The company won’t just slap the sign up and tap into 14 years of pent-up demand, though. Every detail in the remodeling, façade, dining room, culinary, and staffing has cultivated for years. Mangiamele says he’s even had people—lots of them, in fact—email him since the announcement and suggest they’d pack up and move, just for the chance to work in the first Steak and Ale.
Making sure that opening unit hums is task No. 1, or what Mangiamele refers to organizationally as “benign dictatorship.” He describes it as enforcing a standard of operation where “the focus is on the guest, not you.”
“Whether it’s music, food, ticket times, pricing and the value orientation—that has to be the focus,” Mangiamele says. “And if it isn’t, you’re going to fall into a category where it’s just another restaurant and you will lose market share over a period of time.”
Having good unit-level economics and a solid price-value equation are givens, he notes. They’re the ante to play the game.
“Now, you’ve got to go the next step and deliver a memorable experience,” Mangiamele says.
With Steak and Ale, Mangiamele never lost sight of the grand view. He’s standing on Brinker’s shoulders and working to replicate a pioneer in a changed restaurant world. For instance, why were classic Steak and Ale builds so dark and sequestered? Guests used to smoke while they ate.
The new location will feature booths separated from one side to the other with stained glass, like the originals, but the layout will be light and airy, closer to 6,000 square feet than the old 10,000 boxes, and anchored by tech that makes the back-end work. Table service, a prime rib carving station, perhaps Irish coffee, bananas foster—these memory-makers will weave in. “We’re not going to beat anybody on scale. But we sure can beat them on all the other aspects of foodservice,” Mangiamele says.
This is why the doors won’t open until summer or early fall. “Getting back to benign dictatorship,” he notes. “I won’t open it until it’s right.”
The Facebook page and flood of emails is something “you can’t buy with a billion dollars,” Mangiamele says. It’s loyalty no platform or marketing can invent. Mangiamele told Arnold “to get ready.” He’s confident guests will fly in to visit. They’ll drive from Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas. “People will come because of the storied existence of these brands,” he says.
Here’s some added proof of Steak and Ale’s story: Mangiamele found a commercial from back in the day and slapped it to the brand’s website. Whitney Houston is singing Steak and Ale’s jingle in a 1987 commercial that still makes the YouTube rounds. Bennigan’s, in a similar vein, served as the backdrop for the romcom “About Fate,” this past fall.
Steak and Ale’s service-forward approach was a value one during its heyday, too. Mangiamele will emphasis that DNA as it carves out space in the affordable steakhouse arena. He expects average tickets to range from $40–$50. “Couldn’t be any better right now,” Mangiamele says. “Because people are looking for value but they’re also looking for an experience, and that’s what we plan to give them.”
“… If we can execute on the level that I’m talking about, because that’s the vision, that’s the purpose, who we are and what we stand for, then we will gain market share like nobody has seen for years and years.”