The Charlotte Observer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) _ National Football League defensive end Everette Brown is quick on his feet, a formidable defender and a fierce competitor.

Now he’s learning how to position himself as a winning small-business owner.

Brown, who opened the Charlotte area’s first Tropical Smoothie Café in November last year, was to be part of a panel during a breakfast event, “Franchises: Picking the right one for you.” The discussion focused on what’s involved in taking this route to small-business ownership.

Brown’s first experience at a Tropical Smoothie Café was in 2005, when he was a freshman at Florida State University looking for a snack between classes.

The fast-casual restaurant, with 365 locations nationwide, serves smoothies as well as breakfast, lunch and dinner. According to the company, the menu is designed to “inspire healthy lifestyles.”

It quickly became Brown’s go-to spot, he said. For years, all he ordered was The Health Nut – a smoothie with blueberries, mango, banana, almonds and whey protein – swapping out the mango for a scoop of peanut butter.

When he finally decided to test some of the other smoothies, as well as the wraps, salads and sandwiches, Brown was surprised to find he liked them all.

“It didn’t feel like any other restaurant, any other café,” Brown said.

So when drafted by the Carolina Panthers in 2009, one of his first getting-to-know-Charlotte expeditions started with a Google search for the area’s local Tropical Smoothie Café.

“They didn’t have one,” Brown said. “I thought…’That’s crazy.’ ”

Fast-forward four years and four trades to other NFL teams: from the Panthers to the San Diego Chargers to the Detroit Lions to the Philadelphia Eagles to the Dallas Cowboys.

The lack of consistency was frustrating, said Brown, recalling the popular “NFL stands for `Not For Long”’ saying. Wanting to be on the field but sitting on the sidelines, wanting to prove yourself on a team but continually being traded – it was stressful and depressing, Brown said.

So while football was still his No. 1 priority, Brown spent some of his down time researching his other ambitions, “instead of getting all in your feelings and worrying about things you can’t control.”

Brown said he’d always been interested in entrepreneurship but preferred a proven strategy over one he had to create. So during his year with the Cowboys, Brown researched different franchises.

He strongly considered opening a Chick-fil-A. But then he saw Charlotte – where he hoped to settle down – wasn’t hurting for another one. Brown wanted a company he believed in, a product he enjoyed and a hole in the marketplace. So he turned to another favorite brand.

Brown opened the city’s first Tropical Smoothie Café in late November 2013 in the Metropolitan, a mixed-use shopping center with restaurants, boutiques and big-box stores including Trader Joe’s, Marshalls and Best Buy.

It costs $25,000 to buy the rights to open a Tropical Smoothie Café, Brown said, but rent, upfitting costs and equipment, brought his startup expenses to around $225,000.

The grand opening celebration was on a surprisingly warm Saturday in February. Brown spread the word on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. He asked former Panthers teammates Jon Beason, Travelle Wharton, Sherrod Martin and Graham Gano to come out for pictures and autographs. Power 98 played music. And that morning, Brown led more than 100 kids in an exercise routine at Midtown Park, hosted by the Everette Brown Bag Foundation he established to fight childhood obesity.

Brown owns the Tropical Smoothie Café in Charlotte, but he isn’t in there every day. He has an assistant manager who handles the day-to-day oversight. And his fiancee and business partner is Tenisha Patterson, who Brown affectionately referred to as “Miss Awesome.”

Patterson, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University and then went on to graduate from Charlotte School of Law, is knowledgeable about hiring practices, management and finances, Brown said. She went through the franchisee training with Brown, which involved a week spent at a Tropical Smoothie Café in Raleigh.

“It was nonstop,” Brown said. He learned when to let employees take breaks (not during the lunch hour), how many cups you need to stay stocked, that an assembly line is more effective than having one person make a smoothie from start-to-finish. He also got a feel for what regular Joes deal with: a nice share of frustrated sighs and rude comments from customers who got their food later than expected.

But perhaps his best on-the-job training came on a snowy day in January, when he and Patterson, expecting a slow day, called the seven employees scheduled to work and told them to take the day off.

The couple, expecting only a midday trickle of foot traffic, planned to run the shop during the lunch hours only. They didn’t prep for a full day’s worth of orders.

They got a call for a catering order at 9:30 a.m. for a noon delivery.

“And around about 11:30 a.m. it was a rush, a line in the store,” Brown recalled. “I was running the register. …She was taking orders, making food, going to make smoothies. I still had to get the catering order together and get it there on time.”

Since that day, Brown said, he’s never taken what his staff of 14 employees does for granted.

Oh, and their new snow-day policy?

Brown laughed. “Tenisha and I looked at each other and said, `We have to let the employees work.’ “