A delightful weekend at Chicago Gourmet in Millennium Park gave me a whole new appreciation of just how compelling yet difficult the food business is. In addition to munching on incredible food creations, sampling fine wines and delighting in eye-catching presentations, we heard top restauranteurs sharing their secrets and their challenges. The food business is so much more than food.
The featured speakers were chefs by training, inclination and reputation but successful business people through and through. These artists who set out to create good food now consider music, lighting, plating, restaurant design, hospitality and even the artwork on the walls as part of their toolkit. And that is before you get to hiring and training, financial management, marketing and all the other bits and pieces that go into running a successful company. They are in the business of creating and delivering, profitably, an experience.
Because scale matters, rarely do you find a famous chef with just one restaurant anymore. Most are parts of “restaurant groups” which may or may not be headed by just a chef – though the head chef is always part of the core team. There is so much that goes into the creation and management of a restaurant that it is more economical to spread the overhead across many locations. One location can only produce so much volume.
The word “concept” meant something separate from “restaurant.” One restaurant group may have multiple concepts, or different types of restaurants in its portfolio. Or, a company many have multiple locations.
For example, our Mayor owns two concepts: a casual pizza concept in Chicago and the Latin-fusion Maya Del Sol here at home. Lou Malnati’s, on the other hand, has several locations of the same restaurant.
Either way, moving beyond one store means having a robust management structure. And significant investment of capital.
We were thrilled to see local talent featured among the stars of this exciting but complex business. Food writer David Hammond, “Sandwich King” Chef Jeff Mauro, Chef Paco Lopez from New Rebozo and Chefs Dan Pancake and Beth Partridge from Autre Monde did the home team proud.