Meet the family dynasties leading restaurants into a new generation.
Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth/Frankenmuth Bavarian Inn
- 1st Generation: William and Emilie Zehnder, founders
- 2nd Generation: Edwin “Eddie” Zehnder, manager, Zehnder’s
- 2nd Generation: William “Tiny” Zehnder, manager, Bavarian Inn
- 3rd Generation: Al Zehnder, CEO, Zehnder’s
- 3rd Generation: Martha Shelton, CFO, Zehnder’s
- 3rd Generation: Susan Zehnder, VP of HR, Zehnder’s
- 3rd Generation: John Zehnder, executive chef and F&B director, Zehnder’s
- 3rd Generation: Bill Zehnder, owner and co-president, Bavarian Inn
- 3rd Generation: Judy Zehnder Keller, co-president, Bavarian Inn
Having a decades-long foothold in a relatively small tourism-driven area and an unprecedented number of seats (more than 1000) has helped the Zehnder family corner the restaurant market in Frankenmuth, Mich., a seasonal family destination 100 miles north of Detroit. Two restaurant properties, The Bavarian Inn and Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth are separately owned and operated by the children of William and Eddie Zehnder, a relationship Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth CEO Al Zehnder describes as “friendly competition.” And each grosses more than $11 million a year, earning both of them spots on Restaurant Business’ 2014 ranking of the Top 100 Independents.
The current generation of operators has changed little about the restaurants that sprouted from William Sr.’s purchase of the Exchange Hotel, which he traded his farm to acquire in 1928. That includes the signature family-style chicken dinners still served today. But the business has expanded, with Zehnder’s adding a golf course and an indoor water park hotel nearby that Al calls “an outstanding addition to our company.”
Best parental advice
“Never argue about a dollar. My sisters and I always agree or find a way to agree in the direction of the company … Nobody’s got the ultimate hammer.” —Al
Panda Restaurant Group
- 1st Generation: Ming-Tsai Cherng, founder, Panda Inn
- 2nd Generation: Peggy Cherng, co-CEO and co-chair
- 2nd Generation: Andrew Cherng, co-CEO and co-chair
- 3rd Generation: Andrea Cherng, chief marketing officer
Earlier this year, Forbes magazine put the net worth of Andrew and Peggy Cherng, founders of 1,600-plus-unit Panda Express, at $3 billion. Pretty impressive for two Asian-born immigrants who met in college in Kansas and later married. Andrew learned the ropes when he and his father, master chef Ming-Tsai Cherng, opened the first Panda Inn in 1973. Andrew and his mother, brother and sister all worked for free to build the business.
For Panda Express, 2014—the 30th anniversary of its founding—was a groundbreaking year. The QSR developed an innovative test-kitchen concept in Pasadena, Calif., introduced a new store prototype and launched a new app and mobile ordering.
Parent company Panda Restaurant Group, where Peggy and Andrew share the titles of chairman and CEO and daughter Andrea is CMO, also has eight Panda Inns and 27 Hibachi-Sans in its portfolio. (Andrew is an investor in Blaze Pizza, too.) Plans are in the works to ramp up international expansion. The company vows to open 250 restaurants in Mexico by 2021, and Panda has partnered with Taiwanese company Wowprime to bring its Yakiyan barbecue concept to the U.S. later this year.
Suarez Restaurant Group/Jean-Georges Restaurants
- 1st Generation: Jean-Georges Vongerichten, chef-restaurateur
- 2nd Generation: Cedric Vongerichten, executive chef, Perry Street
- 2nd Generation: Louise Vongerichten, restaurant brand developer, Chef’s Club
Louise and Cedric Vongerichten may have followed their famous father into the business, but after cutting their teeth in Jean-Georges concepts as young adults, they’ve forged their own paths. Louise, 28, is business and brand development director of Chef’s Club by Food & Wine in New York City and Aspen, Colo., while Cedric, 33, is executive chef at his dad’s ultramodern Perry Street restaurant in New York, where the menu reflects his own adventurous spirit.
Louise says she’s leaned on her family in her current endeavors, texting Cedric “20 times a day with questions about operations” leading up to the opening of Chef’s Club. She even consulted with the feng shui expert Jean-Georges uses in his restaurants “to create positive energy in the space.”
Dad only offers advice when asked, she says. Keeping him busy are the 30 restaurants in his worldwide portfolio—three of which landed on Restaurant Business’ 2014 Top 100 Independents list. His most recent project is three hotel restaurants at The Miami Beach Edition.
Best parental advice
“My dad always tried new things and raised us to pursue our own ideas. His philosophy: If we make mistakes, we will figure out what went wrong and make changes.” —Louise
- 1st Generation: E.W. “Billy” Ingram, founder
- 2nd Generation: E.W. “Edgar” Ingram II, former president
- 3rd Generation: E.W. “Bill” Ingram III, former president and current advisor
- 4th Generation: Lisa Ingram, president
As Lisa Ingram, president of Columbus, Ohio-based White Castle since 2013, steers the family brand into the future, she’s hit a few bumps. Under her watch, the 94-year-old company launched three new concepts—Laughing Noodle, Blaze Modern BBQ and Decker Grilled Sandwiches—but earlier this year pulled back, closing those and refocusing on the core business. Sales remain flat, but the introduction of a veggie slider “surpassed expectations,” says a spokesperson. And in January, 4,000 sliders an hour were served on the opening day of Las Vegas’ only White Castle. “My big focus is expanding on the strengths the third generation has nurtured and developed,” Ingram says. That means acting more quickly on customers’ needs, investing in remodeling and growing its retail foods presence. Lisa’s brother, sister and several cousins also fill positions at White Castle.
Best parental advice
“Family members working in a family business need to make their own opportunities and earn responsibility through merit, not their status as a family member.” —Bill (lisa’s father)
- 1st Generation: Truett Cathy, founder
- 2nd Generation: Dan Cathy, CEO
- 3rd Generation: Donald “Bubba” Cathy, executive VP
- 4th Generation: Andrew Cathy, SVP and chief people officer
Chick-fil-A CEO Dan Cathy finds his company at a crossroads six months after his father, the chain’s billionaire founder Truett Cathy, died at age 93. He’s also measuring whether his vow last March to focus on selling chicken—and less on political discourse—can repair any damage done by his own past comments opposing gay marriage. The head of the Atlanta-based chicken chain, known for being closed on Sundays so employees can worship, still holds those beliefs. But Cathy has said he realized that being so vocal alienates market segments. And yet, Chick-fil-A’s $5 billion in sales trumps KFC’s by almost $1 billion, and consumers consistently give the food top ratings. Troubles aside, the chain still gets points for the strength of its convictions, earning a 78.96 (or “very good”) in Harris Poll’s 2015 Reputation Quotient survey—the highest score for a restaurant brand.
Pappas Restaurants and Luby’s Inc.
- 1st Generation: H.D. Pappas, restaurateur
- 2nd Generation: Jim, Pete, Tom and George Pappas, owners, Dot Coffee Shop and Brisket House
- 3rd Generation: Harris Pappas, owner, Pappas Restaurants
- 3rd Generation: Chris Pappas, CEO, Luby’s and owner, Pappas Restaurants
- 4th Generation: Christina, Mary, Evy, H.D., Tom, Georgea, various positions, Pappas Restaurants
After years of sales results that failed to impress investors, Luby’s Inc. CEO Chris Pappas put some additional “skin in the game” this January, buying up more than 50,000 shares of stock in the company he helms. Some see the inside move as a vote of confidence for the company (parent to Luby’s Cafeteria, Fuddruckers and Cheeseburger in Paradise) and a personal endorsement of Luby’s co-branding strategy that has spawned five Luby’s-Fuddruckers combo stores since 2012. These units create operational efficiencies, Pappas has said, and introduce a wider cross section of guests to the brands.
Closer to home, the Houston-based Pappas restaurants that Chris oversees with his brother Harris, are fan favorites. It all started in 1967 with a coffee shop and barbecue joint run by H.D. Pappas’ four sons; now there are some 80 restaurants across nine diverse brands, including Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen and Pappas Burger. The latest is Pappas Meat Co., a casual steakhouse and the family’s first new concept in 11 years. Five more offspring are involved in the family biz in everything from real estate to public relations; still others work for nonfamily restaurants, such as Rotisserie Georgette in New York City.
Five Guys Burgers and Fries
- 1st Generation: Jerry Murrell, co-founder and CEO
- 1st Generation: Janie Murrell, co-founder and president
- 2nd Generation: Jim Murrell, co-founder
- 2nd Generation: Chad Murrell, co-founder
- 2nd Generation: Ben Murrell, co-founder
- 2nd Generation: Matt Murrell, co-founder
- 2nd Generation: Tyler Murrell, co-founder
A decade after being dubbed the fastest-growing small chain in America in Restaurant Business’ first Future 50 ranking, Five Guys is a relative goliath in the better-burger game. It has grown to well over 1,000 units, largely on word-of-mouth buzz, since it first opened in 1986. That’s when Jerry Murrell and wife Janie gave sons Matt, Jim, Chad and Ben an ultimatum: “Start a business or go to college.” The boys chose to go into business with their dad, launching a burger joint with Jerry at the head. Later youngest brother—and fifth “guy” Tyler—came along. Today, all are active in running Five Guys, and a third generation already is making its way through the ranks of the company, learning the operations, running food-safety classes and even advancing online training initiatives.
Now, eyes are on the Lorton, Va.-based fast casual as industry watchers wonder if Shake Shake’s IPO win (see Page 73) could inspire Five Guys. Jerry has said he’s often approached with pitches to go public, but has turned down all offers, opting to keep the chain in the family—for now.
Photo by Stephen Voss
Metz Culinary Management/Sterling Spoon (Marlow’s Tavern, Aqua Blue)
- 1st Generation: John C. Metz Sr., executive chairman, Metz Culinary Management
- 2nd Generation: John C. Metz Jr., CEO, Sterling Spoon
- 2nd Generation: Jeff Metz, CEO, Metz Culinary Management
- 2nd Generation: Maureen Metz, vice president of marketing, Metz Culinary Management
John Metz Jr.’s goal is to almost double the number of Marlow’s Tavern locations from 13 to 15 in 2015. As co-owner and executive chef, he has experience on his side. Not only did Marlow’s already earn the No. 17 spot on Restaurant Business’ 2014 Future 50 list of emerging chains, but Metz and his partners in the Sterling Spoon restaurant group (which operates two other concepts in Atlanta) count a total of more than 130 years in restaurants between them. Plus, Metz shares a name and bloodline with franchising vet John C. Metz Sr., and both are active in the National Restaurant Association. The elder’s Metz Culinary Management operates 11 TGI Fridays, two Krispy Kremes and several noncommercial contracts; his other son, Jeff, is president and CEO of the franchising group.
- 1st Generation: John Galardi, founder
- 1st Generation: Cindy Galardi Culpepper, president and CEO
- 2nd Generation: J.R. Galardi, chief visionary officer
After founder John Galardi passed away in 2013, his former wife Cindy Galardi Culpepper stepped in to oversee the hot-dog chain and keep the boss’s seat warm until their son, who is in his mid-20s, is ready to take charge. While J.R. eventually will become president and then CEO, his mom says there’s no timetable. “For now, he’s putting all of his attention into expanding Wienerschnitzel’s customer demographic to a younger generation,” she says. And he’s doing so through his role leading the Visionary Department, which he spearheaded to help the 53-year-old chain look to the future and remain relevant. The goal of the department, he says, “is not to change our marketing direction, but to expand it to include customers 30 to 40 years from now … There are a lot of new partnerships in the works and we’re entering spaces we’ve never been before.” J.R. has helped the brand become a sponsor and official hot dog of Joe Gibbs Racing Motocross, as well as built relationships with Toyota and other automotive brands. He says, “we want to be where our fans are, support their interests and be a part of the conversation.”
Best parental advice
“Stay true to what you are. If you sell hot dogs, don’t try to be a taco restaurant. Find a lane that you excel in and focus on it.” —J.R.
Commander’s Palace, Brennan’s et al.
Few other families are more deeply rooted in restaurants than the Brennans. And few have more intrigue attached to their name. So it’s not surprising, perhaps, that one of the most recent stories to shake out of the family tree centers around its historical namesake restaurant, Brennan’s, in New Orleans.
Last November, restaurateur Ralph Brennan, a cousin of previous owners Ted and Owen Brennan, reopened the pink-hued icon (one of seven restaurants in his portfolio) after acquiring it at a foreclosure auction. After pouring an estimated $20 million into its renovation, he now faces the task of offering a new version of the classic for modern diners, while upholding its legacy. Down but not out, Ted and his children announced that “after more than 50 years on Royal Street, the original experience” will move to a different part of town with the opening of Ted Brennan’s Decatur restaurant, slated for spring.
Other members of the family have divided up along bloodlines, operating both legendary concepts—Commander’s Palace in New Orleans being among the most famous—and more experimental concepts. In fact, the next big project under development for the Commander’s Family of Restaurants is a new culinary and hospitality school in New Orleans that will open in fall 2016.
Best parental advice
“[Our mother Ella Brennan] said ‘Restaurants work exactly the same way gold mines do. You have to be willing to go in every day with a pick and an ax and dig hard to get the reward out.’” —Ti and Alex
Dickey’s Barbecue Pit
- 1st Generation: Travis Dickey, founder
- 2nd Generation: T.D. Dickey, chairman emeritus
- 2nd Generation: Roland Dickey, vice chairman
- 3rd Generation: Roland Dickey Jr., CEO
Dickey’s marked a milestone, opening its 500th store in early March, but it’s merely a tick on the yardstick for the franchisor with insatiable growth ambitions. “We’re now opening at an annualized rate of about 150 stores a year,” says CEO Roland Dickey Jr. The goal, he says, is to get to 275 a year by the end of 2016, and then, who knows? “There’s no cap,” he says.
This drive has helped make Dickey’s, started by Roland’s grandfather Travis in 1967, the fastest-growing fast-casual chain in the U.S., according to Technomic—in the ripe-for-growth barbecue category, no less.
To ready itself for its next phase, which could include international expansion into Mexico and Canada, Dickey’s will unveil a new prototype in May with an open kitchen and a “cool ambiance” like a gastropub, Roland Jr. says. The updates will extend to the uniforms and menu, which will be pruned of poor-sellers.
Dad Roland Sr. remains a mentor and the public face of the brand; mom Maurine just helped launch Dickey’s charitable foundation. “We want it to be a family-owned business,” says the CEO. But with no children (and brother Cullen not currently involved), it is unclear who ultimately will receive the handoff in the future.
Best parental advice
“My mom gave me Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great.’ It changed our outlook. No more giving speeches on platitudes; we had to be ourselves … No matter what happens, keep believing in ourselves, and we will not fail.” —Roland Jr.
JTJ Restaurants (Taziki’s Mediterranean Cafe)
- 1st Generation: Jim Keet, CEO, Taziki’s
- 2nd Generation: Jake Keet, franchisee, JTJ Restaurants
- 2nd Generation: Tommy Keet, franchisee, JTJ Restaurants
When franchisees Jake and Tommy Keet won Taziki’s first-ever Founder’s Award last year, they were carrying on the family legacy in more ways than one. As winners, the brothers (who operate six Taziki’s in Arkansas) are following in the footsteps of father Jim. In 1982, Jim and his business partner Gerald Hamra were recipients of the inaugural Founder’s Award at Wendy’s, where they were longtime franchisees. Jim also happens to be the current CEO of Taziki’s, handpicked in 2012 by its founder, Keith Richards, to steer the growth of the healthy fast-casual concept.
In Taziki’s, the next-gen franchisees have hitched their wagon to a rising concept. The chain earned the No. 13 spot on Restaurant Business’ Future 50 ranking last year. While JTJ (the company the brothers own with their father), has agressive plans for growth across Arkansas, it’s starting small, adding two new Taziki’s locations in 2015.
- 1st Generation: Rita and André Jammet, former owners, La Caravelle
- 2nd Generation: Nicolas Jammet, co-founder, Sweetgreen
- 2nd Generation: Patrick Jammet, advisor, Sweetgreen
When fast-casual Sweetgreen got an $18.5 million infusion of capital last fall, a couple of investors were big names in the restaurant world: Danny Meyer and Daniel Boulud. This latest round of funding came less than a year after Revolution Growth, a company co-founded by former AOL chief Steve Case, invested $22 million. The money is for Sweetgreen’s westward expansion, says Nicolas Jammet, 31, who co-founded the Washington, D.C.-based salad chain with partners Jonathan Neman and Nathaniel Ru in 2007. There are now 29 units, with two slated to open in Los Angeles, as well as additional units in Boston, New York and Philadelphia this year.
Hobnobbing with influential restaurateurs isn’t new for Nic. He, twin Patrick and older brother, Christophe, 33, grew up eating family dinners at La Caravelle, the upscale French restaurant in New York City his parents, André and Rita Jammet, owned for 20-plus years. “It was a way for us to see our sons and give them a taste of good ingredients, prepared very well,” says Rita. “It also instilled the value of hard work and entrepreneurship.”
All three kids inherited that spirit. Christophe started a digital consulting firm. Patrick, formerly in marketing with Honest Tea (whose founder Seth Goldman was an initial investor in Sweetgreen), is now with a firm that invests in food and beverage startups. Both have been advisors during Sweetgreen’s growth. But Nic always had a passion for restaurants, says Rita. She worked her connections to secure him internships with Meyer, BR Guest and Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group. “When I was ready to launch Sweetgreen, Joe Bastianich said, ‘Whatever you do, I’m in,’” recalls Nic.
Though Rita opened doors for Nic (“Her industry friends referred to me as Rita’s son,” he says), now she says, “they call me Nic’s mother.”
Best parental advice
“When a customer walks out your door, make sure they leave happy. That’s something I saw my parents practice every day.” —Nicolas
Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group
- 1st Generation: Lidia Matticchio Bastianich, partner
- 2nd Generation: Joe Bastianich, partner
- 2nd Generation: Tanya Bastianich Manuali, partner, Lidia’s Pittsburgh and Lidia’s Kansas City
In a list dominated by patriarchies, the Bastianiches are a reminder that often, mama knows best. After all, it was Lidia who first introduced her son Joe to chef Mario Batali more than 20 years ago.
In the time since, the partnership, that includes Batali, Joe and Lidia, has spawned some of the country’s most lucrative eateries—including emporium-slash-food hall Eataly. With outposts in New York City and Chicago pulling in sales of $85 million and $50 million a year, respectively, the brand accounts for a significant share of the more than $250 million in revenues the New York-based Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group reportedly enjoys. A Sao Paulo branch will open this spring, a downtown New York City location is slated for fall, and leases are signed for Los Angeles and Boston.
In all, B&BHG now has over 30 restaurants, including Carnevino in Las Vegas (No. 13 on Restaurant Business’ Top 100 Independents list) and Del Posto in New York City (No. 21), and soon it will take over food and beverage at New York’s Maritime Hotel. Joe and his sister Tanya also partner with their mom on several of her properties, including flagship Felidia. Tanya specifically heads operations for polished casuals Lidia’s Kansas City and Lidia’s Pittsburgh and is looking to expand to other cities.
Though Lidia always encouraged her children to spread their wings, and they both did, “Italian families always come back to the source,” she says. “And I wouldn’t have the success I’m having without the ideas and energy my kids bring and the extensions they’ve created to the business.”
- 1st Generation: Esther and Harry Snyder, founders
- 2nd Generation: H. Guy Snyder, former CEO
- 2nd Generation: Rich Snyder, former president
- 3rd Generation: Lynsi Snyder, president
While 32-year-old Lynsi Snyder’s life story reads like the plotline of a Liam Neeson action movie—three divorces, two kidnapping attempts, drug overdoses, plane crashes—her family business has managed to remain atop consumers’ favorite restaurant lists, consistently scoring high for service and convenience. In-N-Out’s cultlike following includes celebrities, regularly snapped in couture grabbing “animal-style” burgers after awards shows, and famous foodies—30,000 people watched a video of Anthony Bourdain explaining his love of In-N-Out, his “favorite restaurant in L.A.” And there’s the everyday diehards who wear their knowledge of its not-so-secret menu like an all-access badge to the cool club. In fact, millennials named In-N-Out their No. 1 QSR in a recent survey by Technomic. As if it needed another fan base, In-N-Out earned a top 10 spot on Glassdoor’s 2015 Best Places to Work list with employees citing flexible hours, a fun atmosphere, great benefits and wages that start at $10.50 for all hourlies.
No one knows for sure what will happen when Lynsi, the reclusive heir to the burger empire started in 1948 by her grandparents Esther and Harry, gains ownership of the chain outright on her 35th birthday. Just don’t expect to see In-N-Out, which opened its 300th location in January, on the East Coast anytime soon. Keeping its expansion westward-bound is a policy of never having a unit more than 500 miles from its commissaries.
Photo by Stan Tongai
Manna, Inc. (Wendy’s, Chili’s and Blaze Pizza franchisees)
- 1st Generation: Junior Bridgeman, founder, Manna, Inc.
- 2nd Generation: Justin Bridgeman, director of operations, Bridgeman Hospitality Group
- 2nd Generation: Ryan Bridgeman, president, RJE LLC
- 2nd Generation: Eden Bridgeman Sklenar, director of marketing, ERJ Dining
At 6 feet 5 inches tall, being inconspicuous doesn’t come easily to former NBA star Ulysses “Junior” Bridgeman. Yet, he’s not only known for playing more basketball games than any other player in Milwaukee Bucks history and ranking among the team’s all-time top scorers, he’s also famously and determinedly mum about the restaurant empire he’s built over the 27 years since he retired from the league. He turned a purchase of five Wendy’s franchises in Milwaukee into 240 Wendy’s nationwide (the second largest portfolio in the chain’s franchisee network) and 124 Chili’s, with 30 Blaze Pizza units in the works.
More outspoken are Bridgeman’s children, who each found their niche helping to grow a different part of the family business. Eden, 28, heads up marketing for its Chili’s operations. Ryan, 32, works with the Wendy’s stores as well as operating eight of his own Taco Bell locations. And Justin, 35, just helped launch a partnership managing manpower for Aramark.
Best parental advice
“It’s all about creating opportunities for other people. Not ourselves, but other people as well. We’re expanding into things we may not have a footprint in. That opens doors for people to move around and move up.” —Justin
Morton’s the Steakhouse et al.
The name Morton alone might not reveal how entrenched the family is within the restaurant industry. Sure, patriarch Arnie Morton’s famed Morton’s The Steakhouse comes to mind, but he had seven children, five of whom have followed in his footsteps by helping launch their own concepts. There are powerhouse national brands such as Peter’s Hard Rock Cafe and Michael’s N9NE Steakhouse, to buzzed-about independents such as David’s DMK Burger Bar and Amy’s Found, both in the Chicago area. The pull to the biz even trickled down to the next generation—Peter’s son Harry is head of the five-year-old, Cali-meets-Mexico Pink Taco chain. The roots of this family tree go deep, and the family credits each other for their successes. “My family is extremely close, and everyone is very supportive and inspired by one another’s work,” says David, who is co-owner of DMK Restaurants, a group in Chicago that operates DMK Burger Bar as well as Fish Bar, Ada Street and more. “We talk often about our ideas and plans and have tremendous mutual respect for each other’s thoughts and opinions.”
Best parental advice
“My dad was very realistic about how competitive the industry is and understood that you need to do something exceptional in order to succeed. He also understood value and the various ways that can be communicated to guests through different concepts and experiences. One of his favorite expressions that I still use is ‘99 percent of restaurants fail before they ever open.’ It’s so true.” —David
Carlisle Corp./Wendelta Inc. (LYFE Kitchen, Wendy's franchisees)
- 1st Generation: Gene Carlisle, chairman, Carlisle Corp.
- 1st Generation: Karen Carlisle, chief marketing officer, Carlisle Corp.
- 2nd Generation: Chance Carlisle, CEO, LYFE Kitchen and president, Wendelta Inc.
- 2nd Generation: Chase Carlisle, director of real estate, Carlisle Corp.
What started as a 12-unit Wendy’s franchise has grown into a full-blown hospitality company with holdings in real estate and restaurants and annual revenue topping $100 million. Last year, Carlisle Corp. acquired a minority stake in healthy fast-casual chain LYFE Kitchen with the goal of helping it grow. As part of the deal, second-generation son Chance Carlisle took the reins as CEO of LYFE while maintaining his role atop Wendelta, Carlisle Corp.’s arm overseeing its 77 Wendy’s sites.
Chance has spent nearly a decade under his father’s wing. Gene, who still serves as chairman of Carlisle Corp., won several franchise awards, including Wendy’s Founders Award and its Hall of Fame Award, and was even rumored to be considering a buyout of the burger giant in 2007. Now Chance says he’s feeling the freedom to make more dynamic changes, “positioning the company for the next generation, not the next quarter or fiscal year.”
Best parental advice
“People drive profits, but it’s much easier to change a restaurant manager or menu item than a poor real estate location.” —Chance
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises
- 1st Generation: Maurice “Morrie” Melman, restaurateur
- 2nd Generation: Richard Melman, founder, LEYE
- 3rd Generation: Jerrod, R.J. and Molly Melman, managing partners, LEYE
They might not all have started their careers in their father’s business, but it’s where the Melman children—R.J., Jerrod and Molly—have wound up. While encouraged to explore other options, all three came back to the restaurants they worked in growing up. Now they serve as managing partners at the multiconcept operation with more than 80 restaurants that their dad started in 1971. While father Richard Melman (who will receive the Lifetime Achievement Award from the James Beard Foundation in May) is known as one of the industry’s leading restaurateurs, it is the kids generating buzz right now, driving the development of the next generation of LEYE concepts that are helping define the dining-out scene in Chicago. They’re partnering with celebrities such as Giuliana Rancic for RPM Italian; they’re reconcepting spaces that once housed LEYE mainstays, for example, morphing L2O into a rotating-chef concept; and they’re grabbing hold of trends such as tiki bars and ramen houses to round out the LEYE portfolio.
While often credited with keeping LEYE innovative and top-of-mind with new concepts, the kids’ goal actually isn’t growth, says Jerrod. Rather, their plan is to further the culture their father started and do projects that excite them—projects that grow from ideas rather than necessity. If something doesn’t work right away, they learned from their dad not to give up, but to fix and tweak the business, says Molly, as they did with the makeover of Paris Club in Chicago last year. Do they always agree? No. But they live by an unwritten “sibling policy” to keep the peace: Whoever argues most passionately, wins.
BEST PARENTAL ADVICE
“[Our father would] hope we’d learn from his mistakes, but this is a business where you have to make your own mistakes. Sometimes his advice is welcome, sometimes we say we’re finding our own way.” —Jerrod
Simms Restaurant Group/Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
- 1st Generation: Arthur J. Simms, restaurateur, The Kettle, Arthur J’s Coffee Shop and more
- 2nd Generation: Tom Simms, founder, Mimi’s Cafe
- 2nd Generation: Scott Simms, partner, The Kettle
- 3rd Generation: Mike Simms, managing partner, Simms Restaurant Group (Simmzy’s, Tin Roof Bistro and more)
- 3rd Generation: Sarah Simms, food & beverage director, The Kettle
- 3rd Generation: Chris Simms, founder, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
- 3rd Generation: Rebecca Simms, creative director and brand manager, Lazy Dog Restaurant & Bar
- 3rd Generation: Matt Simms, general manager, Bar Pinxto
Last year, Chicago researcher Technomic named Simmzy’s—the first restaurant to bare the Simms name—as one of its ‘Growth Concepts.’ While the beachy gastropub, which launched in 2009, is a favorite with SoCal locals who stop by for a beer and a bite multiple times a week Managing Partner Mike Simms says, it’s just starting to get widespread attention. Simmzy’s opened a second location in 2012, yet earnest expansion only kicked into gear this year. A third unit opened in January, and plans are for three more in California by the end of 2015. Even as it grows, the idea behind the concept stems back to family.
“Simmzy’s is a concept we created so that my brother and I would have a great place to take our family in Manhattan Beach,” says Mike. That brother, Chris Simms, is no stranger to growing restaurants; his now 15-unit Lazy Dog concept once held a spot on Restaurant Business’ Future 50 ranking of emerging chains. Today, the brothers and their father Tom, founder of Mimi’s Cafe, make up Simms Restaurant Group (which includes Simmzy’s, Tin Roof Bistro and more). With Chris focused on Lazy Dog, Mike runs the group’s operations. “It’s a healthy and collaborative competition,” Mike says. “We each do what we can to make sure the other is as successful as possible.”
That spirit runs in the family. Tom and his own brother Scott, who is a partner at 41-year-old mainstay The Kettle in Manhattan Beach, Calif., grew up in the concept, which was owned and run for years by their father, Arthur. Now, Scott’s daughter Sarah runs food and beverage.
Best parental advice
“When I first got started, one of [my dad’s] sayings stuck with me and still does to this day. ‘Give the guest what they want, don’t teach them what they want.’” —Mike
Photo by James Acomb/TheLicensingProject.com