(Above) Daniel Lindley (Photo by Med Dement)
Culinary Professionals Lead Multiple Ventures
Becoming a successful restaurateur can be a daunting task. It requires creativity, culinary artistry, and exceptional business and managerial skills. Across the Chattanooga area, restaurateurs have successfully developed multiple restaurant concepts to target varied groups.
While there are more than can be featured in one article, what follows are 10 culinary professionals who have achieved remarkable success.
By Pamela Perkins
St. John’s, Meeting Place and Alleia
Renowned local chef Daniel Lindley loves cooking as a fine art. But he says pride in his work and a shared vision with employees help him maintain the success of his three local restaurants.
A native Chattanoogan, Lindley fell in love with cooking after he got into the business at age 17 as a dishwasher. That love took him around the world and back for the opening of St. John’s fine dining restaurant in 2000.
“I’m a chef by trade as well as a restaurateur, but cooking is really why I got into it,” he says. “I love the creative aspect of it. I perform best under pressure.”
So, to up the pressure, he opened the more casual Meeting Place next to St. John’s in 2004 to offer more bistro-like fare at a lower price. And then in 2009, he challenged himself again by opening Alleia, an Italian-inspired restaurant.
Lindley explains that he owns St. John’s and Meeting Place with business partner Josh Carter. Alleia is all his. His main role at all three is to work with the food. But then, there’s the other stuff that comes with running a successful restaurant: day-to-day upkeep and maintenance, growing the business, and maintaining relationships with clients. For that, he relies on help from the 95 chefs, managers and other workers he has between the three establishments.
“I’ve been very blessed and fortunate to have really amazing help,” Lindley says. “It’s very much a ‘we’ attitude as far as what we accomplish day in and day out. That’s how it all works.”
“The best saying that stuck with me early on as a chef and as a business owner really is: the fish stinks from the head down,” Lindley says. “I truly believe that.”
Looking five years down the road, Lindley says he wants to be as proud of his restaurants as he is now. “I would hope to continue to grow. Over the years, even with a rough economy, we’ve continued to grow. Pride has always been coupled with numbers.”
Karen and Lawton Haygood
Boathouse, Canyon Grill, Sugar’s Ribs
Keep a wary eye when Lawton Haygood gets bored: he might just open a new restaurant. So far he’s opened three in the Chattanooga area, after gaining notoriety for inventing and selling wood-burning restaurant grills.
Lawton created the wood-burning grill for his first restaurant, which he bought on a whim on the Texas coast in 1978. Natural disasters pushed him to Dallas, where he met his wife, Karen. Soon after, he let go of the restaurant entirely and began selling his grills full-time, which allowed the couple access to some of the country’s finest chefs and kitchens.
The Haygoods took on the Canyon Grill restaurant in 1995 in Lookout Mountain, Ga., near Lawton’s native home. “I really was just missing the restaurant business,” Lawton says. “We weren’t really thinking about it making a lot of money. Lo and behold, it was a huge success.”
The Lawtons describe Canyon Grill fare as “classic,” but in a casual dining atmosphere. “I wanted to cook food that chefs cook when they go home. Believe me, they do not go home and make sauces that take two days,” Lawton says.
As the Haygoods became more involved in the restaurant business, they began to explore new ideas. “We liked the idea of high quality in a casual atmosphere with a nice bar,” Lawton says. So they found the spot that later became the Boathouse.
“We had to tear it down and take all the money we had in the world to build the Boathouse. It was scary for a long time.”
After the scare was over, Lawton got antsy again with a mind for BBQ. So the Haygoods opened Sugar’s in 2006. “Like everything else, it took off very slowly. It took really a couple of years to get it,” Lawton says.
But the Haygoods did “get it.” Sugar’s opened a downtown location, expanding the menu and tossing in live music to entice the tourist and business crowds.
The Haygoods attribute their success to hard work, keeping a close eye on products, and a dedicated staff with little turnover. They hope to keep each business growing. “We have not spent much time at Canyon Grill the last couple of years, and look forward to working there soon, installing a few new menu items.”
Mike and Taylor Monen
Urban Stack, Taco Mamacita and the upcoming Community Pie
When native Chattanoogans Mike and Taylor Monen decide to do something, you can consider it a done deal. “Four years ago, we sat down with our employees and made a goal that we would open up five restaurants in five years,” Mike says. “This January when we open up Community Pie, we will have accomplished that in four years and four months.” “We are without a doubt very goal-oriented people.
Community Pie, a pizza restaurant, will be the couple’s latest venture in a string of restaurants that includes the popular Taco Mamacita and Urban Stack restaurants. Taco Mamacita’s locations in North Shore, Nashville and South Carolina opened in succession from 2008-2012, and the gourmet burger joint Urban Stack opened February 2011.
The Monens say their new restaurant will feature Neapolitan pizza as well as an array of craft and regional beers. And like their other restaurants, everything will be made from scratch with fresh ingredients. “He’s talked about this for as long as I’ve known him,” says Taylor, who met Mike while working at Sticky Fingers during his stint as co-owner.
Right now, the couple manages a total of 240 employees, which is expected to increase to 300 when Community Pie opens. “We’ve grown our company to be 100 percent peopledriven,” Mike says. “They’re helping us grow.”
The team also helps the 30-something couple spend time with their two children: Lily, 6, and Simon, 3. The Monens say they make it a point to prioritize their family life over their work life. “We’ve always been hands on, but we can’t be in four places at the same time,” Mike says. “Once we got three restaurants, we had to change,” his wife adds.
Having a good, reliable team also helps the business maintain a cozy “mom-and-pop” feel as it grows. The Monens say they always assess the business health of their current restaurants before opening another. “The goal is to have a great restaurant,” he says, “not a bunch of mediocre restaurants. We feel we will be successful.”
Tiffanie and Michael Robinson
Brewhaus in Northshore and Fork & Pie Bar in downtown’s City Center
About five years ago, Michael Robinson came home sunken from his nursing duties and told his fiancée Tiffanie that he “couldn’t do it anymore.” Working in surgeries had been a stark change from working in his father’s restaurant, where he and Tiffanie had met as college students.
So Michael and Tiffanie went back to their beginnings and started a catering company. “We started in a little tiny one-bedroom apartment,” recalls Tiffanie, who eventually married Michael and became director of creative strategies at River City Company. “We had nothing,” Michael adds.
For a while, the Robinsons got morsels of business here and there through their friends. Then came a lucky break. “We got hired by a large local corporation,” she says. “It put us on a different level.”
Now the couple—both in their mid-20s—manages two restaurants with concepts unique to Chattanooga. Inspired by the recent increase in Chattanooga’s German population, they opened Brewhaus—a German-American pub—in 2011. Then, after being taken by the niftiness of meal-in-a-pie restaurants on the West Coast, they opened Fork & Pie Bar earlier this summer.
“We’ve grown 100 percent every year,” Michael says. And they’ve been doing it debt-free with about 75 full-time and part-time employees between both restaurants. Tiffanie says that her role is strictly marketing and branding. Michael does everything else from cooking and menu development to washing dishes and keeping an eye on operations. “I’m all over the place,” he says.
The couple explains that what helps them keep their businesses from going haywire is “good people.” “We found good business partners,” Michael says.
“We have a mind to eventually open up a few more restaurants,” Michael says. “But now, I’m just trying to lay a good foundation and grow. I want to retire when I’m 40.”
Geoffrey Tarr, Matt Lewis and Ryan Chilcoat
Partners in the Honest Pint, Terminal Brewhouse, Hair of the Dog Pub
It’s funny how things can just fall into place. That’s what happened with local pub business partners, Ryan Chilcoat, Geoffrey Tarr and Matt Lewis in the opening and running of their three establishments: the Honest Pint, the Terminal Brewhouse and Hair of the Dog Pub.
With all three businesses, the trio says they’ve sought to go back to the roots of the pub as a European “public house” at the center of a community. Each has its own style. The Hair of the Dog opened in 2005 as an English-style pub, followed by the more American wedge-shaped Terminal Brewhouse in 2009. Last came the Honest Pint, an Irish pub with a live music twist.
After a while, the partners seemed to just naturally fall into their roles without any major discussion. Tarr, who has a background in construction, handles remodeling and makes sure the pubs get up-and-running. “Matt and I are terrible at dealing with construction workers. He actually can communicate and keep us from getting killed,” Chilcoat says.
Lewis and Chilcoat say they share the day-to-day operation duties. “Matt and I kind of laugh about it. We just kind of fell into certain roles.” Lewis tends to do more in administration while Chilcoat spends more time running the food end. “One of the reasons we have the success we have is because we sync well together as teams,” Chilcoat says.
For their next project, the triumvirate is considering a production brewery to get the Terminal beers more into the market. “We’ve really been talking more about that lately as opposed to opening more restaurants. That’s more than likely our next step.”