If your school work is getting in the way of your social life, maybe it’s time to open up 13 bars and pubs in your college town like Billy Hales did.
Hales worked his way up from a janitor at Bull’s Tavern in the 1980s to now owning it and 12 other bars locally through his company Ash Management. This year he celebrates his 25th anniversary of owning and operating one of the most well-known pubs in downtown San Luis Obispo, Frog and Peach Pub.
The pub was the first one he ever started himself.
“I’m really proud of Peach,” Hales said. “But most of all, it makes me feel old.”
Getting into the bar business
He said he knew that the bar business path was for him very early on.
During his time at Cal Poly, Hales said he was a social butterfly. He was very involved with his fraternity, Beta Theta Pi, but he also paid his way through college by working three jobs. His senior project advisor wrote on his final paper, “I think your school work is getting in the way of your social life.”
One of Hales’ three college jobs was at Bull’s Tavern. His decision to stay and work at Bull’s after graduation was also his biggest career move. Instead of taking a sought after sales job, he decided to do what he did best and bartend four days a week.
Hales worked his way up into the management side of things. He eventually took over the bar at Brubeck’s restaurant, where Novo Restaurant and Lounge is now. Hales said working closely with his bosses and investors helped him execute his idea of opening up a traditional English pub.
“It’s been an amazing journey,” Hales said. “I think the one thing that I’ve always appreciated about the Frog and Peach, is it’s never been really pigeonholed into any one type of group.”
The first two projects that Hales launched in the 1990s were the Library Lounge and the Frog and Peach Pub, which are still under his ownership today. Milestone Tavern, Creeky Tiki, Mother’s Tavern are just a few of the other bars Ash Management operates.
“They know their audience and they cater to them,” Marketing and Communications Manager of Downtown SLO Kat Thompson said. “Frog and Peach has live music every night, no one else really does that.”
Hales took over Bull Tavern’s and McCarthy’s, which have been staples in downtown San Luis Obispo for the past 80 years. He moved up and down the coast to Humboldt, Santa Barbara, Paso Robles and Grover Beach to open various places, but ultimately returned to what he calls the “secret spot.”
“I think another lesson is just to keep it in your backyard, there’s plenty of opportunity right here,” Hales said.
The way that he builds his company now mirrors what was done for him. After someone has worked for a business under Ash Management for at least two years, Hales and the other senior partners give them equity stake in whatever project the company is actively working on.
“I want everybody from the the new door guy to the seasoned bartender to understand that they’ve got room to grow within the company,” Hales said.
There were people who believed in him back then and he said he wants to return that favor to those working for him now.
“He’s always been super uplifting,” Frog and Peach Bartender Drew Gonzales said. “[Hales is] super encouraging on how he had a humble beginning and how anyone can make something of themselves.”
Hales has a new project in the works on Tank Farm Road and Broad Street. He says it is about 18 months out.
“Take my ashes, set it up there on the bar with a shot of tequila next to it and my friends passing through town can toast me,” Hales said about his loyalty to the Frog and Peach.