http://www.indystar.com/story/sports...5e3328d1d6d628

'Life's not promised': Why Gary Brackett gave up coaching dream to be a local restaurateur
Clifton Brown

Former Indianapolis Colt Gary Brackett talks about how losing loved ones inspired him to chase after goals without hesistation. Brackett has had success in the restaurant business, including the Stacked Pickle franchise, since retiring from the NFL. Jenna Watson/IndyStar


INDIANAPOLIS – When Gary Brackett enters one of his nine Indianapolis-area Stacked Pickle restaurants, adrenaline comes with him. Brackett’s outgoing personality hasn’t changed since he played middle linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts. He’s still a leader, with a charismatic persona.

“When I was finished playing, one of the questions I had was, ‘How can I monetize my brand?'” Brackett said recently during lunch at one of his restaurants. “People know you, they like you, but walking around shaking hands doesn’t pay the bills.

“What type of business could I have that people would come give it a try? I wanted the business to stand on its own merits, where even if they didn’t know about me, they’d come in.”

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Building and expanding Stacked Pickle has been a passion for Brackett since he retired from the Colts in 2011. Stacked Pickle has become a popular restaurant/sports bar where people dine and watch games.

The transition from run-stopper to restaurant owner came quickly. He started as a silent partner with Stacked Pickle founder Chris Long, but being silent does not fit Brackett’s profile. Once he learned the ropes, Brackett bought out Long and attacked the restaurant business with the same fury with which he once attacked football. And here’s the best part: no road games.

“When I retired, I really wanted to be a coach,” Brackett said. “But my wife’s a doctor. Coaching wouldn’t have given me the time that I wanted to spend with my family. I look at the coaches, they do an awesome job, but a lot of them are away from their family their whole lives. I didn’t want to leave my wife with the burden of raising my kids.

“What I do now, I think, is a form of coaching. I sit at the CEO table. How we orchestrate is similar to being a team. We give out game plans, objectives. I think I’m getting my coaching fix doing what I’m doing.”


Married with three children, Brackett started planning for his post-NFL career long ago, because he never banked on having such a successful pro football career. He was an undrafted free agent from Rutgers because scouts were not convinced that Brackett was tall enough or fast enough to play in the NFL.

It didn’t take long for Brackett to win over the Colts’ coaching staff, and for nine years (2003-11), he was a fixture on defense as the starting middle linebacker. During eight of those seasons, the Colts won at least 10 games, including a Super Bowl title in 2007.

However, while Brackett is a proven winner, deep loss has marked his personal life. During a 16-month span from 2003-05, Brackett lost his father (heart attack), his mother (stroke) and an older brother (leukemia). Brackett was a bone marrow donor for his brother Greg before he passed away, and watching Greg's health deteriorate left Brackett more determined to seize each day.

“Losing both parents, losing my brother, just gives me a different perspective about life – living life to its fullest, but also preparing for the inevitable,” said Brackett, who turned 37 years old in May. “My part while I’m here is to leave a legacy. That legacy entails making sure my kids and family are set up financially that when I’m gone, they’re going to be okay.”

A shoulder injury forced Brackett into retirement in 2011, and there was a brief period when it was difficult for him to watch Colts games. However, he has adjusted well to leaving football, even though some of the physical pain remains.

The Stacked Pickle on 96th Street in Carmel, Ind.,
The Stacked Pickle on 96th Street in Carmel. (Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar)
“The first year (after retiring), I was sick to my stomach just watching football,” Brackett said. “I felt like I could still play. Now I know whole-heartedly there’s no way I can still play. I played nine years and I had eight surgeries. There’s not a day that goes by that something doesn’t hurt.

“I get physical therapy once a week, make sure that anything that’s bothering me, I address it. I get acupuncture still, I get massages still, I work out four days a week, I eat relatively healthy. We have a lot of healthy choices at the restaurant, and that’s very intentional. I get yearly physicals. I just try to be proactive as possible.”

Brackett still follows the Colts closely, for both personal and professional reasons. Their success is good for business.

“As they go, so do we, especially during football season,” Brackett said. “A lot of our Sundays are based on Colts fans coming in and watching.”

So what does Brackett think of the Colts’ prospects next season? He likes some of the moves that new General Manager Chris Ballard has made.

“There needed to be a change, and they made that change with the general manager (firing Ryan Grigson),” said Brackett. “Chris Ballard, from the outside looking in, his approach is very commendable. Giving a lot of players one-year and two-year deals, you’re telling guys to prove themselves. The defense, they really shook it up. It will be really interesting to see how well they mesh together.”

Not everything Brackett has touched in the business world has been a hit. His venture into a soul food-live music restaurant called Georgia Reese’s Southern Table and Bar once had two locations. However, the 86th Street venue closed, and the downtown site became CharBlue Steakhouse.

A grilled shrimp rice bowl served at the Stacked Pickle
The Stacked Pickle also offers a grilled shrimp rice bowl. (Photo: Jenna Watson/IndyStar)
“George Reese’s was something I’m very passionate about – Southern cuisine, live music,” Brackett said. “I loved the combination, but unfortunately we didn’t do a good enough job consistently enough to be successful. It was hard and I had to make a tough decision. I said, 'You know what? I’m just going to concentrate on Stacked Pickle.’’’

He doesn't regret that decision. Stacked Pickle has locations in Carmel, Indianapolis, Westfield, Greenwood and West Lafayette, with plans to add a location in Plainfield. In a competitive business, Brackett foresees continued growth using a proven formula for success.

“Our food is value driven, and it appeals to everyone and their family,” Brackett said. “I schedule a lot of my lunch meetings inside my restaurants. I like to be a presence. I also want to be engaged with our staff, make sure everything is going right with them.

“I’m a firm believer that people build brands. We have a saying — build the pickle. In order to build the pickle, I’m going to need everybody from the janitor, to the cook, to the host to sacrifice and sweat.”

Being a restaurateur doesn’t give Brackett the same physical rush as playing linebacker. But he still knows a victory when he sees it.

“The most satisfying part of this business is going to a table, seeing everyone is grinning ear to ear, seeing everyone’s plate empty, and they’re happy and the server is happy,” said Brackett. “That’s a win.”