teams, donating to area schools and nonprofits and a partnership with End 68 Hours of Hunger, a nonprofit that works with schools to help end childhood hunger by providing needy students with backpacks full of nutritious food for weekend.
“It’s been one of the most rewarding parts of the business,” said Hale of his company’s community service ventures.
Tucker’s has not been totally immune to the staffing difficulties faced by many New Hampshire-based restaurants as a result of the state’s low unemployment rates, but Hale said that his company enjoys some of the lowest turnover rates by industry standards.
He chalks this high retention rate up to a “fun work environment” that gives staff members opportunity for advancement, going on to cite a profit sharing system and the forthcoming potential for his 190 employees to have access to stock options.
“You don’t really see that in the restaurant business very much,” said Hale of the benefits Tucker’s offers its staff members. “We try really hard to make our people understand that they’re not just a number to us and that nothing would be possible without the team. We want to make sure they’re aware that this can be a long-term career for them.”
Hale stated he expects the employee total to grow to more than 200 by late April or early May when Tucker’s opens their next location in Merrimack, with another batch on the way when the chain realizes its long-awaited plan to set up shop in Manchester.
Despite the steady growth in locations, Hale says that he and Erica have no plans to turn their business into a franchise model, wishing instead to retain full control of the Tucker’s brand.
While the Granite State certainly has no shortage of restaurants in the vein of the iconic New England diner, Hale says the long lines at the chain’s Hooksett and Concord location on any given weekend are indicative of an X factor that sets Tucker’s apart from its local lunch counter competition.
“You know, our tagline is ‘Good eats, great people’ and that kind of summarizes what it is,” Hale said. “I think people come for the food because they feel good about what they’re eating, and they know that we take a lot of pride in where we source our food. And then there’s our people. I think customer service is kind of a rare commodity these days. So I think when people have great service, they think ‘Woah! That was really nice.’”
Greta Johansson, district director of the New Hampshire SBA office, echoed Hale’s analysis of what makes Tucker’s successful, stating in a news release that he and Erica have “created a business model and culture in their restaurants that keeps their employees happy and their customers coming back.”
Erica and Hale will be recognized alongside the rest of 2019’s honorees at the SBA’s annual small business week celebration sponsored by the SBA and the New Hampshire Bankers Association on May 21 at the Derryfield Country Club in Manchester.
Visit nhbankers.com for more information and online registration.