Top 100 Independents

Indie leaders' views on the industry

Flat sales were the new up for many of this year’s Top 100 Independents. Sales declines were common, although several saw dips because of short closures for remodeling. These five operators had good years at a time when rents rose, real estate prices escalated and labor costs increased.

Darby Schroeder

General Manager, Portland City Grill, Portland, Ore.

“One of our advantages is being an independent concept with the opportunity to react to market forces or changes in guest preferences fairly quickly. … As the industry faces challenges, it will be the nimble and creative operators that will have the best chance for success. Others in our company Restaurants Unlimited have pursued carryout. Our focus is to find all avenues to control and reduce costs without adversely impacting our product quality—or our guest service—through negotiating savings in indirect costs as well as increased labor productivity.”

Tom Morales

Founder and Owner, TomKats Hospitality (Acme Feed & Seed, The Southern Steak & Oyster), Nashville

There are restaurateurs who are going to fall by the wayside, absolutely. If you’re not good at what you do, and you don’t care, you won’t make it. A lot of people look at running a restaurant like it’s something romantic, like writing a novel. And then you find out how much work is involved and suddenly it doesn’t seem as romantic. I watch people all the time who have no business getting into the restaurant business get into the restaurant business. There’s going to be a shakeout.

I believe that the core of a restaurant is hospitality. I think right now what we’re doing at The Southern Steak & Oyster is fine dining in a casual atmosphere where you can come dressed up or down and feel comfortable. Millennials would rather see the food on the plate than a tablecloth on the table. Fine dining is over with. That’s a major trend.” 

Alan Rosen

Owner, Junior’s Cheesecake, New York City 

“We’re bucking the trend. Why? The short answer is we’re moderately priced so there’s value. We have a scratch kitchen, and that’s something every generation can relate to. 

We’re a 67-year-old brand that hasn’t changed much. Trust me, we’re current and up-to-date in everything we
do, and we’re adding menu items. But it’s still very traditional.”

Michael Stillman

Founder and President, Quality Branded (Quality Italian, Quality Meats), New York City

“Everyone is thinking about wage laws and what seem like higher and higher rents, so there definitely are factors that are squeezing restaurateurs all over the country. But I do think there’s opportunity in that as well, and in the long run there’s going to be answers and solutions to the concerns.”

Dan Simons

Co-Owner, Farmers Restaurant Group (Founding Farmers), Washington, D.C.

“There are two restaurant industries: These big public companies aren’t really in the restaurant business anymore. They’re retailers or manufacturers or whatever, but food and service aren’t at the heart of what they do. Stock price, real estate strategies, etc. are. … Smart independents look at them and say, ‘Those guys are having a hard time and are dying, but I’m not having a hard time. And even if things are soft because there are too many restaurants, well all those Applebee’s are going to close one day.’ I think that’s driving a lot of [independents’] growth.”

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