Give Back Owner of 4 Rivers Smokehouse John Rivers’ life was forever changed after receiving a call in 2004 to help raise funds to offset the cost of cancer treatment for a six-year-old girl. Moved by the girl’s story, Rivers channeled his backyard passion and organized a barbecue fundraiser. Its success began what he called his “barbeque ministry,” which had him firing up his smoker any time a group or charity was in need. “4 Rivers Smokehouse was birthed from what I like to call a barbecue ministry,” Rivers says. Giving went a long way for Rivers, and because of this, he says businesses should make community outreach a part of their business plan. He also says to believe in yourself. “One thing I learned along the way is to always follow your instincts and don’t always do what the experts advise. Believing goes a long way.” Of course, you must have a good product or service the public wants to make it in business.
Clearly Rivers had that. While his ministry was gaining plenty of buzz, in 2009, before 4 Rivers Smokehouse was opened, Rivers brought his barbeque to Central Florida Lifestyle magazine’s barbeque contest and won. But even with these accolades, opening his first restaurant was still overwhelming for Rivers. The 1,300-square-foot smokehouse, with only about half of that dedicated to selling and dining, quickly became one of the fastest-growing restaurants in Central Florida. A line of guests waiting up to 45 minutes to eat at the few picnic tables available outside was a regular event. With its popularity growing, Rivers decided to add locations in Winter Garden, Longwood and Jacksonville. And now, 4 Rivers Smokehouse will open two more restaurants in Gainesville and East Orlando by year’s end. Rivers’ story is unusual in that he started as a nonprofit and became a highly successful for-profit. But Rivers stays true to his roots and still gives back to the community.
He does this not just for marketing, but because he believes it’s the right thing to do. And 4 Rivers encourages other small businesses to do the same. Some of the beneficiaries of 4 Rivers today include Elevate Orlando, Summit Church, Coalition for the Homeless, Edgewood Children’s Ranch, Christian Chamber of Commerce, Geneva School, Rollins College and Winter Park High School. Rivers says he loves his job not just because he loves barbeque but because of the people he works with. “My team is by far my favorite thing; I am blessed to surround myself with a wonderful support group,” he says. “The saying is true; when you’re doing what you love with great people, it’s not work.” Always Be Learning Gary Shif, owner of Best Cleaners in Dr. Phillips, says his childhood dream was to be an entrepreneur. After working in his parents’ laundry business and admiring the convertible the dry cleaner next door drove, he decided that he wanted to own a dry cleaning business.
That’s not to say Shif was money hungry. Instead, he saw a successful businessman with a thriving business that allowed him to have what a young boy saw as the finer things in life. Working toward his goal early, Shif put off going to college to start his career as a dry cleaner. He opened his very first store shortly after graduating form high school. His first store was only 800 square feet. Now Best Cleaners operates nine locations, with a 20,000-square-foot facility. Shif advises other small business owners to never stop learning, to always be a student. “I think failures happen to those who don’t know how to learn. Learning how to learn was part of my success,” he says. Although his parents had a similar business, they weren’t dry cleaners. He learned a lot from them, but he had to find his own mentors along the way as well. Shif says he makes it a point to learn something new every day.
He says as long as he is learning he is better to able to guide his business and stay successful. Shif, like Rivers, also believes in the importance of giving back. “I’ve always felt and we always have believed that we have a responsibility for our community,” Shif says. “We participate in many charities and we give back by volunteering.” Shif and Best Cleaners supports organizations in Orange County such as Edgewood Children’s Ranch and Shif mentors Rollins students. “The community has been very good to us. We’ve gotten an awful lot of support from the community that we’re grateful for. We show that gratitude by giving back,” Shif says. John Rivers of 4 Rivers Smokehouse turned his barbecue ministry into a popular Central Florida restaurant. By learning something new every day, Gary Shif of Best Cleaners was able to expand his business.