Restaurant Guide of KC™ - Kansas City Food + Travel Blog

  • Smokehouse BBQ

    Brazilian Steakhouse

  • Kansas City’s traditional,

    hickory-smoked barbeque

  • Family atmosphere. Barbeque favorites

    can be catered or delivered

  • Offers a menu in the bar area

    for those in the mood for a lighter meal

  • Smokehouse Bar-B-Que’s pit experts h

    fave been preparing authentic barbeque for 30 years

KC’s 1st Sushi Burrito Restaurant

New restauranteur, Jason Buck and Nika Marnell, are bringing the first sushi burrito restaurant to Kansas City. The sushi burrito is a new concept of Latin Asian fusion cuisine that already exist in very few places across the US. 

After long research and development, it’s about time we bring this idea to you here in Kansas City, where we ALL love sushi and burritos. Komotodo is a franchise originally based in Denver, Colorado. The creator, Alonzo Martinez, opened this concept from scratch, without any restaurant experience. Since it’s opening 4 years ago, the hype is still growing strong and it’s time to spread the love to KC! 

A sushi burrito is a new type of food that is basically an oversized sushi roll that you can eat with your hands but it has a ton more ingredients, such as; salmon, tuna, fish, crab, chick, steak, and an assortment of delicious fruits and vegetables topped off with a delicious sauce. Keep in mind, these burritos have an epic flavor with 1/3 the calories of the popular burrito restaurants we all love. There is also an option to make a dish into a poké bow or nachos, in addition to a variety of appetizers; avocado fries, mushroom fries, and eggrolls...just to name a few. Surely, your mouth is watering by now! In addition, there will be a selection of local and domestic beer, wine, and health/energy drinks available. Quality is our top priority, and we will use the freshest ingredients available to create these masterpieces...your taste buds will be in shock! 

Our menu will consist of about 12 different burritos, premium bowls made to order, and about 5 sides and desserts that you have yet to see and try before. Komotodo will be a fast casual, contemporary/modern restaurant, located in Overland Park on the corner of 135th and Metcalf (Corbin Park). This high-traffic location will seat 50 people inside along with a fantastic patio attached. As you enter the restaurant, digital menus will display all of the food option and orders placed are prepped in front of you for customization. 

We will be serving Kansascitians 7 days a week; lunch, happy-hour, dinner, and late-night! We’ve been blessed with the support and inspiration of many mentors, restaurant owners, chefs, family, and friends. Our goal is to spread the sushi-burrito love to many locations in Kansas City as soon as possible. 

Help Komotodo Sushi Burrito spread the news about our presence and Opening Day!

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One Great Gratin


A couple weeks ago I talked with Executive Chef Matt Barnes at Pierpont’s.  You can read that interview here, should you so wish. Chef Barnes said he cooks simply at home due to time constraints and “selective” diners. This man is busy!  So when I asked him for a recipe, he said the squash gratin below is pretty simple, always good, and can make anyone look like a great cook. 

What’s a gratin you ask? A gratin is a great example of something that sounds better when you call it that. It basically means a browned crust, usually with some kind of cheese.  But what I immediately noticed about this recipe that about two pounds of squash, not that much, requires one quart of heavy (whipping in my mind) cream!  And garlic.  So eating your veggie becomes a very happy occasion.  Try this, take a pic, and send to me!  Better yet, invite me to share it.

INGREDIENT
PREPARATION



2oz
Butter

2 oz
Flour

2 Cups
Brandy

4 Sprigs
Thyme, fresh
stem on
1 TBL
Garlic
minced
2 TBL
Shallot
small dice
1/4 Cup
Yellow Onion
Large Dice
1 Qt
Heavy Cream

2 tsp
Kosher Salt

1/8 tsp
White Pepper, ground

2 #
Winter Squash

peeled, deseeded, large dice

Rosemary, fresh

minced


Parmesan


grated

1/2 Cup
Bread Crumbs




Method:  
On low heat, sweat the thyme, garlic, shallot and yellow onion in the butter until transparent. Stir with rubber spatula often.  Add the flour and cook stirring constantly with a rubber spatula to form a blonde roux.  Slowly add the brandy while stirring constantly until brandy is incorporated. Cook while stirring constantly for 2 minutes making sure not to let roux stick to pan. Slowly add the cream to the roux mixture, this time using a whisk to help incorporate the cream. Bring to a boil. Add the salt and pepper. Make sure to stir/scrape bottom of pan periodically to keep roux/cream from burning.
Once at a boil, turn burner to the lowest possible heat and gently simmer for 5 more minutes. Arrange the squash in a lightly oiled casserole. Pour cream mixture over the top. Combine the bread crumbs, parmesan and rosemary and evenly spread across the top of the squash. Bake at 350 degrees until golden on top. 
Pierpont's
30 West Pershing
Kansas City, MO 64108
Ph. (816) 221-5111
Located in Historic Union Station
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The Brass Onion - Leawood KS


New and Crafty



Call me parochial, call me insular, call me narrow, but since I don’t live out there, going south is sometimes a bit of a trial.  So I’m thrilled when something opens out there that’s worthy of comment.  That’s the newest restaurant, the Brass Onion, the concept developed by Brancato Family Catering with whom you may already be familiar.  This Prairiefire place was/is somewhat of revelation.




I only have space today to talk about their cocktails.  Fortunately, that’s one of my favorite topics. Besides an extensive list of the usual (and not so usual) beer and wine suspects, they have a program where they age their booze in 10-liter oak barrels for 40 days.  These rotate and when you go, ask for what’s special for that day.  They make their own shrubs and syrups, too and you’ll be impressed by the variety at this impressive bar.  If you’re a real martini fan (as opposed to a cosmo or lemon drop fan), you should probably try their Gibson – choose from among three gins or five vodkas.




Some of their craft drinks are available (along with great bites) for their happy hours – from 3-6p.m. and their reverse which begins at 9 p.m.  But they’re good enough to throw happy-hour-cheapfulness to the wind, and order them anytime.  Up next?  I’m trying more of their “low country,” but upscale comfort food.  Stay tuned . . . 


The Brass Onion
5501 West 135th Street
Overland Park, KS 66224
Ph. 913.851.5940       

The Brass Onion Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?

What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?

I get asked that a lot.  So does every food writer, everyone who works for a publisher like the Restaurant Guide, every chef.  It’s a great dinner topic for a lagging conversation (even if everyone isn’t “into” food).  But let me say up front, “I hate this question!”

Since you asked, let me tell you why.  Too many variables.  Best special occasion place?  Are you talking best burger ever?  Fall back place cuz it’s always consistent?  Cheap but good?  Best ever in your entire life?   So many choices, so many criteria.  Maybe it’s just the last place I remember where I had a really good time.
McCormick and Schmick’s chocolate bag

But if I do answer and the next question is, “What’d ya have?” then I REALLY hate this question.  Three days after one sublime experience and one good and one not-so-great, it’s hard to remember specifics.  Maybe it’s a great treatment of something I especially like.  Maybe the drinks and the service were so good that a special glow shone upon the food, too.  Maybe I was with a special friend and the world seemed right.

The question is really about preference.  And since I write about food, I should have standards and principles I adhere to on a consistent basis.  That’s sorta why I’m not too fond of Yelp and other critical formats out there – one, do people even know what they’re talking about? Two, are they out for revenge?  Or trying to get something free?  Just wanting to be heard?  One and only time there and they choose to go during Restaurant Week or Valentine’s Day?  And by the way, why do we take strangers’ words as gospel?

Ok, done with rant.

Rating the Favorite

The Association of Food Journalists offers guidelines for (truly professional, I guess) restaurant critics and/or reviewers which I think serve as a starting point for answering the best-ever, best-moderately-priced,  best-hamburger-in-town, best-elegant-experience, best-last-time-I-went qualifications which are all wrapped inside the favorite question. They begin with some theoretically easy concepts, saying the goals of a critic should be to be fair, to be honest, to understand and illuminate the cuisine about which he or she is writing, and to look beyond specific dishes and experiences to capture the whole of a restaurant and its intentions.

There’s much more to this article, but when they talk about a rating system, they’re really talking about a way to answer, What’s Your Favorite Restaurant?  Here are their definitions: 

 FOUR STARS
 (Extraordinary) Transcendent. A one-of-  a-kind experience that sets the local   standard.
 THREE STARS
 (Excellent) Superior. Memorable, high-  quality food; exciting environs; savvy   service; smart concept.
 TWO STARS
 (Good) Solid example of restaurant type.
 ONE STAR:
 (Fair) Just OK. A place not worth rushing  back to. But, it might have something   worth recommending: A view, a single   dish, friendly service, lively scene.
 NO STAR:
 (Poor) Below-average restaurants.

To me, this should mean that very, very few restaurants would ever receive four stars.  And it doesn’t exactly provide a criterion.  One thing that professional reviewers have going for them is a consistency in valuation.  It’s like a movie critic you trust, probably because you often have the same opinions as s/he does – you get to know what they see and how they value it.  That’s one reason why random opinions aren’t necessarily that valuable – unless, I suppose, you have a huge majority all saying the same thing.  That can also be called “piling on.”

While I knew that Zagat had changed their rating system a couple years ago, I had forgotten they became a Google company and missed the news that they now are owned by The Infatuation, a restaurant discovery platform. They rely on people answering questions on food, décor and service, and moved from a 30 point rating system to one to five, five being the most favorable.  It’s very similar to the Association of Food Journalists but with five rather than four stars (or points).  Personally I like the five pointer – maybe because it translates so well to grades, A down to F.  I don’t know which came first but their definitions are: 

 4.6 - 5.0  Extraordinary to perfection
 4.1 - 4.5  Very good to excellent
 3.1 - 4.0  Good to very good
 2.1 - 3.0  Fair to good
 1.0 - 2.0  Poor to fair
Em Chamas

Zagat rates price as well from 1 to  4 dollar signs with one $ (inexpensive) to $$$$ (very expensive).  Of course, what may seem very expensive to me may be only moderately expensive to you since these, like all ratings, remain subjective, too.

Online, they run articles like “Kansas City’s Best Restaurants” (which includes places like Webster House, Room 39, and Pierpont’s . . . but also includes The American, now special events only). But Zagat ratings, like Yelp, are based on ordinary people responding once.  And we know that people often respond more when something negative happens rather than when they’re pleased.  It’s the criticism vs. compliment syndrome.  

Not Professional Foodies

So I asked a couple of unbiased millennial friends of mine, Brooks Kimmis, a new resident physician in K.C. and Braden Katz, tech entrepreneur and funder of Brandit, what they thought about Yelp.  Neither had ever submitted comments to the service and Brooks said, “I’m fairly hesitant to use Yelp prior to going to try a new place.  If I want to try it, a Yelp review isn’t going to change my mind. It does help me with pricing and when I want ideas of what to eat.”  Braden agreed and he uses it when “traveling and trying to find a place near our hotel.”

While there are certainly other ratings pages beyond Zagat and Yelp (Zomato [it was Urbanspoon], OpenTable,  Dine.com,  MenuPages, Google, The Infatuation, TripAdvisor, Gayot, Eat24, Restaurantica, for instance), both men felt customer comments are, or should be, helpful to restaurant owners. Braden comments that “...reviews are generally a good thing for improving the overall customer experience in  any industry.  Reviews force service providers to place much more value on each customer's experience as a bad experience obviously may turn away new customers and a good experience may bring in new ones.”

Brooks pointed to another aspect of the reviews that his friends enjoy: “It's a fun way to feel engaged and connected, and in some cases to receive some nice perks. One of my friends always gets a kick out of it when a restaurant owner responds to her review or comments. But even for less avid users like me, it provides a quick way to view a menu or pricing, but also helps in the decision-making process of where to go for those particularly indecisive moments.”

Research bears them out that reviews can not only be useful and entertaining but they are important statistically to the restaurants. The Digital Restaurant points out the following on their website:
• Harvard Business School found that a one-star increase in a Yelp rating can lead to a nine percent increase in revenue.

• A report in the Economic Journal found that an increase of half a star on Yelp meant a restaurant was much more likely to be full at peak times.
• In a BrightLocal survey, 60% reported reading a review for a restaurant before they went.

K.C. Experts 

Restaurant owners are aware of the importance of being the “favorite” and how social media can affect that.  I asked four different owners or managers what they believe are the most (and least) important factors in making their restaurant a favorite.  They are Sam Silvio of Em Chamas Brazilian Grill north of the river, Kris Brentano of Ricco’s Italian Bistro in Overland Park, Brandon Strick of The Westside Local and Nicole Alena of McCormick and Schmick’s. Owner Sam Silvio said you must provide, “A unique dining experience. It entertains as well as satisfies.  This means great food, great variety, great service.”  Part of what makes that experience, according to Kris Brentano, besides the great food is the “neighborhood feel and coziness of our restaurant.” General Manager Nicole Alena says that McCormick’s regulars pretty much remark on the chocolate bag, the view of the Plaza, and the service as to why this beautiful place is their favorite. Owner Brandon Strick says when people tell him Westside is their favorite, “They always mention the quality and freshness of the ingredients – they’re at fine dining level but in a casual and approachable setting – it’s comfy.”
Food, of course, is key.  Kris Brentano says that, “I always think that the food brings people in and the service or lack of cleanliness can drive them away.”  Brandon Strick is also talking about food but in a slightly different way.  He states that, “With all aspects of the question being important, one rises to the top.  If you can find consistency, chances of becoming a favorite restaurant grow exponentially.  Nobody wants to take a gamble on inconsistency.  Will it be good ‘this time’ will quickly become ‘not that place any more.’” 

Alena adds, “I believe that it takes all of the qualities that you mentioned (food, service, décor, cleanliness, atmosphere, management, cost, consistency, quality for the money, etc.) to ‘make a good restaurant.' The variable is that not all people are concerned about the same things. It's the guest perspective that makes a difference and no two guests are ever alike. If you were to ask ten other people, you would probably hear ten different combinations of those that you listed.”
Silvio pointed out, “You can have the best food in the world, but if service is bad, it can ruin the guest’s entire experience.  They may give you another chance, but they won’t come back a third time.  People come to a restaurant to relax and to not be stressed: they have enough tension all day long without spending money just to get stressed and upset because of poor service - even if it's only one time."
Ricco's Italian

Strick echoed this idea but added another variable. “Food and quality service must be present first; if it isn't good or consistent, people will not return.  But before anything else is even considered, location matters.  Nothing can overcome a cursed location.  Everyone knows one of those spots where nothing can stay open for long.  And the reverse is just as true.  A great location can overcome many other shortcomings.”  But of all the elements to create a favorite restaurant, design or décor and location ranked below the other qualities for the four other experts.

Next time you get asked the fated favoritism question, by all means think about your own standards and what you’re basing your decision on.   Think about why you’re being asked the question.  Think about your personal star rating system.  Then also think about the fact that everyone has different tastes.  Your “not hot enough” may be someone else’s “blistery burning.”  Or your “happening atmosphere” is another’s “too loud to hear myself, much less to talk.”  (Don’t you love that the word hear has the word ear in it?) Or that the server who always greets you with a happy smile was having a really bad day when your friend went.

One recent night my four friends and I were happily ensconced in the window table at a favorite haunt.  I asked them the question of course.  One said, “Well, my favorite near us is Red Snapper.”   But I reminded her I didn’t use location as a limiter, just favorite.  She couldn’t answer.  Neither could anybody else but one said, “I like McCormick’s for the oysters.”  Another said, “No, Story for their fish.”  “Best chicken livers ever – Rye.” Then the conversation further degenerated into a dish-naming bonanza as my question disappeared.

It probably disappeared because answering, “What’s your favorite restaurant?” is more complex than one might think. It evokes time, taste, companions, mood of the “critic” and the quality, creativity, preparation, and consistency and execution of the food and drink. To that, add service, ambiance, location, décor, parking, cleanliness, noise level, and a million tiny details that go to create the one, singular or not, experience.

So, tell me what IS your favorite restaurant? 
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One Great Chef: Matt Barnes


One thing I like and appreciate about the restaurant industry is that it is possible to rise from dishwasher to chef to even owner over a period of time.  While Matt Barnes, Executive Chef of Pierpont’s, didn’t exactly do that, he did begin 13 years ago as a chef’s apprentice and through his hard work, attention to detail, creativity and he added, luck, he managed to, as he put it, “Work my way up for a great company in a great job.”
 Matt Barnes - Pierpont's Restaurant
Matt and I sat in the iconic bar the other day, drinkless alas but not deliberately as part of my less drink regimen.  We talked about his position, his life, and his restaurant – which he regards as too hidden away to be a KC regulars’ spot.  I have to say, I think Pierpont’s has the most beautiful bar in town, and as I thoroughly perused the happy hour and other menus, I concluded, like most of Kansas City should, that I ought to come here more often.

I asked him what was the hardest chunk of his work and he said he thrives on creativity, loves the control he’s been given there, doesn’t mind the pressure, but it’s that he has a (great) kitchen full of strong personalities from all different cultures.  It’s like a rambunctious family and he has to keep it all together – and still be the kind of boss everyone wants to work for.  But those occasionally clashing cultures also provide another benefit to him – his favorite meals there are the ones the “other guys make.  Lamb barbacoa he says was the best thing ever – or a pot of something from their country.  Homestyle.  Mostly, I eat as I go . . .” 

When he’s not at work, he and his family (wife plus a 9-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter who just got her first knife) like to eat out at all kinds of different and new places – reflecting that cultural awareness which is now a part of his every-day life. He does some cooking at home – mostly light pasta dishes for his picky eaters.  But there’s not much time to do that or much else other than family and house since he works six or seven days a week and the hours are as grueling as you might imagine.  Just keeping up with the changes in his industry and imagining new takes on dishes keep him busy.

I asked Chef Barnes what people need to know about his restaurant that they don’t.  He laughed and said, “That we’re here.”  I looked askance because to me everyone knows about this beautiful, iconic restaurant sitting in Union Station.  He said, “We have no signage outside.  Tourists see us more than Kansas Citians do.  We’re full for special events or holidays but otherwise, I think we fall out of people’s memory too easily.”  He could be right -- who knew braised rabbit on the Pierpont’s menu has become such a staple he can’t take it off? Or that during happy hour (3-6 p.m.) you can get a filet, garlic whipped potatoes, asparagus with cognac demi-glace for 15 bucks?

I said it once and I’ll say it again. We should all come here more often.  


Pierpont's
30 West Pershing
Kansas City, MO 64108
Ph. (816) 221-5111
Located in Historic Union Station
Pierpont's at Union Station Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Waldo Thai Place


Thai One On
Kansas City, our oh so international home, is lucky to have a number of Thai restaurants.  You may not be aware that one of the very first was the original Thai Place on 87th Street in old-ish Overland Park back in 1991.  That one was founded by Ann Liberda (still there, though it has a different owner now) but Ann and her family, having begun way back in 1987, are probably the best known Thai restaurateurs in Kansas City.
Waldo Tai Place
So you’re definitely going to want to try their latest endeavor.  It’s Waldo Thai Place and Ann has worked with son Ted and daughter-in-law Pam to open their newest on 85th and Wornall.  After a soft opening a few weeks ago, they’re now fully open, including cocktail service.  You’ll see some favorites and some new things, too and items will rotate according to what’s in season.  They’ll even accommodate special requests.  The food all looks amazing—and it is, according to the one dish I tried --  the gaeng gai, which I can’t exactly pronounce, but it is a coconut red curry with chicken and all kinds of ingredients. This is not a hugely fancy place, but it’s a definite great, and welcome, addition to the Waldo area. The buzz begins . . .



Waldo Tai Place Interior


Waldo Thai Place
8431 Wornall
Kansas City, MO 64114
Ph. 816-605-1188
Waldo Tai Place Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Please, Sir


When Dickens’ Oliver Twist said, “Please sir, I want more,” he was starving.  Restaurants today often hear a variation of this, but it has nothing to do with starving.  Instead, it’s about their generosity to all the many fund raisers for noble causes going on in this town all year long.  I’ve been thinking about this, because as part of Les Dames d’Escoffier’s and Jazz Ambassadors SupperClub2018, on September 14th, (yes, small plug) we’ve been asking several of our favorites for these donations (like GaslightGrill which has both dinner AND jazz), about different ways to raise money. 
That took me to Bd’sMongolian Grill which is pretty much a win/win as a fund-raiser.  They have a Benefit Night which, once you’ve set it up there, you invite your supporters to visit the restaurant during a specific day and time and a percentage goes back to the cause.  Or you can have two guest grillers who face off to your supporters who’ve bought a ticket for the event and then choose the winner by a taste test.  I heard about this and then went to their website where there’s more info.

A slightly different take is all about having an event that includes food and drink, sure, but also a sport. I’m thinking Pickle N Chicken in north Kansas City or the Char Bar in Westport or Pinstripes at 135th and Nall. For instance, Pinstripes offers bowling and bocce and the space to have lots of people there either participating or watching – and always eating good food.  Drinking may also be involved.  I especially love bocce because you can play with a drink in one hand and the only real exercise involves bending over to pick up the ball.  My kind of sport.

Especially if it’s for a good cause.
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Kansas City Restaurant Gift Certificates

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Porto do Sul


Re-Discovering Reason

The other day, despite not being all that hungry, I stopped by Porto do Sul in sunny southern Overland Park. No real reason – just hadn’t been in for a while.  I was so pleasantly surprised I thought I’d tell you about it.

First, I’m not sure I really knew I didn’t have to eat a whole bunch!  You know the feeling . . . if you’re buying dinner for 49 bucks for 17 cuts of meat and a huge harvest table of all kinds of assorted side (and main) dishes, you feel like you gotta eat lots.  Buffet fever I call it. 

But I learned I could also try some Brazilian favorites starting at just $12.50 for lunch or dinner.  Things like the picanha house special which is a sirloin sandwich on their famous cheese bread and their special Porto sauce for $13. Or their churrasco plate with sirloin slices, bacon-wrapped chicken, sausage and pork loin grilled with parmesan cheese and two slides for $17.  Ok, that’s a lot – but my friend and I split it.  They have a quinoa salad with either grilled shrimp or chicken for $12.50 – honestly, where’s a similar lunch for that little?  And it’s not heavy – I could really justify it as summertime eating.  There are many more choices, too.

Something else I didn’t know: they also have take-out at various price and quantity levels.  They’re being very creative in recognizing who their customers are and what they want.

My final discovery is what they’ve done with the space.  They turned the huge bar into a huge private dining room for parties of up to 140 happy diners, called the Rotunda Room.  The Cellar Room seats 65.  I really liked their bar before, the new bar area is to the right when enter and it’s just as cool. And they have a very affordable and hugely tasty bar menu.  And any time of year, try their scotch old-fashioned.  Oh my.

I’m glad I accidentally learned so much.  If you haven't been to Porto do Sul lately, you need to go. Now.


Porto do Sul
11900 Metcalf Avenue 
Overland Park, KS 66213 
Ph. (913) 283-9180 


Porto Do Sul Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato
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Life of a Restaurateur

The Glitzy and Glamorous Life of a Restaurateur


Comfortably ensconced in my padded chair, I daintily sip a glass of good summer rosé and peruse the elegant menu.  Ooh, I think, I could own a restaurant like this.  It would be sooo cool. So very fab.

So glamorous. So glitzy.  So satisfying.  Surrounded by creative people, I would oversee delicious food and drink and my customers, no, guests, would heap praise upon me by the giant spoonful.  I would go all over the world tasting other menus.  I would hob nob with the rich and famous.  Maybe a TV show even.  Of course a cookbook.  At least on the radio.
Cindy McClain and her team have been injecting energy in the Independence Square since 1999.

Aaaawk!  Screeeeech! Crash! Stop. 

That’s the sound of reality breaking the window glass of my dreams.
Ask any restaurant owner, any executive chef, about the glamour and excitement of running a restaurant -- and they’ll laugh.  Somewhat hysterically.  Other than for the sacred few on the grueling Food or Cooking Channels, the Travel Channel, the Food Network, the Asian Food Channel and who knows how many others, my visions are not even close to the actual restaurant world.

It’s Hard Work  

If you’ve been in a restaurant at a happy time, with patrons smiling, food being devoured, polite camaraderie surrounding you (and who hasn’t in Kansas City?), you might think this surface is what the business is all about.  It’s so much more – and this final happy eater scene is the culmination of more time and work than most of us can imagine.  And I’m not even talking about starting a restaurant here, especially since the numbers indicate that 60% fail in their first three years, I’m just talking about what it takes to run one.

I’m also not going to talk about capital requirements to keep a restaurant running.  That’s inevitably an issue for any restaurant, even those that seem to be thriving.  Starting a restaurant runs from around $3,000 to $4,000 per seat, according to one restaurant survey at Restaurantowner.com. One owner I spoke with for this article said he was stunned over what it took to build out a space now.  Rent is a huge nut to crack sometimes and practically always one of the top three expenses.

It's Long Hours

But to really begin, just look at time.  Most restaurants are open at least six days a week.  Many, seven.  If they’re not open for breakfast at six or seven in the morning, they’re open by 11 a.m. for lunch.  And they close at ten or 11:00 p.m., later on weekends usually.  The owner, executive chef, or key manager is there for most of those hours.  And if they own more than one, while it may not be double, I guarantee it’s still more hours.  Unless maybe, you own five or more – and then you have “people” – and then, I hear, your problems are sometimes slightly different – but they’re definitely still problems and stress and sleepless nights.

Your work is all-consuming and it ranges from hiring, a continual process, planning the changing menus, sourcing the food and drink, maintaining and updating your space to getting the compressors fixed and responding to complaints.  There’s much, much more.

It’s the Menu

First, the menu.  This seems simple.  If you’re a steak restaurant, you serve steak.  If you’re a sushi, you serve fish.  If you’re down-home country food, that’s what you fix. The executive chef determines the menu and then it’s served, right?  No, not exactly.  There are a hundred complexities tied up in these decisions. One of the biggest is cost and what you can charge.

Once you’ve decided what you think you want to serve, you then face a myriad of issues.  Pricing, for instance, is key.  One owner I know has different drink prices among his several restaurants because liquor taxes vary in each county.  Another, Chris Cozzi, managing partner of two BD’s Mongolian Grill locations on both sides of the state line, wryly notes he (or anyone) can only predict food costs to a certain extent. If there are unforeseen natural events such a flood or drought, that impacts produce costs, he doesn’t change pricing.  But he says, “I don’t pull any items if the price increases because I want the guests to have the experience that they are used to.  I just eat the cost.”  He continues, “I used to worry about it but I can’t change anything, so now I worry about it less.  It is what it is.”  And both his restaurants have the exact same pricing, even if taxes and labor costs are different, which they are.  He says he doesn’t want to confuse or upset his guests.

Pricing may also affect portions if restaurants feel they can’t raise the price enough to cover their costs.  This became very clear to me the other night.  Three friends and I were dining at a good restaurant with an extensive wine list.  All three of them got the same trendy salad – which for $9 each, were about the size of a small saucer.  What I don’t know is if that were a conscious pricing and sizing decision or they’d run out of salad. I do know my friends were not happy.

Another chef I know says that when she came to town, she was startled by the amount of food Midwesterners not only could eat, but what they seemed to demand.  She continued serving relatively small amounts of food (at high prices at this high-end restaurant) and she shrugged and said, “I will always give them more if they ask.”  Of course, we typically don’t ask (too polite I suppose or we don’t want to seem piggy) but instead, after enough complaints, the portions became larger.  Pricing, sizing, sourcing, menu breadth, availability, tradition, changes to keep a menu fresh, seasonal variations – all are important decisions even before the ingredients and preparations are resolved.
                                                                       
Another is keeping up with the trends.  Remember when suddenly every salad in the world was kale?  How did that happen and how much kale do you order?  If Brussel sprouts are suddenly on every menu, or mac and cheese or molten chocolate cake?  What’s next? Restaurants now have to keep up with ever-changing trends.  Steak houses now serve merlot cut (cow’s heel) or the Las Vegas strip (oh heresy, but this is the cow’s shoulder).  Vegetables are suddenly centerfolds. Street food becomes new inspiration.  Restaurants have to pay attention to what their patrons may be seeing on TV or in their travels.
 
No, It’s the Staff

Most restaurant owners agree that their number one issue is staffing.  It probably always has been but some owners find it even more arduous today.   Cindy McClain, co-owner of ten establishments in  Indepen-dence Square and in the business for twenty years beginning with their signature restaurant, Ophelia’s, is blunt.  “The Millennial issue is real.  They just don’t want to work as much others used to.  They’re fine.  They’re smart.  They have good ideas and do a great job when they’re here.  But when they’re done, they’re done. No extra shifts.  Nothing but what they were hired for.  That’s definitely an attitude change I’ve seen over the years.”  She’s working on their learning curve and the “job as experience” – as long as there’s something new, something to learn, they stay, she says.

Another owner, who declined to be identified, also agreed with her assessment.  He believes the work ethic has changed substantially.  Climbing up from dishwasher through the ranks doing every job, working extra hours are not typically something people are willing to do. He also bemoans cell phones and trying to keep employees from using them instead of instantly paying attention to customers.  But he points out how very integral training and team work are in his business because without it, “. . . even if the food is great, if it arrives cold or out of order, if their glass is left empty, people are unhappy.”   None of these owners disagree with that.
Chris Youngers, co-owner of Café Trio, affirms that the labor pool has changed, but notes something different.  He says his people like the typical line cook are “. . .  more driven.  More proud. They want more. That’s both good and bad.  They’re very serious and often want to quickly move on to some place that serves more cutting-edge food with a ‘celebrity chef’ they feel they can learn from.”  Another issue is that there is a labor shortage, especially of experienced staff. “Even five years ago, if someone was great with customers but not a good employee especially (unreliable, causing strife, not being a team player), I could move them along because I had someone good waiting.  Not true now.”

Another permutation is that independent restaurants may have special needs.  Gary Worden, who owns Piropos with wife Cristina, notes that chain restaurants may have more resources, can sometimes offer more benefits, but also don’t often don’t have such a personal touch with their employees – there it’s more “burn and churn.”  “We need people to understand authentic Argentinian food,” he says.  “As a specialty restaurant, our patrons may expect more.”  He also gives a shout-out to his ‘older’ servers – “They don’t go out and party late into the night, they go home, they come to work on time, and they earn good money.” He admits to generalizing. 

It’s the Customers  

In the restaurant business, that customer service must make the customer happy is a no brainer.  A good server can make a mediocre meal acceptable and come-backable.  That takes us back to selection, training, and keeping the staff person happy as well.

From the diner who asks a thousand questions about one dish and then chooses another to the perpetually dissatisfied grump (why is he eating out anyway if only his mother can fix this dish?), dealing with people is a huge part of the job.

Youngers says that when he got into the business in 2004, “We thought food was most important.  That’s just the price of admission.  It all comes down to running the business well and the service.”  He repeated what is often said, “Good food can’t save a bad experience.”

It’s the Talk

Sometimes I’ll mention a restaurant to a friend and he’ll say, “Gosh, we haven’t been there for years.  I never think to go there.”  And they like the restaurant. That’s where marketing comes in and that has certainly changed in the last 20 years.  And now, technology has changed the marketing as well.

A lasting restaurant has a specific position in the marketplace. That begins with a business plan and then costs must be controlled, profit margins managed, and a million business decisions must be made, almost every day.  The very first thought item goes back, probably, to those food choices, because most restaurants want to be known – their brand is their unique food.

Serving fabulous French food like Café Provence or Le Fou Frog or with a bit of a twist like Charisse or Tatsu’s, for instance, is a distinction that attracts. People are willing to try different cultures’ recipes more and more every day in Kansas City – which has, some say, been promulgated by all the food shows on TV. Others can add additional features – being in a beautiful and historic train station for instance, like Pierpont’s.  Or having a fabulous location overlooking the Plaza with a year-round enclosed patio now, like Café Trio. Or Piropos’ view of the city.

It's no longer just word-of-mouth.  Now it's a fearsome development called Yelp or a site like it.  Sometimes a restaurant may deserve a bad review, true.   But basing a judgment on just one experience really isn’t fair. And sometimes diners seem to be absolutely unforgiving.
Technology has played an increasingly big role in the last ten years. “Social media is a game changer.  We used to have written comment cards, which are still valuable,” said Worden.  “But there must be 20 sites now where people leave comments.  Some want to be a food critic but don’t understand the restaurant business, but that’s true in all things.  Some people seem to live to write on the internet.  Sometimes they’re correct – when you’re serving 60-70,000 meals a year, even a 1% fail rate hurts.  You try to make corrections on site but some people really do hide until they get to their computer.”

Reservations have changed as well – it’s so easy to make them electronically. People make reservations for a special night at five restaurants, then choose one and don’t tell the four they’re not coming.  “Restaurants compensate by overbooking, just like the airlines. And two people eat faster than four.  And four faster than six. Or Mondays are usually slow but suddenly, for no reason, there’s 100 people here instead of 40. There’s a real art to forecasting, but you’re just not always right.”
So if your reserved table isn’t available the second you enter the restaurant, have a little empathy.  Or have you ever been late to your table, holding up the next diners?  Obviously, even a simple thing like a reserved table isn’t that simple.

It’s a Dance 

So with all the hard work, the long hours, the people challenges, the changes and trends, the search to keep and find new customers, is it really glamorous to own a restaurant?  Although he laughed when I asked him this question, Worden who also owns a monthly magazine called Restaurant Start Up & Growth which he uses sometimes to solve his own restaurant challenges, told me, “Well, it can be great from an ego and social point of view.  Some guys do hit it big, but they usually own several restaurants at least.  I get to meet a whole lot of people.  I’m glad we did this, but we had no concept of what we’d be doing.  Cristina still wants to slap me for saying before we bought in, ‘What can be so hard about owning a restaurant?’ We’ve found out.”

Chris Youngers smiled and said, “It’s been more than I thought.  We were 30 when we got into it.  It’s taken time to come to grasp all it takes.  We’re still here every moment.  Our social life is our customers and our staff.  I wouldn’t trade that. But if I had a son or daughter, I’d say no . . . go find something else.  You do make a sacrifice in your personal life.” 

I liked how Cindy McClain of Indepen-dence Square summed it up when she said, after talking about all the problems, the issues, the people, the challenges, “I have to have eyes in the back of my head.  My head has to swivel like Sybil’s.  It’s 24-7, 7 days a week.  But if you’re an adrenaline junkie, it's fun, it's fast.  It's a dance.

#DidYouKnow

Half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives.
• 1 in 3 Americans got their first job experience in a restaurant.
• There are 1 million + restaurant locations in the United States.
• 9 in 10 restaurants have fewer than 50 employees.
• 7 in 10 restaurants are single-unit operations.

 Source: National Restaurant Association web site
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