Matt Thompson: FSU Alum and Co-Owner at Madison Social

Matt Thompson brings the “social” to Madison Social. After graduating from Florida State University’s Public Relations program, like many of us, Thompson wasn’t ready to leave. He stayed and went on to earn his Master’s degree at FSU in Interactive Communication and New Information Technology. A decision that he said helped get him where he is today. Now, Thompson works at The Zimmerman Agency in Tallahassee, FL., as Director of Digital Strategy overseeing the social media department. On top of that, Thompson is living out the opportunity of a lifetime – owning a restaurant/bar with his best friend at the coolest new place in town. Thompson opens up to HC about what it’s like to be a partner in the restaurant business.

“I knew that that was a chance, and you don’t get a lot of them in life I don’t think, at least I haven’t to date… You don’t get the opportunity to do something that could be wildly successful and give you freedom.”

Kayla Louttit: While you were at FSU, did you ever have dreams of owning a restaurant here?

Matt Thompson: No. I wanted to live up in the mountains. I wanted to move to Denver. I interviewed for a job in Ireland of all places, but then I was like, I’m an only child that’d crush my mother.

KL: So, what’d you do?

MT: I had serious interviews with Price Waterhouse and then at the time Anderson Consulting. I got rejection letters from both of them. I kept one of them and framed it and looked at it for a long time. I was devastated. I mean literally, I thought oh god, what am I gonna do with my life?

KL: How’d you recover from that?

MT: Once I got out of school, I contacted a friend of mine before I left and it was a small software company in Orlando and they needed a marketing person, so I became the Director Of Marketing. I directed myself; it was four people. I was able to raise revenues 92% over 18 months of being there.

KL: What’d you do after you left there?

MT: It was weird; right around the same day I decided to leave, I got offered a full-time position at Valencia Community College teaching Public Speaking. I went through with that and taught at Valencia for one year then moved to University of Central Florida and taught there for four years. Then my wife and I moved to Tallahassee to start our family.

KL: When did the opportunity of Madison Social come about?

MT: My partner and I were in public speaking class together and got our Master’s together. He later moved to New York, and the Seminole Boosters came to him with an opportunity to launch a business in the newly developed Collegetown. He pitched the idea of Madison Social, and they loved it. It didn’t have a name yet; it was just a concept. He needed a local partner and asked me if I wanted to join him in this venture.

KL: Has the concept for Madison Social stayed the same since then?

MT: We’ve morphed a little bit from the original gastro pub concept. I think the food at Madison Social echoes that of a gastro pub. You don’t just get a burger with lettuce, tomato, onion and mustard – you get a hearty fried avocado, with Jameson caramelized onions, bacon, smoked cheddar and all this other stuff.

KL: What roles do you and your partner take on in the business?

MT: He’s the operational guy. He loves the construction and design part. I honestly love the marketing part. It’s the ultimate rush. When you own something and you watch people go in and enjoy it, and you know that you helped create that and your responsible for the success. It’s literally like having a tailgate everyday.

KL: What’s your marketing philosophy?

MT: Don’t spend your time telling people to enjoy you, create experiences that they want to enjoy. Everything from our design and décor to servers is thought out. We purposely hired people that were social. The word’s there for a reason. It would be awesome if we see a 4 top and a 6 top and they all of a sudden just start having drinks together. Now that’s cool.

KL: Where do you see Madison Social in five years?

MT: In five years I see us having locations in some other cities. I would like to be in more cities than just Tallahassee, though our roots will always be here. The manhole covers tell a story, you’ll see TLH-NYC-TLH. That last piece that says TLH, I’d love for it to be something else – wherever it is.

KL: Do you have any advice for students with similar aspirations?

MT: You’re not gonna get anywhere without the operations side. My story is one in a million, but it’s probably not one in a hundred. You gotta have a partner that understands operations. You can have all the greatest designs in the world and the greatest menu in the world, but at the end of the day, if it’s not served with some sort of cheerful happiness, that person is not gonna wanna come back.

If you haven’t checked out Madison Social yet, be sure to stop by for their raved about Madso Burger or Biergarita soon (Yes, it’s a margarita topped off with beer)! Also, be sure to like Madison Social on Facebook for updates on food and specials!