Todd Hayden, small business owner, talks about his work with craft brews and critters
In a conversation with Todd Hayden, one thing is apparent: this entrepreneur is passionate about his businesses, which include a veterinary clinic, craft beer ale house and a newly opened whiskey bar. He sat down with The Villager to talk about how his entrepreneurial life developed.
QUESTION: Tell us a little bit about yourself.
HAYDEN: I identify as a veterinarian, first and foremost. It’s what I grew up wanting to do, so I became one. I was at a hospital in The Woodlands, but had a non-compete clause. A lot of times veterinarians will have a time where (if you leave the practice) you can’t practice that profession within a certain number of miles for a certain amount of time. There were two doctors at that hospital, and so I gave a one-year notice and left.
Veterinarians work till the day they die, and after I left I focused on opening a community clinic. I’m a vet full time at Rayford Animal Wellness Clinic (RAWC), the clinic I own with my wife, Corey Hill.
Then I ended up opening Hop Scholar Ale House. We wanted to make it a community space, where people could enjoy themselves without getting crazy. I felt like I couldn’t go to a bar here without the music being so loud you couldn’t talk.
QUESTION: How did you get involved in the craft beer world?
HAYDEN: I was in the Marine Corps, so we drank quite a bit anyway. Somebody handed me a Boston Lager when I was in Japan and I thought, ‘what is this?!’ At a pretty young age, I fell in love with beers that were better than what we were getting. I came back and started searching that out. After I left the corps and went to college, I tried to drink better beers.
Then, I started printing t-shirts in college and med school. I printed all of Southern Star Brewing’s shirts for a couple of years, and they taught me how to be around a brewery. I wasn’t afraid to pick up a broom and help clean, and I ran their swag department.
QUESTION: Tell me about your new whiskey bar concept, Sabbatical?
HAYDEN: It’s a labor of love, I love this place. We knew we needed to expand, and there’s so much that goes into knowing about whiskey. There’s no great place up here for it right now that’s a neighborhood place and not overpriced or overdone. You have to go downtown to get a great cocktail, but we wanted to do it here.
Our general manager, Matt Barr, is a huge whiskey and Scotch fan to begin with. We got him in (Sabbatical) and let him go crazy with whatever he wanted to do. I built everything here, but I left all the whiskey up to him. He’s done a great job.
There’s no vodka here. We made a point of saying, vodka is a spirit that’s made to be covered up with other flavors, and we don’t really want that. That’s not who we are today. If you really want to explore whiskey and learn about it…that’s what we do.
This is a horrible place to open a bar as far as DWIs. Not that any place is a great place for that, but this isn’t a great place for that. We wanted to open a bar where you can come hang out with your friends and family, but one that’s not designed to get torn up in. We cater more toward people who care that they have a job and a family and want to have a reasonable time without becoming unreasonable.
Building this means that you get up every morning at 3 or 3:30 a.m., build some, go to work, come home, and do it all again. It’s part of that labor of love, not sleeping a lot. We rented it a long time ago, and it took a long time to build. We opened about two months ago. After Harvey, you’re broke. We did it ourselves.
QUESTION: Have your businesses been affected by any flooding?
HAYDEN: We flooded twice. The first one was like a foot and we were open again in three days. But Hurricane Harvey with four feet of water, that was a huge difference. Four feet wrecked us, and the clinic as well. Fortunately, we took all our clinic equipment home and we were spaying and neutering in our kitchen. These animals had to be spayed and neutered to get on transports to get out of Houston.
We opened Hop Scholar three or four years before Harvey, and a year after it opened I opened RAWC as a little, tiny trap, neuter and return clinic. It wasn’t even open to the public, I just didn’t want to be in the shelter. So when I took over Hop Scholar, my wife took over RAWC and made it a real hospital.
One of us always needed to have a steady paycheck to make life run, and the other could go out and make a difference in whatever they wanted to do. The public came and helped a ton with Hop Scholar, cleaning it out and rebuilding. I built all of the whiskey bar afterwards.
QUESTION: How do you juggle doing it all?
HAYDEN: You hire great people. If you don’t surround yourself with great people, you won’t be there. You just get up; you don’t sleep a lot. Now that it’s all built, I sleep like a baby. But there’s still stuff to be done.
Everybody here does a great job. We only hire people who want to do more in life. If someone wants to be a bartender for life, we tell them to go to Chili’s. We want people who want to go on to do other things, and it’s a great job for that. Get people who want to do more, and they’ll do a great job. Our clinic is the same way. They have to aspire to do more. You don’t want to be complacent.
QUESTION: What’s your favorite thing about being an entrepreneur?
HAYDEN: One of my favorite things is being here at 3 or 4 in the morning and looking around, and saying “I did that.” Then, seeing old pictures of it, to see how it has developed. It’s fun to watch it grow, and now you kind of set it free and see what it does.
It’s stressful, it’s way easier to work for somebody else and know the paycheck is going to be there. It’s tough, and when bad things happen to employees you want to try to help them. You feel responsible.
My wife is a veterinarian. We always said we would never work at the same hospital, and now that we do, it’s fantastic. There’s 10 ways to do everything in medicine, and we always do it the opposite way from each other. Now, we can work together because we both have a strong base of experience to draw from. We know we’re both right, and we can deal with that. And she’s awesome. Above all, anything that’s ever happened is because she’s amazing.
I went in one day and told her I wanted to quit my job and open a bar, and she was like “Great!” We’ve made good choices so now we can make bad ones. She let me quit my job and build this place, and she has supported me.
QUESTION: What are your business goals for this year?
HAYDEN: To run it like a business. I want to expand our footprint and our reach, do more stuff in the community. Also, just get better at running a kitchen. I didn’t have any experience running a bar when I opened up, so when we got good at the bar I want to get good at the kitchen now. We’re not looking to expand into another bar this year. I would love to, but that’s probably not in the cards with the way I like to do business organically. We don’t have investors, so if it’s not supported, it’s not supported. We were looking at moving the clinic and expanding it. The next thing we’d do is add space to the current clinic.