Max Sullivan, Portsmouth Herald
PORTSMOUTH — The ninth annual 10 To Watch young professionals contest presented by Catapult Seacoast and Seacoast Media Group is in full swing. The deadline to nominate yourself or someone you know has been extended to Wednesday, Oct. 12. Go to seacoastonline.gannettcontests.com/10-to-Watch-Nomination-Form-2022 to enter.
The contest is sponsored by Bank of America, Eversource and Heritage Home Service.
After nominations close, a panel of judges will narrow down the field of young professionals entered in the contest to the top 10. These winners will be announced on Tuesday, Nov. 1 at an awards ceremony and reception at 3S Artspace in Portsmouth.
Keynote speaker for the awards ceremony will be entrepreneur Al Fleury, a former 10 To Watch winner. Fleury is the owner of The Goat restaurants in Portsmouth, Manchester and Hampton, as well as Bernie’s Beach Bar and Wally’s Pub in Hampton, The Green Room in Hampton and Portsmouth, and is opening a new restaurant, Lucho’s, in Newburyport, Massachusetts. His Fleury Group properties also include the Surf House in Hampton Beach and the Winnacunnet Apartments project in Hampton.
Fleury said his advice for young entrepreneurs building their careers is to “invest in yourself, whatever that means.” He started out in restaurants as a bartender while getting his college degree in preparation for a career in stock trading. He got a job at Merrill Lynch after school, but he found the work tiresome. He decided to save $40,000 as quickly as he could to take out a loan with a business partner to buy Wally’s in 2004.
From there, he slowly built his empire of restaurants and properties, eventually buying La Bec Rouge at Hampton Beach and, after it was damaged by a burst pipe, turning it into the outdoor music venue Bernie’s. Soon after, he turned the former Happy Clam on the corner of L Street and Ashworth Avenue into his first Goat and has ever since kept his eye out for new properties for investment.
“Just keep double-downing,” Fleury said. “I don’t have some over-intelligence or some natural talent. I think we’re good at what we do because we grind. Everybody’s capable of that. It’s just where to put your effort.”
Being a business owner is about more than revenue, as Fleury said he also takes time to work with community members through mentoring opportunities. He has relationships with school resource officers who direct him to students who could benefit from helping with projects on his properties. This summer Fleury had four or five Winnacunnet High School students helping him restore a farm Fleury bought up north.
Fleury was unable to attend his 10 to Watch victory the year he won, as that day his mother died. When he got a text asking if he would be the keynote speaker for the event this year, he said he was eager to help.
He also admits he felt a little intimidated. Gov. Chris Sununu was the guest speaker at the 10 to Watch party he missed, so he believes he has “big shoes” to fill.
“I consider these people my peers. I’m 40,” Fleury said. “I hope I don’t choke.”
Fleury said awards like the 10 to Watch are not so important for getting the actual work done, but they can be an important recognition for entrepreneurs who typically have no one overseeing them and providing feedback. He said it is helpful to gain recognition for the grind business owners put themselves through, and that it’s “nice to hear that people appreciate what you do.”
“Sometimes when you’re at the top of your company, there’s nobody there to do that,” Fleury said. “(Awards) just bring me to a point where, once in a while, it’s OK to acknowledge that you’re doing a good job.”
The awards ceremony will run from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. There’ll be a buffet and a cash bar before the ceremony begins. The public is invited to attend.