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Details count at McHale’s, Millstone restaurants in Rock Hill

For Brendan Kuhlkin, it’s all about the details.

Kuhlkin operates two downtown Rock Hill restaurants, McHale’s Irish Pub on Main Street and Millstone Pizza & Taphouse off Caldwell Street. While the restaurants are different in concept, they are run on the same principles – and spreadsheets developed by Kuhlkin’s wife, Tracy.

“She knows where every dollar is,” Kuhlkin said. “She created the systems that measure them.”

If you don’t pay attention to the spreadsheets and the other details, “things fall apart quickly,” Kuhlkin said. Mistakes, he said, take about three months to discover and six months to recover from. “You can’t run a business on autopilot,” Kuhlkin said.

This year, the 48-year-old Kuhlkin has decided to focus even more on the details.

From a physical standpoint, it meant closing McHale’s for about a week to give it a thorough cleaning, renovating the kitchen, upgrading the plumbing and lighting, and painting the bathrooms.

Kuhlkin opened McHale’s in 2004. It was his second location. He opened McHale’s on Gold Hill Road in 1997. He operated that location until 2014 when the 17-acre site was sold for development.

When McHale’s first opened in Rock Hill, “downtown was a ghost town. We were the only lights on Main Street after 6 p.m.”

That has gradually changed over the years with more restaurants coming – and going – downtown.

Surveying his restaurant, Kuhlkin knew it was time to revamp McHale’s.

“It needed to be done, I own the building, and like any house, you have to keep it up,” he said.

The work was recently completed, and McHale’s is open for business.

But it was the details on the spreadsheets that really caught Kuhlkin’s attention.

The numbers showed the cost of supplies was rising, payroll was increasing, there were changes in management and profits were dropping.

“The signs said I needed to give my restaurants more care,” he said.

Kuhlkin said he plans to invest more time at each restaurant, decreasing some of his other work such as at Second Brick Ventures. Kuhlkin has teamed with several other Rock Hill businessmen to create a private incubator to help entrepreneurs develop their ideas. Second Brick has already announced several new apps and is renovating a Main Street building for a permanent location.

More time also means setting new performance goals.

For McHale’s, Kuhlkin wants to see a double-digit increase in business. “We’ve done that before, less last year,” he said. Part of getting that return is finding the right people and training them, and then delivering a consistent product each day and night.

At Millstone the focus is different.

Kuhlkin and Fort Mill High School classmate David Clapp, who now lives in Atlanta, opened Millstone about two years ago. The concept – craft beers and craft pizzas – was developed “after the Great Pizza Tour of 2012,” Kuhlkin said with a laugh. He and Clapp toured 34 pizza restaurants in New York City and Chicago to learn the business.

The result is a restaurant that serves 40 craft beers on tap and pizzas made with imported flour, bottled water and a variety of cheeses, some made locally. The pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired brick oven. The heat is so intense it can cook a pie in a matter of seconds.

While Millstone is showing a profit – numbers Kuhlkin didn’t disclose – the goal for 2015 is to increase business. One aspect of that will be to do more marketing. So far Millstone has relied on social media and word-of-mouth recommendations to get customers in the door.

Kuhlkin also wants to open a second Millstone location. Fort Mill, Charlotte, Columbia and Atlanta are on his list of potential sites. Millstone, he said, was developed as a concept, not a stand-alone site.

His focus, however, will remain on Rock Hill. One of the things he wants to show is you can find things here that you once “had to go to Charlotte for.”