By Jim Gehman
He and University of Alabama teammate and New York Jets quarterback Richard Todd became business partners with another former Jets quarterback, Joe Namath.
“Joe lived in Ft. Lauderdale during the offseason and Richard and I were buds in college and actually bought a condo together in Joe’s building. We were both Joe wannabes,” laughed Baumhower.
The two wannabes and Namath invested in a Bachelor’s III restaurant in South Florida. Two years later, Baumhower was introduced to and became interested in a different type of restaurant.
“One of my teammates invited me to lunch one day during the offseason,” he recalled. “I said, ‘Where are we going?’ and he said, ‘To Wings N’ Things.’ I said, ‘What do they serve there?’ And he said, ‘Chicken wings.’ I thought he was crazy. I said, ‘You want me to go somewhere and eat chicken wings for lunch?’”
Baumhower would become friends with the restaurant’s owner, Eddie Hauck, a Buffalo native, and opened a chicken wing restaurant near the University of Alabama campus in Tuscaloosa.
“We started serving Buffalo wings and I had to probably give them away for a year. Nobody wanted to try them. They thought I was crazy,” Baumhower said. “I wasn’t (nervous about opening a new restaurant). I’ve been pretty fearless and I don’t know if that’s just because I don’t know any better or what. We opened that up and I was still playing ball, so money wasn’t an issue for me. I was just absolutely infatuated with that whole thing of taking a chicken wing and making it so valuable basically.
“My thing with the wing for years was – you serve a good wing and they’ll come. We kind of had a corner on the market for the first 10 years. My restaurants back then were called Wings. We’ve rebranded to Baumhower’s now because there are so many wing restaurants. But there were no wing restaurants back then. I’ve always had a lot of faith in if you do something right, it will work.”
It will and it did. Very well.
Baumhower owns Aloha Hospitality, which is the umbrella for 13 restaurants throughout Alabama: Baumhower’s, Bob’s Victory Grille, Bimini Bob’s and Dauphin’s, a fine dining restaurant in Mobile. His 14th, La Floriditas, is a Cuban restaurant that will open soon also in Mobile. He feels a great part of his success in business is on account of his history.
“It starts with mom and dad,” Baumhower said. “Mom and dad were self-made people. Dad was a Kirby vacuum cleaner salesman who became a Kirby vacuum cleaner executive. Through him and my mom, and then (Alabama) Coach (Bear) Bryant, he took things to another level. And then I went to Miami, and Coach (Don) Shula was the same way. The principles that I was taught by all of the above, I use them all the time.
“(Bryant and Shula) were both huge on preparation. Taking the time to surround yourself with good people and then doing a really good job making a plan. They both had very common principles and mindsets, where we always had a vision for ourselves and we made a plan on how we were going to make that work. Those are things that we work on as far as Aloha is concerned.”
As understandably pleased as he is with how well his restaurants are doing, Baumhower’s even more proud of his family.
“My wife, Leslie, we’ve been married 27 years. That’s been my rock for a long, long, long time,” Baumhower said. “Like a lot of guys, when I retired, it was tough not being able to play the game anymore. Les and I started having kids and without a doubt, not even close, having a family (is the best thing about being me today). I have four of the coolest kids (Spencer, Anne, Allie and Wesley). My mom and dad are living with me. I’m just really, really blessed with a super family.”