How Sue Doody guides the success of Lindey’s by paying attention to details


One of Sue Doody’s pet peeves bothers her a lot ― and she has made it her personal mission to tell her wait staff to put a lid on it.

“I’ve asked them to not use ‘guys’ and ‘you guys’ to customers,” she says. “Say ‘gentlemen’ or ‘ladies’ but not ‘you guys.’ It grates on my spine.”

That attention to detail is just one of many factors that helped Doody transform a former saloon named Palmer Haus into the legendary German Village bistro, Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar.

It all began with a vision developed after an encounter with some canned green beans. As newcomers in the 1960s to Columbus, some friends invited Doody and her former husband out to dinner at what they said was the best restaurant in Columbus (it no longer exists).

“They served canned green beans. I was horrified.” says Doody, president of Lindey’s, who was just then honing her gourmet cooking skills watching TV’s “The French Chef” with Julia Child.

She envisioned the details of a kind of bistro-brasserie-café found in France, with white tablecloths, hardwood floors, good food made from scratch ― not from a can ― and friendly waiters who wouldn’t look askance when a customer mispronounced the name of a wine.

Not a bad idea for a largely self-taught “Upper Arlington den mother,” as she was called by a food critic when Lindey’s opened in 1981.

Undeterred, Doody kept solidifying her vision, learning to ask others for assistance.

“I really didn’t have the repertoire for a lot of recipes, and I hadn’t been formally trained, so I knew I needed help,”  says Doody, president.

Doody hired a consultant to help with the menu who later became the full-time chef. Some of her first servers were young women from the Pi Beta Phi house at Ohio State University.

“They were so cute, so vivacious and so willing to get people what they wanted because I told them, ‘Just don’t say no. If the cooks in the kitchen can do it, then let them order it.’”

After the first few years, the establishment was nearing $100,000 in the black annually. Now it’s in the millions. About 100 people are employed at Lindey’s.

“It was a struggle in the beginning,” she says. “I was divorced but still had three children at home. The two boys were helping me in the restaurant and the two girls sometimes, too. I devoted my life to making a success of this restaurant by working 14, 15 hours a day as well as bringing up these kids and trying to be involved with them.”

Being a single parent taught her how to be resourceful and to not overspend at home ― or at work.

“One of the problems that new restaurants may have is they get all this money from investors, they overspend and can never climb out of their debt,” she says. “It was important to me to not go into debt. I got a loan from a bank on used equipment that I bought. I was doing all the accounting by hand. Everybody had to account for every penny they spent. I was a real tyrant.”

In addition, her assertive skills were put into use in matters such as keeping the purveyors in check.

“At first, I think some of the purveyors thought, ‘Oh, this is just a fluke for this suburban woman who is coming in to start a restaurant,’ and so they didn’t take me seriously,” she says. “They’d send a case of lettuce, the lettuce on top would be lovely and underneath it would all be ready to rot. So I had to be tough and say, ‘Listen, I want to make a success of this and I can’t do it with your product, so you either ship me good stuff or I change purveyors.”

For all her success, Doody shies away from suggesting that would-be entrepreneurs follow in her footsteps.

“To get inspired as an entrepreneur, I think you really need to get out there and look at the type of business you want to go into and get a job there ― which I never did,” she says. “Get a job there, at least see if they will mentor you. I do a lot of mentoring of young people who think they want to go into the restaurant business.

“I say just follow them around if they won’t give you a job and pay you for it,” Doody says. “Just see what they do. See what the techniques are in the business that you like.”

It’s important to invest in your employees, but it is also important to let them follow their dreams. Doody proudly accepts the fact that Lindey’s has been a launch pad for chefs, other restaurants and taverns.

“It’s not unusual for me to go into a restaurant and find that they have servers and kitchen help that at one time worked at Lindey’s; that feels good,” she says. “I never held people back. I let those people go with best wishes, and the door swings both ways. If you have problems, come back. I think I have a good reputation for being a good employer.”

How to reach: Lindey’s Restaurant & Bar, (614) 228-4343 or www.lindeys.com

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