“When we’ve grown too fast in the past, we’ve ultimately always run into those three issues, and we don’t want to run into those three issues ever again,” he says, joking that while he tries not to take too many laps around the track twice, every once in a while, he finds himself asking, “Hey, didn’t we make this mistake once before?”
Today, the executive team thinks about a restaurant location almost too much.
“We grind about it. We work it. We think about it. We research it. Before we sign on the dotted line, we’ve done a lot of homework on it. That’s the difference (between) the company today than it was years ago. We’re much more mature and much more methodical,” Mitchell says.
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has opened 13 Ocean Prime locations in cities like Beverly Hills, Boston, Denver, New York City, Washington, D.C. and Naples, Florida, with plans in the works for Chicago and a second Denver location. The company was a superregional brand a decade ago, but this time around it has cast a wider net.
Mitchell says he doesn’t know which cities will be next because finding a trophy location is critical — a generational site that can be a great restaurant location for decades. The company’s extensive real estate broker network is actively looking in targeted markets.
“You only have so many bullets in a gun. We can only build two, three, four restaurants a year, depending on how expensive they are,” he says. “When America is your landscape, that provides a lot of opportunities. You want to be very selective.”
He doesn’t know if Cameron Mitchell Restaurants will open a Houston location in 2019 or 2023. He just knows the company wants to be in Houston at some point.
“There is no box that we have to operate in, that a development has to fit these exact criteria or we’re not doing it. We try to also be very flexible in our development criteria — ultimately looking for the best restaurant space with the best return on investment that will provide us success in that particular location for many, many years,” Mitchell says.
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants isn’t a chain that needs to build a certain number of restaurants a year; it doesn’t have to be anywhere at any time. Mitchell says that keeps it from making exceptions, picking substandard sites, which drives down average unit sales.
Mitchell’s approach to expansion has been informed by the writings of Jim Collins, particularly his three concentric circles concept from the book “Good to Great.” In it, Collins says to answer three questions: Where are you one or two in the marketplace? What’s got a great financial model? What do you have a passion for?
Back in the Fish Market days, the company had opened both a Fish Market and Cap City out of town. After Mitchell read Collins’ book, he realized that Fish Market was where the company should focus its energy, which ultimately led to a very favorable sale.
Today, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants replicates that same recipe with Ocean Prime, which he says was its first target for expansion in the current business model. The company is passionate about the high-end steak and seafood business and the brand competes well.