Jay Ducote just meant to have a quick meeting. He did not mean to sell his company.
The Baton Rouge-based occasional Food Network personality with an eponymous line of condiments, coffee and wine had for years hosted his Bite and Booze radio show on Talk 107.3. Leasing the weekend air time meant a yearly chat with Flynn Foster, the president of Guaranty Media, and, in 2018, it was business as usual—until it wasn’t.
It was a “how’s everything going kind of meeting,” Ducote recalls. They talked about duck hunting. But Foster, Ducote says, also asked what Guaranty Corp. could do to make things go a little easier for Ducote.
“If y’all could go sell me instead of me selling myself, that would really help. Y’all have a marketing team. Y’all have a digital content team,” Ducote remembers saying. “… That got his wheels turning about the synergies we could do, and how much there could be that does overlap.”
They didn’t wait another year to talk again.
At first, the deal centered around Ducote coming on board with Talk 107.3 as a live and local radio show host five days a week, but soon Foster was asking about the rest of Ducote’s business.
“At first it was, holy crap, what are you talking about?” Ducote says. “It’s a totally different proposition than, ‘Do you want a radio show?’”
There were plenty of details to hammer out, especially considering the local-blogger-turned-multimedia-personality’s taco restaurant inside White Star Market. Did Guaranty want to take that on, too?
Turns out, it was a definite yes.
“Jay is a big brand,” Foster says. “You just look at his social media following and it’s as big as like, Matt Moscona or T-Bob Hebert on our sports stations. Jay has built himself, as I like to refer to it, out of thin air. There’s no logical reason for Jay Ducote to be who he is, except for the fact that he did it himself.”
It took several months for the deal to finally come together, but now that it has, Ducote and Foster hope the arrangement gives back to Ducote the time to grow his brand. They are, in effect, looking to duplicate the success of another recent Guaranty acquisition: Gatorworks.
Brian Rodriguez started his web development and digital marketing company while in high school and, when Foster approached him about buying it in 2016, he had no intention of letting it go. Rodriguez had entertained a handful of conversations over the years, so he had no reason to think grabbing coffee with Foster would ever be more than that. Even by the time, nearly a year later, he went into his final meeting with Foster, Rodriguez wasn’t sure he’d sell.
The night before, Rodriguez had scribbled a number on a sheet of paper and stuck it inside his pocket, a small piece of armor signaling to himself, you’ll take nothing less.
“They presented me with a number extremely close to the number on the sheet of paper in my pocket,” Rodriguez says. “And Flynn is a tall guy, and he stood up and put his arm across the table to shake my hand, and now this 7-foot-tall dude is trying to shake my hand to do this deal, so OK, let’s do it.”
Now, about two years later, Rodriguez calls that day life changing. Since then, he’s outsourced much of the legwork he used to busy himself with to Guaranty Corp. and instead focuses on building the business.
“All of a sudden, I found myself part of meetings I hadn’t been part of in the past to close certain deals or be part of certain deals,” he says. “… It’s a lot of areas where I could learn more and grow more as a manager.”
Gatorworks has more than tripled its number of employees and stands to post between 130% and 140% year-over-year growth for 2019.
Ducote’s similar arrangement—losing no employees but having Guaranty there to usher his business along—is already paying off.
“It takes the pressure and the burdens of being a solo entrepreneur out of the equation,” he said in early October. “Two weeks ago was the first time I didn’t have to worry about payroll.”
Guaranty is moving Ducote’s restaurant, Govt Taco, out of White Star Market and into its own space on Government Street. They’re even floating ideas for a second location.
“Will we own 500 restaurants and be across the country like Todd Graves?” Foster says, comparing Ducote’s business to fellow-Baton Rouge creation Raisin’ Cane’s. “We haven’t even written a number down to where we want to go, where we want to be. We just know we want to do it with Jay.”
For now, however, Ducote is focused on creating his daily Southern lifestyle radio talk show, and just beginning to think of the other ways he can expand his brand.
“It’s kind of like, I have that nervous anticipation of ‘what’s next?’ again,” he says. “It almost feels like it did in the early days, where I really had no clue what was going to come next and how to grow it. But let’s just keep our mind open and take whatever opportunities come our way.”