Archive for Thursday, March 2, 2000

Partners, not twins

DeSoto restarauteurs think success is a matter of having fun

March 2, 2000

Twin brothers, different mothers.

That's the only way Denny Hougham and George Mills can explain their striking resemblance, their enduring friendship and their mutual love of good music and good food.

It's also the answer the two, better known as Doc and Brutie respectively, give people who ask them the inevitable question: "Are you two brothers?"

The owners of Doc & Bruties Pizza-Q in DeSoto are, in fact, not related. They're best friends who decided five years ago they were tired of working for other people and should start their own business.

Still, that answer doesn't seem to satisfy their customers, so they usually reply with what they have come to call their standard line.

Twin brothers, different mothers.

"I said that to a lady in the restaurant once and she said, 'I knew it,'" Hougham remembers. "Then, a few minutes later, I heard her laughing out loud and saying, 'Oh, twin brothers, different mothers, I get it.'"

Hougham and Mills met 20 years ago when they were hired within days of each other at a warehouse in Lawrence. After working side by side for several years, Hougham came to work with an idea that would change their lives.

"He asked me if I realized pizza was one of the best-selling fast foods in the country," Mills recalled. "I told him I never really thought about it. He kept at it a few days in a row and before long we decided to give it a go."

Considering the lack of business experience the two had, both men admit the business should have failed.

"A few days before we opened, we kind of looked at each other and said, 'How do we do this?'" Mills said.

True to their nature, the partners decided to just jump right in. They rounded up a group of friends and family members and starting making pizza.

"They all told us they loved it, so we told them to come back the next night and stop being polite. We told them we needed to know," Mills said. "The next night they came back and we picked it apart. By the end of the night we had it down. We opened the next day."

Maybe it was a cart-before-the horse approach to starting up the business, but you can't argue with success.

"People always tell us we did everything backwards," Hougham added. "We didn't have anything. The first night we took money out of our pockets to make change."

Five years later, they've expanded the menu in DeSoto to include barbecue and they opened a second restaurant in Basehor.

Hougham and Mills give much of the credit for their success to a philosophy they adopted right from the start.

"We just want to have fun and invite other people in to have fun, too," Hougham said.

To that end, they invited local musicians to play at the restaurant on a regular basis. Throughout the week, Doc & Bruties hosts open-mike nights for blues, country and bluegrass musicians. They also host a singer-songwriter circle every third Saturday.

Mills and Hougham have even tried a few nights of karaoke something they have considered doing more of in the future.

"Karaoke is something that's fun for families but it's mostly done in bars and people don't want to take their kids into a bar atmosphere," Mills said. "Here, they can all come and have a good time."

And, you never know what you might hear.

"It's great," Hougham said. "You get little bitty guys up there singing Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star."

Although good food and wholesome entertainment have taken them a long way, the partners haven't overlooked one of their most marketable assets, their own unique looks.

"People always think we're the guys from (the rock band) ZZ Top," Mills said. "No offense to them, but those guys don't look anything like us. They're little, skinny guys."

Apparently many people disagree with Mills' assessment. The two once turned quite a few heads at a pizza convention in Las Vegas. After being called on stage by Bowzer from the group Sha Na Na, who was performing at the time, they were introduced as members of ZZ Top. Hougham and Mills spent 30 minutes posing for photographs with confused audience members.

"But we also heard a lot people saying 'that's not ZZ Top,'" Hougham said with a laugh.

If their most recent business idea goes well, the two may someday be as well known as their rock 'n roll counterparts.

"We're thinking about starting a Doc and Bruties T-shirt line," Mills said. "We've done a few shirts and everything we've ever done has sold out. We may even take it onto the Internet."

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