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FrannieandtheFox_Emeline_Shorter_062020_290.jpg Photo courtesy of Makeready
Frannie and the Fox in the Emeline hotel in Charleston, S.C., is one of Makeready's many restaurant concepts. The company is positioning itself to open freestanding restaurants next year for the first time.

Lifestyle hospitality company Makeready is ready to launch freestanding restaurants

After eight years, Makeready, a hospitality, restaurant and retail management company, is ready to open freestanding restaurants for the first time.

Makeready was founded in 2015 by Jim Merkel with an objective of creating independent, lifestyle-focused hotels anchored by unique retail and restaurant experiences. On the restaurant side, there are now 23 concepts within the Makeready portfolio.

With learnings from those concepts, the company is now ready to spin off freestanding independent restaurants for the first time, and is targeting three new restaurants in Columbus, Ohio, to initiate this platform beginning next year. In 2016, Merkel hired Christine Magrann to take on the president and COO role to build this piece of the puzzle. Magrann has a strong background working in the independent restaurant sector and will leverage the team’s experience to enter the next phase of growth. Magrann said the goal was to always create freestanding restaurants, but the company first had to have the right team in place.

“It could have happened earlier, but so much of this work is about the people. Now, many of us in the home office, about 50%, have very strong food and beverage backgrounds on the independent side. We’ve worked really hard to become credible restaurateurs that operate within hotels, and we’re still very committed to opening restaurants within hotels, but we’re now ready to open good, freestanding restaurants and take the company to the next level,” Magrann said during a recent interview.  

All but one of MakeReady’s current dining concepts have been conceptualized by the company itself. The exception is Hank’s Seafood Restaurant in Charleston, South Carolina, which folded into the company five years ago. In addition to Charleston, the company has a footprint in its hometown of Dallas; Savannah, Ga.; Cape Neddick, Maine; Denver; Nashville; New Orleans; Phoenix; and Columbus, Ohio.

It chose Columbus, where it operates The Junto hotel, as its freestanding restaurant starting point because of that familiarity, as well as the market’s staggering expansion. From 2000 to 2021, the region added more than 500,000 people to become the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the Midwest.

“There is a lot of dynamic growth happening in this city around creatives and artists and young enthusiasts,” Magrann said. “There are good independent restaurants there, which is a good sign that people are looking for a great experience and strong culinary talent. People are pumped about this city.”

Columbus checks many boxes for a lifestyle hospitality company, in other words. That’s not to say it doesn’t require deep research and Magrann said the conceptualizing/ideation process has been about a two-year process.

“We come really, really humble into the city we’re trying to be successful in. We don’t come in with a big, bad ass name and say, ‘look how successful we’ve been somewhere else.’ We spend a lot of time trying to learn what local people want,” she said.

Of course, the company has also examined average price points and styles of dining in the city, as well as any gaps that exist. One of its new Columbus concepts, for instance, will be a French bistro located downtown that Magrann anticipates will be used frequently, calling it “casual” and “approachable.”

The company’s vetting process was created to ensure a connection between its brands and the community. About 60% of Makeready’s customers come from the communities in which it operates, so Magrann said it’s important to strike a balance between a familiar yet distinctive experience.

“Lifestyle hotels and restaurants have a unique point of view, where the guests are looking for something different but want to feel a connection to where they’re spending their money,” she said.

Notably, many more guests are spending money at such establishments than they were before the pandemic. According to Luxury Tribune, the number of rooms in lifestyle hotels has doubled worldwide this year compared to 2019, and that trend is expected to continue. Driving much of this growth is the coveted Gen Z consumer, which is a priority target for Makeready accordingly.

“I’m amazed at the amount of people who come into our restaurants and take pictures to post. What we put out there is what they’re going to experience. They’re not interested in going to the same restaurant and getting the same thing, they want something unique and authentic,” Magrann said. “And this guest holds us accountable. With independent experiences, you have to keep your promises, otherwise you’re vulnerable and exposed.”

With freestanding restaurants opening imminently, that will mean even more vulnerability and exposure. Magrann is up to the challenge.

“For us, it’s not about a number of hotels or restaurants, but the experiences we offer. Foodservice is a big part of that. It is 50% of what we focus on and 50% of our overall revenue. Our hotels are in high (average daily rate) areas, so for our food and beverage to keep up with that is an accomplishment,” she said. “We grow and build on that with (the new freestanding restaurants) by staying true to our north star – independent, unique experiences.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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