BBQ Restaurant Owner Stokes the Fires of Advocacy

Jun 25, 2012

Small business owner Tom Seaton (left) meets with Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) at the Rally on the Hill during America’s Small Business Summit. (Photo: Ian Wagreich)

Where there’s smoke, there’s fire. That’s why BBQ restaurant owner and caterer Tom Seaton of Johnson City, Tennessee, came to Washington, D.C.—to help put out some legislative and regulatory fires.

Because America’s Small Business Summit occurs during one of his busiest times of year, he has always passed up the opportunity to come. But this year Seaton says that he just had to attend.

“With the upcoming election and the state of the economy overall, it’s a pivotal time for the country and for business. I needed to stop what I was doing and go up there.”

Seaton and hundreds of other small business owners descended on Washington in May for the summit. He was part of a five-person delegation from Johnson City to participate, during which time they paid a visit to Capitol Hill to personally voice their concerns about the economy to their elected representatives.

Seaton, owner of The Firehouse Restaurant, says that uncertainty over health care reform, taxes, and federal deficits and spending has put him into “a wait-and-see mode.” He delayed plans to expand his 32-year-old business while the U.S. Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of the president’s health care law. (The Court’s decision was expected by the end of June, after this article went to print.) “I have two expansion projects on hold because of uncertainty over costs and the unknown.”

The Johnson City delegation met with Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker (R) and staff from Rep. Phil Roe’s (R) office while in Washington.

Seaton, chair of the Johnson City/Washington County Chamber of Commerce, says that he was inspired by other small business owners at the summit. “My favorite part was seeing and hearing from the Blue Ribbon winners. It was interesting to look at those businesses and see that they are more than just businesses—they are difference makers in their communities.”

Seaton and his employees are active in their community, serving meals at the Coalition for Kids’ Community Kids Activities Club during the summer and feeding volunteers at the annual Christmas box donation event.

He takes a strong interest in developing his young employees. “I get an amazing opportunity to work with 80 employees, 80% of whom are 16 to 25 years old, so my passion in business is making a difference with the younger generation. One of my missions between now and November is to inform and encourage them [his employees] to vote and get involved. I’m not suggesting how they vote. I just want them to do it. It’s important that the younger generation get involved early on.” 

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