Andy Marshall – Founder & CEO, A. Marshall Family Foods

A Tennessee native, Andy Marshall grew up in the grocery business. At age 26, he purchased his first grocery store – an investment that quickly led to four additional locations, and his being named president of the Tennessee Grocers Association and the Piggly Wiggly Association.

In 1998, Marshall sold those stores and bought Puckett’s, a small grocery store in the village of Leiper’s Fork, Tennessee. He launched a formal dinner and music program to enhance the shop and complement the town’s roots.

Today, Marshall has expanded A. Marshall Family Foods Inc. to encompass Puckett’s Gro locations in downtown Franklin, downtown Nashville, downtown Columbia, downtown Chattanooga, and downtown Murfreesboro; Puckett’s Boat House in downtown Franklin; Puckett’s Trolley, the brand’s mobile food venue; Puckett’s Events & Catering; and the multi-layer Homestead Manor property in Thompson’s Station. Scout’s Pub, an upscale modern pub concept, opened in June 2016 in the Franklin community of Westhaven. Each family-owned eatery focuses on providing friends new and old with home-cooked food and Southern hospitality, the Marshall way.

In July 2016, A. Marshall Foods opened Hattie Jane’s Creamery, an artisan ice cream shop adjacent to the Puckett’s Gro. in downtown Columbia, The second location of Hattie Jane’s opened in downtown Murfreesboro, Tenn. alongside the Puckett’s Gro. in early 2017.

Marshall recently signed a lease on a space in the Life & Casualty Tower, a historic downtown Nashville skyscraper located just a block up from the Puckett’s Gro. The Southern steakhouse concept named Deacon’s New South is currently under construction and will open in October 2017.

In 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017, A. Marshall Foods was recognized on the Inc. 5000 list of America’s fastest-growing private companies. The company was also was awarded the Nashville Business Journal’s Best in Business award in 2015.

In 2014, 2015, and 2016, Andy Marshall received the Nashville Business Journal’s Williamson County IMPACT award for the second year in a row. In 2015 and 2016, the publication also recognized him as one of Nashville’s Most Admired CEOs.

In addition to keeping up with his restaurants, Marshall finds time to be involved with his community. He was the president of the Downtown Franklin Association for four years, an executive board member of the Heritage Foundation of Franklin & Williamson County, and a board member of the Williamson County Chamber of Commerce.

He currently serves as the vice president of the Franklin Theatre and is on the board of One Williamson One Chamber. He is also involved in the Franklin High Culinary Arts Program as the culinary advisor. The Puckett’s family of restaurants are all members of the statewide Tennessee Hospitality and Tourism Association, and Marshall sits on its board and is a member of its Education Scholarship Committee.

Marshall has also won several professional awards including Nashville Business Journal’s 2014, 2015, and 2016 Williamson County Impact Award, Small Business of the Year in Hopkinsville for two years in a row, and the National Spirit of America Award for Entrepreneurship.

Marshall and his wife Jan have been married for 30 years and reside in Franklin, Tenn. They have three children: Claire, Chief Operating Officer for A. Marshall Family Foods, who is married to Tyler Crowell; Emily, an events specialist for Homestead Manor, married to Aaron Barker; and Cliff, who has recently returned to Middle Tennessee to help manage the new Puckett’s Gro. in Murfreesboro.

Tell me about your early career.
My father was in the grocery business, and I grew up learning the inner workings of that industry from the time I was 14. My father bought his first store right before I planned to leave for college at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville, Tenn., so I decided to stay home and work for him for about six months, eventually enrolling at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn., so that I could still help him as much as possible. I knew that working with my dad – and one day owning my own grocery store – was what I wanted to do.

When I launched my own career in the industry at the age of 26, I purchased my first grocery store, a Piggly Wiggly in Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and went on to own several stores across Middle Tennessee. In 1998, I decided to go in a different direction, sell my grocery stores, and purchase a hidden gem in the little village of Leiper’s Fork called Puckett’s Grocery.

How did the concept for A. Marshall Family Foods come about?
My family and I ran the first Puckett’s for several years before branching out to start a formal dinner and music program there. That concept took off with locals and visitors alike, and in 2004, I landed an opportunity to open a Puckett’s in my hometown of Franklin, Tenn. about 10 miles from Leiper’s Fork, and we haven’t stopped growing since!

How was the first year in business?
It was awesome. The first year was full of hopes, dreams, and opportunity. It was about cleaning up a business, and setting the path, and all that was very exciting. It was year two when I had to figure out how I was going to make a business out of what I had, as well as how I was going to feed my family. So the first year was all exciting, and figuring out how to get it going.

What was your marketing strategy?
On the front end, it was a “whatever it takes” type of strategy to make the business work. There was nothing we wouldn’t do to keep cash flowing – from selling plants in the spring, selling Christmas trees in the winter, and even deer processing during the hunting season. Then, through our food and music program, we figured out how to keep the locals closer to home and also create a destination that people were willing to drive to.

How fast did the company grow during the first few years?
We had a slow growth the first few years. It was honestly a struggle the first couple of years. It took us about three years to build some traction as we built ourselves as a destination for food and music.

How do you define success?
It’s hard for me to define success because I feel like I’m still building my business and constantly looking for ways to improve, and always looking for what’s next. So it’s hard for me to settle on what’s successful. I’ll tell you when I get there!

What is the key to success?
I think for me, it’s about never letting good get in in the way of great. I’ve always had the attitude that everything matters, and you don’t take anything for granted. The smallest detail matters to your customers. Finally, being excellent is a process, and it’s something you have to work for.

What is the greatest lesson you’ve ever learned?
You can’t do it all by yourself. If I could, then I’d still be getting up at 3:00 AM making biscuits in Leiper’s Fork. I’ve learned that coaching and training others has given me an opportunity to grow with the people we work with. I’m a frog on a fence post, I didn’t get there by myself.

What are some of your favorite books?
The One Minute Manager by Ken Blanchard and Spencer Johnson, The Way of the Shepherd by Kevin Leman and William Pentak, and Discipline Without Punishment by Dick Grote. Currently, I’m reading Rocket Fuel by Gino Wickman and Mark C. Winters.

Tell me about one of the toughest days you’ve had as an entrepreneur.
I think probably the toughest days I had was when I decided to leave the grocery business because I was at the pinnacle of my career there. I owned multiple grocery stores, was president of the Tennessee Grocers Association, and I was president of the Nashville Piggly Wiggly Association. Despite my success, I just wasn’t happy and was missing something. So at the age of 35, I sold my businesses and started over in a brand new career. I had a lot of anxiety over what others thought about my decisions in a career change, but ultimately I had to be true to my heart. I’m a people person with a servant’s heart, and I knew this was the right decision for me. Ultimately, I’m better for it and happier with my career in the restaurant business than I ever was in my past career.

When faced with adversity, what pushes you to keep moving forward?
I’m extremely competitive and I don’t like to lose. That kind of gets to the core of who I am as an individual. I’m a people pleaser so I always strive to do the right thing, and to do what makes people happy.

What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Running your own business can’t be a hobby. You will have to give it all you have and then give some more, but when it gets traction and takes off, there is not a greater feeling!

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Interviews are conducted for research purposes by author Jason Navallo for his upcoming book, Underdog.

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