An Interview with Sid Ruckriegel
Since being named a 40 Leader Under Forty in 2003, Sid Ruckriegel’s dedication to Peoria has only grown deeper. A well-respected businessman and entrepreneur, his strong work ethic and affable personality have long been among our community’s greatest assets.
Not only has he built a successful career in the real estate and restaurant industry, his servant leadership is exemplified in a resume that runs for miles. A strong neighborhood advocate, he has served in numerous roles for the Moss-Bradley Residential Association, and his passion for historic preservation led him to serve on the City of Peoria Historic Commission and as a long-time trustee and past president of the Peoria Historical Society.
He chairs the Peoria Riverfront Museum Board, having served as a director since its inception, and is director of APPSCo, mentoring youth through real-world entrepreneurial activities. His board service also includes Alignment Peoria, the Heart of Illinois United Way and many other organizations, including co-chairing Peoria Promise's major fundraising event in 2016. He was also chosen by the Creve Coeur Club to chair the George Washington Day Banquet next year.
In 2015, Ruckriegel’s extensive record of civic leadership made him an obvious choice for appointment to the Peoria City Council. Earlier this year, he was elected outright by city residents, finishing first in a strong field of candidates. As an At-Large Council member, he serves as city liaison to the Peoria Public Library, Downtown Development Corporation and Peoria Civic Center Authority.
Peoria Magazines is proud to name Peoria City Councilman Sid Ruckriegel as the 2017 40 Leaders Under Forty Alumnus of the Year.
Tell us about your early years growing up in Indiana. Who or what was an early influence on you?
I grew up in Jasper, Indiana, a small town in the southern third of the state. I am the youngest of two boys. My parents worked hard to overcome many obstacles, but always with a sense of humility and self-sacrifice. Our church, schools and friends were a big part of our community.
My first attempt at “enterprise” was when I was nine years old. Finding leftover corn in the fields after crops were harvested, a friend and I shelled, packaged and tried selling the feed by going door-to-door in our neighbourhood. We mixed our shelled corn with acorns, certain that we had hit the right mix for a new, soon-to-be renowned squirrel food. Needless to say, it wasn’t a game-changer, though we did have fun and learned a lot.
Describe your education and career path. How did you take an interest in franchising, real estate and business?
While I graduated from Jasper High School in 1988 and from Vanderbilt University in 1992, I’d like to think my real education came from my family. Neither of my parents had the chance to go to college, so they pushed us to accept that the opportunity to attend college also included the responsibility to positively impact your community.
My dad was a meat cutter and my mom was an awesome bookkeeper. In 1964, they opened their first restaurant, Jerry’s Restaurant, a full-service coffee shop with curb service. My dad would be on the cook line and operate the day-to-day affairs; my mother managed the books, ran the cash register during meal periods, and still worked her bookkeeping job. They did all of this together, and there were a lot of late nights.
Over the years, their business grew to include other franchise opportunities, and my parents soon learned the lessons of owning versus renting. At the time, most franchisees leased land and buildings, but my parents knew that if they worked all the angles, owning the real estate outright was a smarter business choice. Over the years, this decision would lead to the formation of BR Associates, which operated restaurants and helped grow a real estate portfolio.
My brother and I were always around the restaurants or the office seeing first-hand the hard work and time required. As kids, we got to know industry titans like Dave Thomas of Wendy’s and Warren Rosenthal of Long John Silver’s. Together with my parents, these examples were impactful to my brother and me as we, too, chose to start our own business. Over the years, my activities would increase to include helping my parents once again. In 2014, my brother and I merged with our parents’ businesses to create SERVUS, a multi-state restaurant enterprise.
You opened your first franchise restaurant in 1987—even before you attended Vanderbilt! How did that happen?
My first restaurant job started when I was in sixth grade, working in the family business (peeling shrimp) when not working the counter at Long John Silver’s or bussing tables at Jerry’s Restaurant on Sundays after church. During summers, my older brother Al mowed 16 yards a week and would detail cars; I’d be his sidekick. We were big savers of those early earned dollars.
In 1987, my brother and I had an opportunity to invest some savings as a minor partner in Rally’s Hamburgers in Terre Haute. Rally’s was a young brand with lower costs of entry, hence something we could invest in together. At that time, I didn’t think it would be my entrance into the restaurant business, but by building equity in that early venture, my brother and I would later be able to grow our businesses as my parents did.
What were your plans when you graduated college? What led you to Peoria?
When I started college, I planned to get into banking or finance, or even studying Japanese. During my college days, I’d work jobs at Vanderbilt Catering, in the alumni office, and intern in several offices. I realized that I really enjoyed the “people” aspect of a business that I’d grown up around. While banking or finance was a great career, I enjoyed the challenges that came with being in the customer service business.
During my senior year, I was struggling with which direction to take after college. My dad told me to never be afraid to fail, and that being an entrepreneur was the means he chose to impact his community. He also told me that some of his best times were long days of hard work while growing with a new franchise concept.
Papa John’s Pizza was still just a regional player at that time, with no more than 45 stores. My brother and I were somewhat independent in our thinking, and we decided, instead of joining the family business, to form our own restaurant company, SIDAL. We focused on Rally’s Hamburgers and Papa John’s Pizza, and would eventually grow our business to include 52 locations.
Peoria was a franchise territory not yet spoken for, and I signed a development agreement for the area. Mind you, I had not yet set foot in the city of Peoria. I graduated in May 1992 and moved to Peoria the next month, not knowing a soul! I thought I’d be here for a few months or maybe a year, and then move to Chicago. I guess the “big city” is every graduate’s desire, but I found I really liked Peoria and its people. With the city still working in the shadow of a Caterpillar strike, it may not have seemed like the most opportune time, but there was a vibe here and I could sense good things were on the horizon. It’s a decision I’ve never regretted.
Andrew Rand, Lovella & Bob Ruckriegel, and Councilman Sid Ruckriegel with the Peoria Chiefs’ Homer at the 40 Leaders Alumni Social in August.
What was it like to receive the 40 Leaders Under Forty Award in 2003?
It was very humbling, and even today it holds a special significance for me. As someone who moved to the community 11 years earlier without knowing anyone, it showed me that Peoria is a city where someone can build a life and play a role in the community’s future. You don’t have to be from Peoria to be a Peorian. That’s very special. As Congressman Ray LaHood emceed that night, I was sitting together with friends from my hometown of Jasper, Indiana, as well as friends from Peoria, Illinois.
What led you to throw your hat in the ring for the City Council? Did you always know you wanted to be involved in politics?
My decision to become a Council member really stems from my community involvement. Many people would like to label me as the “business guy,” but I’d like to think of myself as the “common sense guy.” I’d like to think my experience in business, as well as two decades of front-line community involvement, allows me a unique perspective around the horseshoe. At the end of the day, our decisions need to produce results that are good for our city and our citizens, while being financially responsible.
What are your top issues and priorities over the next year?
My first priority will always be to do the best I can for our citizens. I must work harder than ever to listen, learn and understand both the macro and the micro issues. Of course, to be a fiscally sound city government, we must emphasize our desire to succeed in three things.
First, I am working to help grow our local economy through job growth, innovation and entrepreneurship. Nothing can cure an ailing budget like solid business growth. I believe to understand what it takes to get a new business to locate here or expand an existing business, you really need some experience making a payroll.
Next, I want to make Peoria a safer community for all its citizens, one where everyone can thrive knowing they are secure. Given a strong sense of security, people can feel free to imagine a bold future and make their dreams a reality. Third, that we align our combined city and community resources so we can best address our community’s challenges. Peoria is an extremely generous community. We have a wealth of talent and energy to solve the issues that are in front of us. I am data- and solution-driven. You’ll see me taking on tasks that drive towards impactful results.
What is the greatest lesson you’ve learned, or challenge you’ve had to overcome, as a public servant?
My greatest takeaway after a year-plus on this job is the depth, integrity and work quality of our city employee teams. Until you’ve experienced the full-on commitment of our staff problem-solving, or visioning—even when the hardest choices may be our only choices—it is hard to fully appreciate. I am extremely pleased with the level of professionalism of our employees.
The biggest obstacle is that there are too many challenges and simply not enough public resources to help resolve them. Money is tight, our revenues are relatively flat, and the needs are many. For those reasons, I continue to work hard with our private and nonprofit organizations to encourage a broad-based attack on many fronts. I am very inspired and extremely grateful by our community’s willingness to put their hard-earned dollars where they are most needed.
Who or what inspired your commitment to historic preservation?
Again, that would be my parents. I’ve always liked history and architecture. In the ‘80s, downtown Indianapolis was not someplace you’d want to go. My parents decided to be part of a downtown renaissance by helping to restore and renovate the Illinois Building’s Capital Food Court, just a block off Monument Circle. My dad would show me the city’s drawings for the downtown vision—what many thought was a pipe dream—but he was firm in his belief it could be done. They wanted to do their part to help make it happen. We’d drive to see each step of the project. I remember the restored brass lights outside the Illinois Building, and opening day was very exciting. What one sees today in downtown Indy started from a bold vision!
A few years later, my parents redeveloped a 1925 car dealership building in Indy’s Art Deco area, known as Broad Ripple. Being in the first wave of this energy, I can tell you the resulting improvement is gratifying. The ability to blend historic preservation with business investment really struck a chord in me. It isn’t hard or expensive; historic preservation actually increases the value of the reinvestment at a faster rate than knock-it-down-build-new construction. Over the years, my brother and I have each completed fun restoration projects that saved new buildings and revitalized neighbourhoods.
Describe some of the current volunteer activities and causes that are near to your heart. I’m particularly interested in your involvement with APPSCo. How did that come about?
Currently I am on the Heart of Illinois United Way Board and co-chair the Health & Rehabilitation Committee. I am also serving my third year as chairman of the Peoria Riverfront Museum Board. I serve on the Governing Board of Alignment Peoria and the College & Career Readiness Team, and I am a president of the board of APPSCo.
I’m glad you asked about APPSCo. It was envisioned by Alexis Khazzam. I’m especially proud to collaborate with business mentors in our community. APPSCo partners mentors with high school students in Peoria Public Schools. The students form their own company, which in turn develops real applications (“apps”) for local businesses. The early success of this program has been noticed by the media across our country, especially focusing on our latest project: to be a fundraising tool for the Peoria Stadium on War Memorial. My parents had good mentors in their life, and I have had strong mentors—that is why such a program is extremely personal for me.
What advice do you have for young professionals hoping to make a difference in Greater Peoria and beyond?
Get involved. See the good that our area has to offer, and commit to helping change the things we need to. Never stop filling a void where you see a need.
Anything else you wish to add?
Just that I am extremely humbled to be named the 2017 Alumnus of the Year. Peoria is my home, and I am glad to have the opportunity to serve our citizens as a Council member. Thank you to Peoria Magazines for keeping a spotlight on the work that goes into making Peoria a city we can be proud of and call home. iBi