How a Chicago chef built a restaurant empire across America – Robb Report

An important part of growing your business is figuring out how to stay alive during a crushing industry crisis.

Before the pandemic, Chief Danny Grant and the What if the union The restaurant group had three thriving restaurants in Chicago and $ 35 million in annual revenue. Those numbers obviously fell off a cliff after the Covid-19 hit, and Grant and his partners worked to keep managers and chefs employed while feeding off-duty employees and their families. Luckily, takeout and delivery orders were quick. The Maple and ash steakhouse and the two locations of the foyer And your survived, with What If Syndicate selling an average of $ 175,000 per week in takeout orders during the height of the pandemic.

“What this has done commercially has given us the opportunity to look at other opportunities,” Grant says. “Opportunities were presented to us because we were still open. We were always at the forefront of everyone’s mind and were able to sign deals and leases across the country. “

What if Syndicate was already in expansion mode before the pandemic, with a Scottsdale, Ariz., Maple & Ash outpost opening in 2019. Lots of other offerings have sprung up, so the Grant’s restaurant group is now aggressively building an empire. What If Syndicate predicts it will have 14 restaurants and $ 180 million in annualized revenue by the end of 2022, and it plans to continue to grow after that.

Earlier this month, the group planted its flag on the West Coast. Etta’s first Los Angeles location opened in September at the foot of Shay, a Culver City boutique hotel that will unveil its rooms this fall. Grant’s rooftop Mexican restaurant Celestina is also slated to open in the fall at the establishment. Next, Grant will continue to expand in Los Angeles with another Etta in West Hollywood and a Maple & Ash in Beverly Hills, both scheduled for 2023.

Inside the luxurious Kessaku in Dallas.

Photo: Courtesy of Jonathan Zizzo

Etta and Maple & Ash will also open in Dallas, where Grant has launched a modern wood-fired Italian restaurant. Monarch and sushi and sake room Kessaku in March. Other ongoing Etta sites include Scottsdale, Houston and two South Florida branches, one in Miami and one in Fort Lauderdale. Maple & Ash will also open in Miami, where the searing food scene has attracted many top operators from other cities.

To fuel the multi-city expansion, What If Syndicate relied on Director of Development Matt Winn. A commercial real estate veteran who was previously a senior executive at Olshan Properties and Cushman & Wakefield, Winn found and verified several deals.

The catering group is targeting large-scale developments where it can rely on an integrated clientele. Etta’s location in Culver City is at Lier train station, a development that, along with The Shay, will include residences, businesses and offices that WarnerMedia / HBO has leased. In Dallas, Monarch and Kessaku are at The National, a development with residences and a Thompson hotel. Etta and Maple & Ash will open at Miami World Center, which has hotel, office, retail and residential components.

What if Syndicate does not pursue all opportunities, stopping for the moment in Las Vegas after careful consideration. “The right deal hasn’t been made yet,” Grant says. “We’re not just going to go there and do a management contract and show up twice a year. We want to go there and be able to own and run our own restaurant.

As he opens up multiple Ettas and Maple & Ashes, What If Syndicate tries to avoid eliminating cookie cutter chains across the country. “Everyone will have their own unique personality,” Grant says. Differing the physical space of each outpost helps guide them to different outcomes. At the brand new LA Etta, Grant has more space than in Chicago. So he plans to open a cafe in the restaurant, organize more private events, and find plenty of ways to enjoy his large patio.

etta restaurant patio los angeles

A section of Etta LA’s large patio.

Photo: Courtesy of Jakob N. Layman

He also can’t wait to brighten things up when he opens his steakhouse in Beverly Hills. “Maple & Ash is generally a bit more moody and dark, which is great for dinner time,” says Grant. “But with us in LA and where we are, we’re going to be able to have a really amazing lunch and brunch. This will therefore influence the evolution of the design.

Food will change too. Yes, some hit dishes have followed Etta from Chicago to Los Angeles, like bubbly shrimp and fire-baked focaccia, but Grant is willing to adapt to his surroundings to make the restaurant feel more connected to the city.

Being in Southern California, where he can source great produce all year round, has changed Grant’s approach to many dishes. “I started cooking in areas where I used to have great produce three weeks a year,” says Grant, who earned Michelin stars at the Chicago RIA in 2011 and 2012. “That requires more technique to make things more amazing. Once we started cooking in Los Angeles, it was like, okay let’s do less because the product is already of such quality.

So, in LA, Grant uses fresh sungold tomatoes instead of canned tomatoes for a simple but terrific pasta pomodoro.

“We hardly cook the Sungold tomatoes,” he says. “It’s just lightly mashed with a little garlic and a little spice and olive oil. There is no butter. We kept it really super clean and light and screaming the flavors of a Sungold tomato.

spaghettone

Use products from Southern California, such as uni.

Photo: Courtesy of Etta

This link with the ingredients is based on local know-how. Grant has a team of people working with him in multiple locations as he bounces from town to town, but the chef says it’s critical to hire staff who are already integrated into the local food scene. That’s why at Etta in LA, he hired executive chef Brad Ray (who previously cooked at Antico and The Nomad) and chef Joanne Bae (formerly at Here’s Looking at You and Maude), both of whom already had established relationships with suppliers in the region.

“I want a strong team member who can provide us with boots on the pitch,” says Grant. “Brad taking me to the market was one of the most exciting parts of our opening. “


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