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Business Profile


Bob Hemphill could probably talk your ear off about how to run a successful business. He's been running one of Spokane's best Southern restaurants, Chkn-n-Mo, since he opened it in 1992. His trademark barbecue sauce appears on grocery shelves around the area, and has been shipped to homesick customers from Hong Kong to Qatar. His busy catering sideline has supplied countless company parties with home-style chicken, ribs, and catfish.

But it's his bigger-picture business rules that entrepreneurs should really take note of. Rule Number One? Keep your eyes on the prize.

"I was always of the mindset that anything that you can imagine, you can do," says Hemphill, 74. "You have to go through the baby steps, change the diapers, wipe the snotty nose, and the crying tears. But through keeping that image in front of us, we are able to accomplish anything."

Hemphill had never cooked professionally before 1992, when a debilitating injury sustained as a construction worker forced him to reexamine his goals. But having grown up south of Dallas, he knew what good Texan barbecue was supposed to taste like. And with that vision firmly in his mind (and on his palate), he started experimenting in the kitchen.

Which brings us to Rule Number Two: Be prepared to make mistakes.

"It was trial and error," he said of the quest to find the right woods for his barbecue, to produce the right smokiness, to properly evoke the classic flavors of central Texas. "I made a lot of mistakes in doing it. I just ask God to forgive me for all the mistakes I've made."

Likewise, he says he's had to learn on his feet when it's come to the catering business. Or the decision to open a second location, in Spokane Valley, just before the financial meltdown. "I just didn't have quite enough knowledge and understanding of what I was doing," he says, "so it cost me."

But none of those mistakes sunk his business — in part because of the third rule: Let the universe bless you.

Bob says that while he was still perfecting his barbecue sauce, an ex-convict who happened to stop in for lunch gave him the tip (he won't say what, exactly) that he needed to perfect it. "And man, it became a hit," he says. Another visitor is credited with the assist on his catfish. "The guy said, 'Hey man, I got a catfish breading that would just blow your shoes off.'" And so it went.

All of this goes back to Rule Number One.

"If you're working on something, you got a picture of how you want things to be," he says, "people just come in here and are always looking out for you. Someone's always got something out there they wanna hand you. People favor you, people love you, people do things. It's the mother's love. It's a great honor to be a man, to be part of mankind."

And that may be the hidden rule that underpins all of the above: to get love, you have to give it, too. And Hemphill gives.

"Mankind is the greatest creature of this universe. Bar none," he says. "So why should I want to kill you? Why should I want to hurt you? Why should I want to say things about you and make life miserable for you? You're the greatest creature that ever took a step in the universe, man!"

And when you follow those rules, Hemphill suggests, things just seem to come together.

"Every day I'm confessing that I'm stronger, and wiser, and happier," he says. "I'm not confessing the downturns and shortcomings. And success shows up. It always shows up. It's like calling a chicken home. They always come home when you call them."