Michael Yarbrough has dabbled in a number of different careers since leaving active military duty.
Since transitioning to the Florida Army National Guard near the end of a 14-year career in the military, Yarbrough has worked in financial services and banking, insurance and most recently as an IT specialist in business continuity and disaster recovery.
But through all of those experiences, he struggled to settle down.
“You can see I’ve got a lot of experience across many different sectors, but I was always missing something, missing that thing,” Yarbrough said. “Maybe you can call it control, maybe call it the opportunity to be more impactful to people, so for the last handful of years, I’ve been looking for opportunities to kind of get me out of the status quo and more into an ownership or true leadership position.
“There’s no finer leadership than being an owner, because every responsibility ultimately comes back to you.”
Yarbrough served in the Army from 1998 to 2013, through Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn before finishing up with the Florida National Guard and was a disabled veteran. When he transitioned to the civilian world, his main challenge was finding something he enjoyed and sticking with it.
“I would get restless and start looking or learning the next thing,” he said. “I’m successful, by most people’s metrics and I’d say, ‘Well, this really isn’t fulfilling me.’”
Yarbrough found that new challenge in an industry that’s taken a huge hit during the last three years, as the COVID-19 pandemic ravaged the country.
Through a conversation with a man he coached football with, Yarbrough and his wife, Tracy, learned about a restaurant chain in northeast Florida that sounded interesting. So Yarbrough, ever chasing his newest challenge, and his wife, who had some experience in the industry, went into the restaurant business.
Their venture, the third location of Grumpy’s Restaurant, a full-service American and Southern style diner chain, will open in Neptune Beach, Florida, on Oct. 3. It’s been a challenging time for restaurants, as the repercussions from the pandemic sent many restaurants out of business as customers stayed home, the Great Resignation, and supply chain issues plaguing the country in all sorts of ways.
But as someone who has seen plenty of combat action during a military career that he started out of high school at age 18, Yarbrough believes his military experiences helps him overcome those hurdles.
“You may have somebody who has never been on a battlefield before and is confronted by some of the issues we have today with business and supply chains, and they are maybe overwhelmed by it,” he said. “With what I’ve been through, I’m like, ‘we can get through this.’”
The process has placed Yarbrough in a whirlwind the last 15 months, hiring contractors, working with architects on designs and municipal governments on permitting, hiring and training staff all while also diving into yet another new career — one that will give him a chance to help other veterans who might be seeking new opportunities or a path to another career.
“I feel like I can speak with [veterans] and we can communicate with them very effectively,” Yarbrough said. “It would be an opportunity to help some veterans or work with someone, whether they are transitioning out of the military or going to college and using GI benefits.
“One of the things about the brand is the owner wasn’t a veteran himself, but his father is a veteran and an entrepreneurial veteran at that. Part of the brand is we have veteran parking spots right up front. It is part of our culture.”