Then & Now: Mike Philip returns to food service roots
Editor’s Note: The following story appeared in the Feb. 13 issue of the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal. “Then & Now” is a profile of a past member of the Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 class.
Fayetteville native Mike Philip opened the first franchise for Einstein Bros. Bagels about 15 years ago in Rogers after a Florida trip that included a visit to the restaurant brand there.
He enjoyed his bagel and coffee so much that he brought the brand to Northwest Arkansas. He owns four Einstein Bros. Bagels and seven Tropical Smoothie Cafe franchises, all in Northwest Arkansas.
Philip, 56, is co-owner of Springdale-based franchisee Philip Enterprises Inc. He co-owns the business with his wife, Heather, and operating partner, Aaron Nickell.
He was Philip Real Estate Services president in Fayetteville when the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal named him to the Forty Under 40 class in 2004. He noted that the restaurant business grew as the real estate market declined amid the Great Recession. He closed the company about five years ago and is no longer a licensed real estate agent.
Philip began working in the food service industry while in college. He started at Muley’s in Fayetteville before joining Chili’s. He worked for the national chain restaurant for about five years and managed multiple restaurants in the region before he started in real estate.
While visiting Fort Lauderdale with his wife, Philip recalled enjoying that bagel and coffee and sitting by the ocean watching the waves. “The sesame toasted [bagel] with butter, and the cup of vanilla hazelnut coffee was awesome,” he said. “So I said, ‘I can do that.’
“We were the first franchisee of Einstein Bros. Bagels anywhere,” he said. “They were starting their franchise business, and we loved the concept. We liked the product. We thought there was a niche in the market for some space in Northwest Arkansas.”
Over the past 11 years, he’s served as chairman of the franchisee advisory council for Einstein Bros. Bagels. He’s also chairman of a similar council for Tropical Smoothie Cafe, representing 475 franchisees.
Philip recently opened an Einstein Bros. at Northwest Arkansas National Airport in Highfill. Earlier in 2022, he opened Lowell’s Einstein Bros. and Tropical Smoothie locations.
He expects to open another location for one of the brands in the next three to five years. He’s also looking to become a franchisee for a third brand he declined to name. He plans to open two area locations for that brand.
About eight years ago, Philip purchased several existing Tropical Smoothie locations before opening others in the area. The acquisition happened shortly after he opened Einstein Bros. in Fayetteville. His 11 restaurants have about 200 employees.
He declined to provide revenue numbers but said sales at the Einstein franchise in Rogers are in the top five in the nation among the brand. He added that the Fayetteville location is just behind this, and the XNA location is near the top among non-traditional Einstein locations.
Philip doesn’t expect to grow his franchise business outside of Northwest Arkansas as he looks to continue to impact the operational culture to ensure a unique customer service level.
As a business owner, he enjoys giving restaurant industry workers a balance between a quality life and family time. He noted that his employees’ pay has consistently exceeded the state minimum wage.
“I always tell people making bagels and smoothies is easy,” said Philip, adding that the challenge can be finding, retaining and training employees. “They’re a challenge and a blessing in the same deal because we’ve got a certain standard we want to perform at. We’re not perfect. We fail daily. But it’s not for lack of effort.”
In 2021, Philip purchased a two-unit rental property in Eureka Springs. In September, he completed the restoration of a six-unit rental property built in 1892. Mi Casa is the property manager, and they’re available on Airbnb.
He and his wife reside in Springdale and have four children. He enjoys spending time at the house they built last year along the Kings River and segment hiking the Ozark Highlands Trail. Through his businesses, he fulfills donation requests from churches and nonprofits. He has also donated thousands of bagels annually to area nonprofits.