Saucy Dog’s Barbeque is under new management after Michael Sweeney, once a busboy for the restaurant, purchased the business in July.
Sweeney, a Jonesville native and son of Hillsdale College Professor of Accounting Michael Sweeney, bought Saucy Dog’s from Wayne Babcock, the owner of Olivia’s Chop House.
“I’ve worked here for a long time, and I’ve known Wayne since I was a little kid,” the younger Sweeney said. “When he offered the restaurant to me late last year, it was an opportunity I couldn’t turn down. I just went for it. So I signed a bunch of scary, important papers and took out a bunch of loans. Now I own a restaurant.”
Sweeney has worked at Saucy Dog’s since 2010, most recently serving as the barbeque joint’s manager. He said his experience in the culinary industry at both Saucy Dog’s Barbeque and Handmade Sandwiches and Beverages, which he helped start, will help him make the switch to owner.
Babcock, his former employer, has also been helpful during the transition, Sweeney said.
“I call Wayne every day,” Sweeney said. “He’s been a great mentor through the whole process. He is a business advisor of mine and we’re good friends.”
Babcock started Saucy Dog’s 13 years ago and said he still takes a great interest in the success of the business. He lends support to the younger Sweeney on a daily basis from across the street at Olivia’s. Professor Sweeney called Babcock “a tremendous positive influence” on the life of his son.
“I still go over there every day and say ‘hi’ to Mike and the employees,” Babcock said. “I try to give him what are hopefully helpful hints, business insight, and my suggestions. He’s done wonderful for the first two and a half months.”
Babcock said he knows Sweeney will preserve the “tradition” of Saucy Dog’s, but also said he hopes Sweeney uses his younger perspective to bring new ideas to the business. One aspect of the business Babcock noted had significantly improved under Sweeney was the digital marketing scheme.
“I was not a fan of social media,” Babcock said. “I just never got into it. He’s really been enlarging the social media and the Facebook presence.”
Sweeney said his father has also had a significant influence throughout this transition.
Professor Sweeney has taught at Hillsdale College for 22 years and is a regular customer at Saucy Dog’s long before his son was the owner. He said he now enjoys not only the food, but the experience of watching his son run his own business.
“He really knows how to handle people,” Professor Sweeney said. “I like to go and sit off to the side and watch him work the room. I love seeing him go from table to table and talk with everyone. He does it so well.”
One change accompanying Saucy Dog’s new management is the addition of craft beer to the drink menu. Saucy Dog’s will begin rotating craft beers from around Michigan into their three taps soon. Only one of the taps is currently in use and it only provides Miller Lite, which will continue to be offered. While this is a new addition, Sweeney added that Saucy Dog’s is and will continue to be a “restaurant with a bar inside and not a bar with a restaurant attached.”
While a shift in ownership inevitably will cause small changes within a restaurant, Sweeney said he is committed to delivering the same dining experience that he learned to deliver when he started working under Babcock seven years ago.
“I’ve got a 20-year mortgage,” Sweeney said, laughing. “The business works. I’m not going to get crazy and change a bunch of things right off the bat.”