From pursuing a medical career and producing cannabis to opening four restaurants and returning to medicine, it has been a wild ride over the past eight years for Michael Thompson.
His plan was to be a surgeon. So how come before the age of 40, he and his wife, Crystal, own four successful restaurants and a lounge in downtown Colorado Springs?
You’ve probably heard of them: T-Byrd’s Tacos and Tequila (the first, which opened in 2016), Dirty Byrd Whiskey and Wings, Mood Tapas Bar, Bird Tree Café and District Elleven lounge. A second T-Byrd location is slated to open in November.
“In 2013, I was a student at the University of North Texas Health Sciences Center when I went on vacation to visit a friend from high school in Colorado,” he said. “I met people who needed a medical director for their future cannabis business as well as someone who could manage production.”
Thompson did some research and weighed the pros and cons of dropping out.
“I loved school, I still love it, but I felt it could be a once in a lifetime opportunity to jump on board something as important as the legalization of cannabis. I knew it would be huge, ”he said. “And I always said I would go back to school. Of course, I had to talk to Crystal, but she was surprisingly open to the idea.
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Thompson joined the team at what would become Emerald Fields – A Cannaboutique, and took on the challenge of understanding the process of growing the cannabis plant.
“I had to learn about agriculture because we were planning to build a large grow facility,” he said. “I had covered chemistry in college and graduate school, so I understood the science of making infusions and extracts.”
When he eventually became the owner of the business, his role became much less practical, which allowed him to pursue a new interest: opening a small taco bar.
“We were doing fine,” he said. “We were living comfortably. Crystal was responsible for regional clientele at Christian Dior, we rented a small house and our cars were paid for. We decided to take our chances by starting a food business.
They rented a small space that was part of the old downtown Hunan Springs restaurant and got started.
“We were literally strapped for cash by the time we opened the doors,” Thompson said. “We ate a lot of tacos for the next five weeks. We opened with $ 88.27 from a piggy bank.
They also continued their daytime work, putting all their money back into the taco bar so they wouldn’t have to take out a loan.
“My philosophy is not to give up,” said Thompson. “This is when people fail; 90% of unsuccessful owners have lost confidence. Once it’s lost, it’s hard to come back.
As all of their restaurant experience had been as a waitress and bartender while in school, they hired a relative to run the kitchen.
Their determination paid off. Thompson predicts the taco bar will make over $ 2 million this year.
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“Cost control is the most important thing,” he said. “I run a spreadsheet every day in each restaurant to make sure the right decisions are made. “
Despite the success, Thompson decided he was not done with his initial career choice.
“I loved what I was doing,” he said, “but what I really wanted to do was be a doctor. “
His biggest obstacle to going back to school would have been to pass the Medical College Admission Test (MCAT). Due to COVID-19, however, testing centers have been closed and schools have started to assess applicants without requiring an MCAT.
“I said, ‘That’s the sign.’ It was about time, ”he said.
Rather than returning to Texas or applying to Colorado, Crystal remembered telling her about offshore medical schools. They liked the idea, and in 2019 Michael was accepted to Ross University School of Medicine in Florida.
“We spend one in four years on an island, which is what Crystal loved,” he said.
Michael completed his first year of online medical school and the couple welcomed a baby girl, Sunny Byrd Thompson, in May. The family will move to Barbados in January so Michael can complete his second year.
He remains a partner in the cannabis industry and has built his restaurant team with the best professionals he and Crystal can rely on to run the businesses.
“Because we have employees who we have complete confidence in, we can leave them in charge while we are away,” he said. “We moved to Boston for 13 months a few years ago and they have proven to us that they can rise to the occasion.”
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For some parents, it would be unthinkable for a child to drop out of college to enter the cannabis business. Not Mary Wright, Thompson’s mother.
“I had no doubts about his decision,” she said. “It was a wise move for Michael at the time. He was always relentless in the pursuit of his passions.
As for the success of his restaurants, Wright describes it as “incredible”.
“He and his wife, Crystal, have worked extremely hard to make restaurants special and distinct experiences,” she said. “His own success built his optimism. He now knows it can be done.
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