Chefs prefer to grow business on home turf

Fri Dec 31, 2010 8:28am EST
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By Basil Katz

NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Within blocks of one another, Manhattan chef Mario Batali owns a Roman-style trattoria, a pizzeria, a wine-focused eatery and his flagship luxury Italian restaurant.

Batali and a handful of other New York restaurant owners have built their food serving empires locally, preferring to diversify their businesses at home instead of expanding across the United States.

This model, particularly in a still shaky economy, has now spread to chefs in cities across the country including Los Angeles, Chicago and Portland.

"The idea of restaurateurs opening restaurants in the same vicinity or city of their existing restaurants makes sense from both a brand building and economical standpoint," said Kim McLynn of market research firm the NPD Group.

Chicago chef Paul Kahan started his first restaurant, Blackbird, in 1997. After this high-end New American cuisine restaurant became a hit, Kahan built a casual, small plates restaurant next door, and a large Belgian-style brasserie a few blocks further. He also has a stake in a Taco shack and an upscale cocktail lounge.

Kahan and his partners have been approached to open new places across the country, but have been reluctant to lose the home turf advantage.

"We've looked around the country so many times ... probably 30 different places," Kahan said in an interview. "And what it comes down to, after you put all the numbers down on paper, it's like we know our town the best."

"We know how to get the best deals here on real estate, we have the most bargaining power because of what we've accomplished in this city and people want us in their real estate, so it's almost pointless to go to another city."   Continued...

<p>Celebrity chef Mario Batali talks during an interview with Reuters at his latest restaurant, Del Posto, in New York April 11, 2006. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid</p>