Let’s Talk About Kevin
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because everybody’s got to eat.
By Kevin Muccular
Today on The Carlos Watson Show, we’re celebrating a Brighter Financial Friday sponsored by Discover. Discover created the Eat It Forward Program to give local Black-owned restaurants chances to win $25,000. So far, it’s given $5 million to Black-owned restaurants across the country. The most recent recipients are Kevin Muccular and his wife, Ryan, owners of That’s My Dog in Houston. Read their inspiring story below.
I grew up in Richmond, California, and got bused to Fairfield High School because my mom didn’t trust the school district in Richmond. When I was growing up, it was really violent in my community. So, to give me an opportunity at a better life, she sent me out of the district for school.
This ultimately led to a football scholarship at Florida A&M University. It was my first time living outside of California — absolutely an amazing experience. It for sure changed my life. After school, I moved back to Richmond, which was in a state of emergency owing to the violence.
I had double majored in criminal justice and psychology and was going to take a job in Tallahassee, but I really felt pressed to go home and mentor young people and show them what was possible. Advance Peace is what our program is called: String together some good decisions, and we don’t have to solve our disputes with a firearm.
We for sure have had an impact. We saw a reduction in violent crime. We saw great reductions in the homicide rate in the city of Richmond, so much so that the program I had the privilege to help start there is now a national model.
My wife is the engine. She is responsible for everything that makes That’s My Dog tick. I’m a dreamer.
We built relationships with the young men who were most responsible, and we showed them a great deal of love. I think that’s the difference between kids who make it and kids who don’t: having caring, responsible adults who refuse to give up on them regardless of the situation, and building relationships with those young people day in and day out.
Part of the program with Advance Peace is that we take young people on trips. We would go to New York several times a year, and there are hot dog carts all over the city. There was one in particular that the director of the program wanted to go to every time he went to New York. I was like, “Why would we pass up 300 hot dog carts to go to this specific one in front of the Metropolitan Museum of Art?”
The first time we went to New York, it was freezing cold, and there was a line around the corner. We went back in the summer. It was humid, and there was still a line around the corner. I said, “I have to see what these hot dogs are all about.” So I got in line, walked up, got my hot dog, ate it. It was a good hot dog.
I asked the hot dog guy a question. “Sir, I counted your money while I was standing in line, and I see how many people are behind me. I’d like to know how much money you make selling hot dogs here in New York.”
“Are you going to believe me if I tell you?”
“After everything, somewhere north of a million dollars.”
“Selling hot dogs?”
Standing there with him, getting a dose of his personality, I recognized immediately why people were drawn to that specific location. I stepped out of line and told my wife, who has a culinary background, “Let’s get a hot dog cart and start selling hot dogs.”
“No way I’m selling hot dogs. I’m not going to do it.”
But after doing some research, we went out and got our first hot dog cart in 2012 and called it That’s My Dog. I never thought in a million years I’d be selling hot dogs as a way to make a living. My wife and I did two years of research, and when we finally had our grand opening, it was amazing.
The line that I saw in New York? We had that line the first day in Texas. The city manager came out and cut the ribbon. The mayor came out with proclamations. It was fantastic. We put a money-back guarantee on it: If you don’t like your food, you don’t have to pay for it.
But you know there’s never a reason for someone not to like their service. People come by for — it used to be for a high-five or a hug — now it’s an air bump. People come by just to say hello. They come by just to have a conversation or talk about something that’s weighing on their mind. It’s so much more than hot dogs, and we recognize that. We recognize that when people walk into That’s My Dog, which has locations in Houston and the Bay Area as well as stands, they feel human.
So, wherever a That’s My Dog sits, it’s responsible for taking care of the community around it. You don’t make money inside of a community and not use some of the proceeds to give back to those in need. So if there’s a family that doesn’t have the resources and the means to get something to eat, we believe that no one should go hungry. So if you email us, we’re going to feed you. Whether it was Hurricane Harvey or when COVID hit, there were families who were absolutely going through it, and our hearts were moved toward them.
Life is not a highlight reel. There are ups and downs. It’s been difficult to build a brand from the ground up and not really have a mentor, but our resolve is that we just don’t quit. We don’t give up.
We’ve had fantastic months, and we’ve had months that have been difficult. What we’ve prided ourselves on is that we’ve never, ever missed a payday for our employees. We also recognize that when things are at their toughest, it’s an opportunity to pay that information forward, as we have to so many younger entrepreneurs who get started and say, “Hey, man, can I sit down and have a conversation with you? How much does that cost?”
Nothing. This advice is free, right? I can’t tell you how to be successful, but I can tell you what we’ve done that could have saved you perhaps some time and some money. We’re an open book.
When COVID came, our procedures went completely out the window, and we could no longer do business the way we had. So trying to build a new motto of service and serve at the same time? Extremely difficult.
Over the years, we’ve prided ourselves on being a five-star business. If you look up That’s My Dog, we have over 1,000 five-star reviews in a year and a half that we’ve been open.
Once we couldn’t have customers come in anymore, we saw business start to decline. More mistakes were being made. We couldn’t function the way we had been. There were times where folks were afraid to just come outside, and understandably so. So, our numbers took a huge dip in the beginning.
But I told our staff, “Hey, we’re here for the long haul.” Not knowing when the governor would open up the state or what it would be like, it was hard to make it through the first part of COVID. But we made it, and we’re excited about that.
My wife is the engine. She is responsible for everything that makes That’s My Dog tick. I’m a dreamer, and I see everything in color. I believe we can build skyscrapers and bridges to the moon. My wife is the one who says, “OK, that’s a lot of material for you to build a bridge to the moon, so let’s break it down and let’s take a look at it.” So she’s responsible for everything that is administrative. She literally makes my dreams come true.
— as told to Eugene S. Robinson
- Kevin Muccular, OZY Author Contact Kevin Muccular