Adam Guy has an office in a back room of The Upper Crust restaurant and ballroom, but the 22-year-old entrepreneur prefers to sit at a corner table while conducting meetings and carrying on conversations related to his four businesses.
Guy likes to be close to the action, easily accessible to customers and employees. On a recent weekday afternoon, Guy was sitting across from an associate, talking over the top of their two open laptops while also fielding phone calls, receiving and responding to text messages on his Blackberry and answering employees’ questions.
From the restaurant floor, Guy said, it’s easier to “put out fires,” which can be anything from a late delivery of produce to a last-minute catering job in Rolla.
“We have an important client here in Columbia who wanted a hot lunch delivered to a meeting he had in Rolla the next day,” Guy said. “He called me on my cell phone and asked me to do it. I said, ‘OK,’ but then I had to put it together. I got on the phone with the cooks, and we pulled it off. Now we have booked all of his events for a month.”
Guy, who also is a professional magician, performed quiet triage, taking the pressing calls and reading time-sensitive messages, all while holding back enough distractions to maintain focus on the task at hand — a discussion about the virtues of serving a fruit parfait in a chocolate bowl.
“That way, they can have some chocolate if they want it, and if they don’t, they can just leave it,” Guy said as he produced a booklet with pictures of the bowls and prices and handed it across the table to Bill Buck, owner of the other two Upper Crust restaurants, on Green Meadows and in the Village of Cherry Hill.
Buck, gray-haired and dressed in a white chef’s jacket held together with monkey fist closures, nodded as he looked through the booklet, visibly warming to the idea proposed by his young colleague.
Guy, who is a semester shy of graduating from the University of Missouri with a communications degree, already owns the majority of Coldstone Creamery along with the adjacent Upper Crust restaurant, runs a company he founded called Direct Wristbands and still dabbles in the magic business.
But rather than magic, the secret to his success seems to do with practice, dedication and maintaining the grounded, calm demeanor of a man twice his age.
“As a small business owner, you have to wake up every day knowing that a lot of things won’t go as planned,” Guy said. “Mildly catastrophic things happen every day.”
Like most small business owners, he spends a great deal of time working through everyday obstacles, but he is not content to iron out kinks. Guy is always looking for ways to move forward, which is where the chocolate bowls enter the picture.
The parfait is part of a 15-dessert menu planned for “Encore at the Upper Crust: A Break from Tradition.” By day, the Upper Crust will continue to serve breakfast, lunch and baked goods at the tables spread with cheery yellow tablecloths. At night, the café will transform into a wine and dessert bar. Desserts will be offered alongside drinks ordered from a menu that includes a wide selection of wine, snicker doodle lattes (complete with a snicker doodle cookie) and apple martinis. Guy said the wine and dessert bar will be an original addition to Columbia’s dining scene, a forerunner of a trend that is moving steadily inward from the coasts.
“It’s rare for Columbia to catch a trend before St. Louis and Kansas City,” Guy said. “We’re creating this concept right here in Columbia.”
Although he sometimes struggles to be taken seriously by associates, Guy said one advantage of his youth is his willingness to try new things. His open-minded attitude is also the key to competing with other restaurant operators.
“If you stay in a mold, you’re never going to create anything great,” he said.
Guy saw the benefits of mixing creativity and commercialism after he was picked to perform his magic on the local television program “Pepper and Friends” at age 7.
Tom Guy said a friend of the family saw his son perform on the show and asked him if Adam could perform during a luncheon. They agreed, and Adam was paid $20 for the gig.
“He looked at the money, and you could see lights going,” Tom Guy said. “He was thinking, ‘I can make money with this.’”
The $20 launched a magic business that Guy maintains today. His specialty is illusion. He said he can make doves appear to turn into rabbits and make a motorcycle disappear.
Magic was Guy’s only business until he was a sophomore at MU. In 2005, inspired by cyclist Lance Armstrong’s cancer- awareness wristband, Guy developed a line of silicon bracelets that can be customized for any cause.
In August 2006, he bought 80 percent of Coldstone from Freddy Demarco, who was looking to hand the business over to a young entrepreneur.
Owning a franchise with a seasoned business owner who showed him the ropes helped Guy learn quickly. In January 2007, he bought The Upper Crust.
“With a franchise, everything is handed to you,” Guy said. “All you have to do is open the package, read the instructions and assemble. Running something like The Upper Crust is harder.”
With around 60 employees distributed among his four businesses, he said that coordinating staff is one of the most difficult parts of his job.
“If it weren’t for labor, anybody could be a small-business owner,” he said.
Managing payroll, figuring out a schedule and keeping his employees happy is hard enough, but Guy said trusting them to do the job as he would do it himself is sometimes harder.
“When it takes seven people to fill one order, there’s a lot of room for error,” he said.
Luckily for Guy, he has people he can count on helping him: his family.
Guy said he gets great business ideas, including the wine and dessert bar, from his father, who sells pacemakers for Boston Scientific and is “the one in our family with the ‘real job.’” His mother, Lori Guy, owns a boutique by Coldstone called Girl and gives him business advice when he needs it.
“We’ll sit for hours talking about ideas and strategy,” Guy said of his mother.
His sister works part-time as his assistant and at their mother’s boutique. When Encore at the Upper Crust gets under way, she will wait tables with her new husband until the two of them start dental school at the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
Guy also hires his friends. “I trust them to do a good job,” he said, “and I can kind of hang out with them while I’m working.”
Hanging out with friends at work sounds like a 20-something thing to do, but for Guy, it’s more about logistics. His 80-hour work weeks leave little time for a social life.
For now, Guy seems content to build his existing businesses and smooth out day-to-day operations. That is not to say he isn’t open to new opportunities.
“As a business owner, you can never be too attached to something,” he said. “You have to be flexible.”