Sometime in the mid-2000s, chefs became more than just the people behind our favorite restaurants. They were bonafide celebrities — TV stars, cookbook authors, and brand ambassadors. This shift prompted a rush toward turning all chefs into personalities, and then building eateries around them — it’s a rush that is still happening today. But is this actually a sound business model for a restaurant?
Adds Doug Roth, the CEO of the Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm, Playground Hospitality, with concept-driven spots, “It is a clearer sell. It gives guests an immediate impression of what you are trying to convey. You don’t have to rely on just one individual making or breaking that restaurant.”
It’s also important to remember that, for the vast majority of the public, a great restaurant concept matters so much more than a name-brand chef. When Roth opened his restaurant Bistro 110, he poached a then-unknown chef, Dominique Tougne, from Joel Robuchon’s restaurant empire, to run the kitchen. “I knew what type of cooking I wanted, and all I needed was someone who had the tools to deliver that food. I didn’t care about the name,” he says. The place was a huge success, as it delivered on its promise to provide high-quality French bistro food. “Even if I had a name-brand chef,” he asserts, “ninety percent of my diners wouldn’t have known who that was.”
It’s not enough to say, I want to create an Italian restaurant, Roth says. “Ask yourself, ‘What region of Italy? Which dishes from that region? What makes those dishes authentic? Who can make great versions of those dishes? What is the lifestyle of the people from that area?’ And then you have to convey that in the food, the service, the music, the drinks, and the décor. If even one of these things is out of sync, the place doesn’t always work. This is a business of details and consistency.”