Kampschnieder said it was a great opportunity to connect real world experiences to what her students have been studying in class. She said Michael and Amber Behrens have worked tirelessly to establish their restaurant, Black Cow Fat Pig, as well as their event center, The Stables, in southwest Norfolk.
“I don’t often see the owners of a business work as hard as these two do whenever I go out. I think that is pretty unique for restaurants because it doesn’t seem to happen as much in this type of setting.”
The Behrens opened Black Cow Fat Pig just over three years ago, but neither are novices to the industry. They had both worked in food service for a number of years. Michael said a goal of his was to start his own business one day, specifically a restaurant.
“We really wanted to create something that reflects well in the community, so that’s why we opened a steakhouse.”
The name also reflects back on the region.
“Many feeders around here raise Black Angus cattle. And then we wanted another part of the name to be something unique that people would talk about and remember. That’s where the fat pig comes in. We didn’t want to do something stuffy like ‘Michael’s Place,’” he said with a chuckle.
Michael Behrens is a Norfolk native and attended Northeast Community College for two-and-a-half years before graduating with hospitality degrees from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the University of Nebraska-Omaha (UNO). Amber, who was raised on a farm west of Platte Center, also graduated from UNO with degrees in business and marketing, management and mass communications. In addition, she earned an associate degree in hospitality from Metropolitan Community College.
The couple stressed that their previous experience in the business and their education have allowed them to understand the many facets of owning a business.
“I use the many things I learned in college every day,” Michael said. “For a business like this, which requires strategies and planning, a class like the one you’re in now, microeconomics, really allows you to figure out what is needed to be successful.”
Amber added, “Regardless of what trade you plan to pursue, education is incredibly important. You at least have the resources to go back and ask questions. Things like entrepreneurship or accounting…things you learned in class…you still use 20-years later. Education will expose you to more opportunities and allow you to be better prepared.”
When they opened, the plan was for Michael to run the restaurant and Amber would find employment elsewhere in order to take advantage of benefits a business would offer. But business at Black Cow Fat Pig started off so well, that they agreed that it would be more advantageous for both of them to be there.
The couple spent most of the hour with the 18 business students explaining how they established a business model, food and labor costs, staffing, challenges of being a small business and marketing their brand, among many other issues.
Amber said the food they serve is not the only item they have to focus on; the service is equally as important. She offered advice to the students - advice that has been heard time-and-time again by any business owner.
“I can’t tell you how important is for employees to show up on time, do your job and don’t bring drama, it’s really that simple.”
She also told the students as they enter the business world upon graduation to not be afraid to take a “lesser job than what you think you are worth.”
She said, “Right out of college, you’ll probably find a job that you may not really like. So, take some part- time jobs if you have to so you can search around for the job you really want….or try a few different things to find out what you really have a passion for. You may find a job that pays the bills, but you have to figure out are you going to work because you’re excited to show up every day or do you go to work just for a paycheck?”
Amber Behrens said she and her husband have worked hard for what they have, but they understand they have to have a life outside of their businesses as well. She said they work to get all of their bookkeeping, ordering and similar types of matters done while they are at the restaurant rather than taking it home with them at night.
“When you own your own business, you have to balance out work and life. Otherwise, you have no life….it’s all work,” she said.
With that said, Michael Behrens said they work every day to provide their clientele with an excellent product and experience.
“Whether it’s today or tomorrow, I know that the extra time we put in will eventually pay off. Our goal is to make sure we have a quality product we put on a plate, a menu that has items to offer everybody and then we put the service behind that to create an overall value for our customers.
Michael and Amber Behrens, owners of Black Cow Fat Pig, speak to students in Amanda Kampschnieder’s microeconomics class at Northeast Community College at the restaurant in downtown Norfolk.