You’ve got one successful operation, and you’re thinking about opening a second one. Branching out, though, is not a decision that should be made lightly, as any expert will attest.
“Do some soul searching to figure out if a multi-concept is really what you want,” advises Cameron Mitchell, president and founder of Columbus-based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which operates more than 40 different units with multiple concepts around the country, including Ocean Prime and Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern.
“You only have a limited amount of mental capital and you’re ultimately not focusing on your existing brand when you open another concept; it’s very challenging in the beginning,” he adds.
On the other hand, owning different concepts can also spread out your risk and resources, according to Chris Damian, co-owner and chef at Boston-based Legendary Restaurant Group (LRG), which owns four concepts, including Scollay Square and Papagãyo. “Our restaurants each have different traffic and square footage needs,” says Damian. “Depending on what real estate is available, we can slot in different concepts to fit. Landlords like that we can bring different concepts to the table.”
Here are four more tips from seasoned operators:
1. Don’t reinvent the wheel
Luckily, there are many successful multi-concept operators that you can look to for inspiration if you’re set on taking the multi-concept route. Ask any one of them and they all had a mentor that they admired. “When we first started, we modeled ourselves after the Brinker philosophy,” says Tony Figurelli, founder and c.o.o. of Vegas-based Epicurean Strategic Partners (ESP), which has helped build and develop a variety of restaurant concepts, including recently bringing a fast casual version of Anchor Bar from Buffalo to Las Vegas. “See what successful people have done before you and what they’re doing today.”
2. Understand that concepts are different, but the same
Even though multi-concept operations may all look different to the outsider, restaurateurs agree that they are all fundamentally the same when you pull back the curtain. “The culture, values, management and accounting in each concept is the same,” explains Mitchell. “The rest is what I call ‘window dressing.’”
Figurelli agrees that multi-unit concepts need to have the same level of hospitality across the board, no matter which one you’re in. “Behind the scenes, the same systems are in place for training, receiving products, researching menus, etc.,” he says. “Everything is transferable from one to the other.” More importantly, Figurelli says operators need to examine core values at their existing restaurant before ever considering an expansion. “You need your overall philosophy and core values to be the same across all concepts,” says Figurelli. “It’s not what you sell, but how you sell it.”
3. Watch and test the market
While running multiple concepts can be a bit of a juggling act at times, it also allows you to test new ideas before growing individual brands, according to Mitchell. “As we develop new restaurant ideas, we’re able to test them in the Columbus area,” says Mitchell. “The ones that do great are replicated and grown in additional areas of the country.”
“We watch the trends and become as active as we can in the community when researching a new concept,” says Figurelli. “We’re currently developing an Italian deli concept after researching sandwich shops around the country to see what was working and how we could come up with something unique.”
Damian says that LRG prides itself on being ahead of the trends. “The demographics, geography, manpower and business license havs to line up before we consider a deal,” he says. “We wanted to open our burger concept, Burger Dive, eight years earlier, but had to shelve the idea until the market was ready for it. Now we’re able to go to different locations and easily see where the voids are—and fill them.”
4. Accept the challenges with the rewards
Operating more than one concept brings with it unique challenges that single-brand operators don’t face.
“With a multi-concept you don’t have the purchasing power you’d have if all of your restaurants were the same, since you need to order different items for each,” says Figurelli. “You also have a totally different set of skills with your culinary staff. However, with the same training and purchasing procedures in place for each concept, it becomes a benefit.”
“While all of our concepts have similarities, they are still stand-alone concepts,” says Mitchell. “We spend years refining each of our brands; sometimes it works perfectly, and sometimes it doesn’t, but it’s always fun. I’m always excited about the next concept, because we never know if one of them could be the next big hit.”