An interior of Marmo restaurant.
Atlas Restaurant Group

Alex Smith has created a “full disclosure” organization at Atlas that he believes allows his employees coaching opportunities and development. 

Atlas Restaurant Group's Secret to Staff Retention and Expansion

Founded in 2012, Atlas Restaurant Group has since grown to include 32 restaurants in its portfolio.

Atlas Restaurant Group

Alex Smith started Altas in 2012 with the opening of his first concept, Ouzo Bay, a Greek restaurant that is focused on seafood dishes.

While many restaurants were short-staffed and struggled to find employees during the pandemic, the Atas Restaurant Group managed to retain its 2,000 employees across more than 30 locations. 

Alex Smith, the 38-year-old founder and CEO of the Baltimore-based restaurant group, attributes that retention to the solid foundation he has built with his staff. Smith has created a “full disclosure” organization that he believes allows his employees coaching opportunities and development. 

“The people in your business are the success of your business,” Smith says. “My greatest responsibility as owner and operator is to continue to develop people within our organization to grow the organization.” 

Last year, the restaurant group served three million guests and generated more than $130 million in revenue, which it expects to double this year. Now, Atlas is adding two more locations to its portfolio—The Ruxton and the Loch Bar in Philadelphia, which will open later this year. This will be the fourth Loch Bar location and the group's first foray into Pennsylvania. The premier seafood location will be one of the largest raw bars in the city and will offer brunch, lunch and dinner. The restaurant is located on the ground level of Arthaus Condominiums on the Avenue of the Arts, a prime location for entertainment with venues like the Academy of Music nearby. Loch Bar plans to use the herbs grown in the greenhouse on top of the condominiums in their dishes and drinks. 

The Ruxton is a 200-seat steakhouse in Baltimore. The menu was created by Aaron Taylor, Atlas's Corporate Chef and Chef Partner, and features over 11 cuts of steak including prime cuts of Black Angus beef and bison. The menu will also include seasonal shellfish, king salmon, and Chilean sea bass. The Ruxton will also have an extensive wine list with a selection from different regions of California including Napa Valley and Santa Barbara as well as wine from Spain, France, and Italy. 

Atlas plans to keep expanding in the Washington D.C. and Maryland area as well as Texas and Florida, where it also has Loch Bar concepts. “We want to multiply in the areas that we’re in; it allows us to hire better people and continue to get bandwidth in the market,” Smith says. 

When deciding which restaurants to add to the restaurant group, Smith says it's all about analyzing each opportunity. For the new Loch Bar location, Altas was contacted by Carl Dranoff, CEO and President of Dranoff Properties, and a well-known business leader in Philadelphia. Dranoff presented the group with the opportunity to put a restaurant in their new luxury high-rise, the Arthaus. 

Another great opportunity for Atlas was acquiring The Oregon Grille in Baltimore, Smith adds. The restaurant is located in a 200-year-old farmhouse landmark and holds sentimental value for Smith, being a place he and his family frequented when he was growing up. Smith’s younger brother, Eric Smith, started working at the group as a bartender and is now the co-owner of the group. Smith expresses that working with his brother is an invaluable asset. 

“It’s great because no matter what, you know that your brother is always going to have your back and vice versa,” Smith says. “He also provides unfiltered, transparent feedback on the decisions each of us are making in the organization.” 

Growing up, Smith would walk through the historic public markets of Baltimore with his grandfather, who was the president of the markets at the time. Cross Street Market in Federal Hill and Broadway Market in Fells Point have faced economic hardship with many businesses closing permanently throughout the past couple of years. Atlas helped bring business back to the markets by adding its concepts to some of the spaces, including The Choptank and the Watershed at Cross Street, and the Watershed at Federal Hill. Atlas has committed itself to engaging and reinvesting in Baltimore. 

Smith started Altas in 2012 with the opening of his first concept, Mediterranean Kouzina Ouzo Bay, a seafood-focused concept located in Baltimore's Harbor East neighborhood. Then came a Japanese fine dining concept, Azumi, in the Four Seasons Baltimore. But Smith got his start in the foodservice world by opening a Häagen-Dazs franchise in Baltimore, which he still owns.

As Atlas has grown to 32 restaurants in its portfolio, including Azumi, The Bygone, Tagliata, The Elk Room, Harbor East Delicatessen & Pizzeria, Italian Disco, The Lollipop, Ouzo Beach, The Choptank, Loch Bar in Baltimore, Houston, Texas; and Boca Raton, Florida; and Ouzo Bay in Baltimore and Houston, Texas; Atlas Farms, and more. 

Smith now has 15 business partners, including his brother, Eric. Most of his partners grew within Atlas Restaurant Group to become owner-operators, and some of them are former servers and managers. 

“That’s really why you grow—you grow to grow people,” Smith adds.

Smith attributes the success of Atlas Restaurant Group to the transparent leadership style the organization has adopted. Any employee, from any position regardless of how long they worked at Atlas, can meet with Smith. “I think what makes a good leader in our business is spending time, being on the floor, talking to employees, walking through the properties, experiencing those properties, and allowing access to yourself.”