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Operator focus: Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

By: Reading Time: 4 Minutes

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants – started at a kitchen table in Columbus, Ohio – is thriving thanks to its founder’s gift for developing winning restaurant concepts and a company-wide commitment to recruiting and retaining top hospitality talent.

With news of hospitality businesses struggling and even going under becoming commonplace, it is heartening to hear good news of a hospitality chain that is growing and forecasting $400m in sales under management in 2022.

From a kitchen table to a successful foodservice brand

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR) will celebrate its 30th anniversary in 2023 and will also open its 100th restaurant next year called Cento (Italian for 100), a fine-dining, Italian concept in Columbus, Ohio, US. Today the company owns or operates 62 locations – not bad for a business started from Cameron Mitchell’s mother’s kitchen table.

Guest Room of Ocean Prime Restaurant in Kansas

Image: Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

Prior to the pandemic CMR owned or operated 59 locations. This includes a diverse portfolio of varied concepts, ranging from multi-location upscale destinations to single neighborhood favorites. At the end of 2019, CMR operated 36 restaurants company-wide under 15 different concepts, with 20 restaurants located in Columbus, Ohio. In addition, Cameron Mitchell Premier Events oversees three venues in Columbus. The Rusty Bucket Restaurant & Tavern, a sister company of CMR set up in 2002, operated in 23 locations in six states. The national Ocean Prime concept had 16 locations in 12 states plus the District of Columbia.


Back after Covid

From closing all its restaurants overnight in March 2020 due to Covid, reopening them by summer 2020, CMR has gone on to launch five new restaurants in 2021 and 2022,. The business is looking forward to opening in five to seven additional locations in 2023, and three more Ocean Primes are slated to open in 2024.

“Our development pipeline is a combination of existing brands as well as new concepts,” says J R Dehring, chief financial officer and operating partner at CMR.

J.R. Dehring chief financial officer and operating partner at Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

Image: Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

As well as expanding existing brands Ocean Prime (to Las Vegas, Nevada) and Pearl (Tampa, Florida) in 2023 CMR is introducing new concepts, such as Cento and Valentina’s in Columbus, Ohio early next year. Three new, as yet undisclosed concepts will also be launched next year in addition to the three new Ocean Prime locations.

CMR plans to invest nearly $20 million into its Las Vegas flagship location – the most it has spent on a restaurant. Ocean Prime Las Vegas is scheduled to open in Spring 2023 and the restaurant will be over 14,500 sq ft with a spacious rooftop terrace. It will include over 400 seats, two bars, and three private dining rooms.

Location, location, location

All of CMR’s restaurants are located in desirable neighborhoods and cities from Beverly Hills to New York City and Dallas to Chicago. CMR’s vice president of development, Steve Weis, cultivates relationships directly with partners and landlords as well as through a broker network that provides insight into opportunities across the US.

Central location - an important success factor of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

Image: Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

 One reason for success in foodservice for CMR: Staff

One of the reasons CMR is able to expand at this time is due to the fact it has always taken an associate first approach. “While Covid had an impact on the entire industry, CMR has always had an associate first mentality and by leaning in to better understand our associates needs we have had industry leading retention, says Dehring. “During 2021 and 2022 we have had significant increases in our benefit packages and salaries to ensure we retain top talent to support both our current operations as well as the growth on the horizon in 2023 and 2024.”

Investments in employees pay off

An important and inspiring reason for CMR’s success in recruiting and retaining staff. More than 80% of CMR’s managers started as hourly associates.

“CMR invests in its associates by ongoing communication and feedback, confidential surveys, round-table meetings, ongoing training and providing opportunities for associates to explore and try different positions through its “Pass-the-Plate” program and encouraging ideas regarding any aspect of a restaurant’s operation,” explains Dehring. “CMR puts its associates first. Great associates provide a unique and special experience to our guests, who in turn take care of our business. This people-first culture is defined by six key culture pillars and eight core philosophies that illustrate the company motto: “Yes is the answer, what is the question?”

CMR’s six culture pillars:
  • We are great people delivering genuine hospitality
  • We are in business to thrive, driven by our culture and fiscal responsibilities
  • We want to be an extraordinary restaurant company
  • Our role is to make “raving fans” of our associates, guests, purveyors, partners, and communities in which we do business
  • Our common goal is to be better than we were yesterday and better tomorrow than we are today
  • Our pledge is to create a diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment where all are welcomed, valued, heard, and supported
Delicious food at Del Mar Naples, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

In addition to delicious food, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is all about the people who work there | Image: Cameron Mitchell Restaurant

CMR’s eight core philosophies
  • We believe in putting our associates first
  • We foster open and honest communication
  • We are committed to the growth of our associates, our company, and our community
  • Quality is built in up front and permeates everything we do
  • Work should be fun
  • Attitude! Attitude! Attitude!
  • The whole is greater than the sum of its parts
  • We believe in the creative process

“Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is comprised of unique individuals who contribute to the synergy of a thriving organization built on hospitality. Our whole commitment is a collaborative partnership between all Associates to inspire and support one another,” says Dehring.

“CMR’s inclusive culture, based on our core philosophies, advocates awareness, sensitivity, and fairness, so all Associates feel welcome, heard, and valued. We are committed to understanding different perspectives with curiosity and respect, which will allow us to grow together and achieve our full potential,” he says.

With these lessons learned, CMR is preparing for an even better future

Any successful hospitality business will look forward while learning from what has happened in the past. Dehring sums up the lessons CMR learned during Covid, and is taking into the future, as follows:

  1. Maintain regular associate and guest communication
  2. Promote diversity and racial justice
  3. Maintain grace and confidence
  4. Use your culture as a filter as you are challenged with making decisions
  5. Sustain increased wages, enhanced quality of life and focus on recruitment and career development
  6. Enhanced quality of life
  7. Focus on recruitment and career development
  8. Do the right thing!

If the current achievements and growth that CMR is enjoying – and its success in attracting and retaining its valued employees – is anything to go by, it must be doing everything right.



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