Machado says supply chain didn't cause any disruption because the company is strategic and thoughtful about entering locations that need minimal infrastructural changes. Labor wasn’t a challenge either. The venue is run by Michael Rudman, a general manager and qualified corporate chef with 28 years of experience, and executive chef Paul Morrison, who’s been a part of the Chicago restaurant scene for the past two decades. The restaurant hired 115 workers among 700 applications, according to Trib Live.
Typically, there’s a four-month lead time when preparing for a Sullivan’s restaurant, including conversion, securing and training the team, and navigating the opening process.
“The one thing that we pride ourselves on is that in times like this, you got to be agile, you got be creative, and you've got to be able to lean on a strong platform, which is something this team has done consistently,” Machado says.
“We don't want to have to take something over and then be delayed, so when we look at new potential locations, we certainly keep that in mind and that was the case with Pittsburgh,” he continues. “Our focus with conversion at the Pittsburgh location was really on aesthetically making it look and feel like Sullivan’s as opposed to the previous steakhouse.”
Sullivan’s doesn’t expect any delays for its upcoming unit in Arkansas either, which is projected to debut in early 2022 at The Promenade at Chenal, an outdoor shopping center in Little Rock. The store will be 9,100 square feet, equipped with main and private dining areas, and a large indoor bar that sets the scene for live jazz music and a daily happy hour.
Three more restaurants are in the pipeline and slated to open in 2022 if deals can be struck with respective landlords. Machado says Sullivan’s began engaging brokers and searching for sites early into the first quarter, which put the steakhouse “a little bit ahead of the pack.”
However, the CEO acknowledges that finding real estate is becoming more challenging as like-minded companies realize it’s the best time to leverage disrupted markets.
“We had a firm believe that coming into ‘22, it was going to be an unprecedented opportunity. We were very well-positioned because of the platform that we have to capitalize on that,” Machado says. “But as you look at that pipeline, it is suddenly getting more difficult with more people now jumping on the bandwagon.”
Peers within the fine-dining segment have witnessed similar resurgences. For instance, upscale concepts under Darden Restaurants—The Capital Grille, Eddie V’s, and Seasons 52—earned $168.8 million during their Q1 (May 31 through August 29), good for a 24 percent increase year-over-year. Average weekly sales were $148,372, up from $131,757 two years ago, and profit was $33.5 million, growth from $20.3 million two years ago.
Additionally, Ruth’s Chris Steak House saw comps rise 8 percent in Q3 versus 2019, after growing 5 percent in the second quarter. Excluding struggling markets Boston, Hawaii, and Manhattan, same-store sales lifted 15 percent over two years ago.
A year after Machado and his team foresaw success during bleak times, Sullivan’s is on pace for a record-breaking fourth quarter. The CEO notes that much of Sullivan’s comps growth has come despite softness of its special events business. But in recent months, reservations for holiday and office parties have risen, which should increase sales even further when combined with a steady off-premises business and gradual return of dine-in traffic.
“We see it consistently through the week,” Machado says. “No doubt, weekends we’re seeing our greatest spike in sales. And I think that's highly driven by how we position ourselves. We're not positioning ourselves as a steakhouse that you come to celebrate exclusively. We position ourselves as your neighborhood steakhouse that people can come to and they just want to get away for an evening.”