- February 5, 2016
When he was a kid growing up in Pittsburgh and later, Orlando, Aaron Carricato had big dreams: One day, he was going to own and operate a sports bar.
Maybe he watched too many reruns of “Cheers” in his youth, but Carricato, now 39, harbored no aspirations of becoming a firefighter, astronaut, doctor, baseball player or any of the other typical childhood career objectives.
“My dad would take me to JB's Sports Bar in Orlando to watch Steelers games,” Carricato says, recalling how he became fascinated with the establishment's decor and sense of community. “They didn't have DirectTV back then, so we couldn't just watch the games at home. I remember the first time we went, I was in 10th grade, and I just loved the atmosphere. And it wasn't even about the Steelers. There were all these people yelling and screaming about different games at the same time. I just thought it was so cool. I said, 'Dad, this is what I want to do.'”
Carricato graduated from Florida State University with a business degree, and worked for a time in a stable, well-paying office job. But his dream never faded. “I wanted to go after the sports-bar thing,” he says.
He was acquainted with Sean Mellody, the son of the late Jim Mellody, Beef O'Brady's founder. At the time, Sean Mellody was managing a Beef's restaurant in South Tampa, so Carricato went to him and asked to be considered for a management job.
“He said, 'I don't have a manager job open right now; in fact, we're so fully staffed that I don't even have a cooking job — I don't have anything, really,'” Carricato recalls. “I said, 'Sean, I'm willing to do anything. It doesn't matter what it is.' So he says, 'OK, you can wash dishes.' So I did.”
Carricato says he “busted his butt” washing dishes, eventually transitioning to a cooking job. His hard work was noticed and rewarded when Sean Mellody asked him to fill in as restaurant manager. Jim Mellody also was keeping tabs on Carricato's progress, and soon the erstwhile dishwasher and line cook had an offer to buy a 25% stake in a Beef's franchise on Fourth Street in St. Petersburg.
“I was extremely flattered, but I was 24 at the time and didn't have the money for 1%, let alone 25%, of a restaurant,” Carricato says. “He said, 'I'll give you a loan for it if you promise to make this store profitable for us. You can pay me back over time. We'll get it figured out.' That was my entrance into being an owner of a Beef O'Brady's.”
Today, Carricato owns and operates five Beef O'Brady's franchises along with his friend and business partner Seth Pickern, who, like Carricato, started out at the bottom of the Beef's hierarchy. The duo's model, to make each Beef's location a core part of the community it's in, has worked.
For example, the Plant City location, which they acquired in 2012, did just more than $1 million in annual revenue five years ago. “Within a few years, we were up to $1.5 million, and this year we'll probably hit $1.7 million,” Carricato says.
In 2016, Carricato won the company's Franchisee of the Year, and he and Pickern, 37, shared the Developer of the Year Award.
Carricato, to this day a sports fanatic, says he used to think of himself as the Buffalo Bills of Beef O'Brady's franchisees because he was nominated for the Franchisee of the Year award four times — and lost all four times. But unlike the Bills, he finally broke through and won. “I was really excited [to win the awards],” he says. “I'd been asking myself, 'What the heck do I have to do [to win]?'”
The awards, Carricato adds, “mean [Seth and I] are both doing something right. It's a testament to what we do together, and our staff. We have great staff — they're always trying to improve.”