Next year marks the 40th anniversary of The Lackey Companies and an appropriate opportunity to recognize the origins of a frequently used term in our industry: the restaurant broker.
Becoming a Restaurant Guru
Florida native Richard Lackey moved to Atlanta in 1969. He had been in the real estate business for mere months when he received the assignment to lease a freestanding former restaurant on Peachtree. As he considered probable tenants, he recalled a New York-based restaurant that was not in the Atlanta market and made a telephone call to their headquarters. His story of the opportunity in Atlanta was compelling enough to attract the attention of CEO Rocky Aoki who flew down to see the space and pen the deal that introduced Benihana and its famed teppanyaki-style cooking to the market.
The extensive Benihana buildout had Richard at the property on a regular basis, watching his first restaurant deal take form complete with imported Japanese tile and the signature design features that catapulted Benihana to fame. The project elicited the curiosity of neighbors and the press, and Richard happened to be on location when a reporter stopped by. The reporter asked for a few moments of his time, and Richard shared the Benihana story and his role in bringing the restaurant to Atlanta. The Friday conversation led to a business section headline on Sunday that read “Restaurant Broker Richard Lackey Brings Benihana to Atlanta.” No one had ever been positioned as a ‘restaurant broker’ before, and from that point Richard was inundated with inquiries from restaurants in Atlanta looking for an expert and owners looking to fill their vacant restaurant space.
A rookie real estate agent had arrived in Atlanta, a lifetime “restaurant broker” had emerged. Richard returned to Miami in the late 1970s and formed The Lackey Companies in 1983 to exclusively serve restaurants in real estate brokerage and consulting.
As Richard’s business and his network continued to grow, he became acquainted with other brokers who worked on restaurant projects, most importantly fellow Atlanta real estate broker Penelope Cheroff. Penelope recalls, “Richard’s ability to connect the dots – to identify the right user for the right property – and attract new restaurant concepts to Atlanta directly impacted the food trajectory of the city.” One project of particular importance was the London Brasserie restaurant, which put the Atlanta restaurant scene on the map internationally. Together, Richard and Penelope pursued the ownership team at Langan’s Brasserie, a famous London restaurant, to create a US location at Peachtree Center in Atlanta. The grand opening included international superstar investors such as Ringo Starr and Jerry Lee Lewis and all the prominent Atlanta leaders and investors. It was the most exciting marketing event of the 1980s. Atlanta had arrived.
No Time to Think Small: An Audacious Vision
In 1991, Richard’s participation in national commercial real estate organizations and the opening of his London office served as the impetus to develop an international network of real estate companies who operated in the same specialized space.
His first call? Penelope Cheroff from Atlanta, of course. “She’s the queen of real estate in Atlanta,” explains Richard. “It was a month before ICSC Las Vegas and we invited a few other brokers from major cities to meet with us at the show.” In December of the same year, the group formed The Council of International Restaurant Real Estate Brokers and Consultants (CIRREBAC).
Richard believed that building a formal organization would allow members to leverage the similarity of their practices to provide and receive referrals in their specific geographic markets. He also saw the benefit of collaboration – that there were national restaurant companies that needed brokers in multiple markets who worked well together. Most importantly, Richard understood that knowledge of the food industry and restaurant building requirements demanded a specific skill set.
CIRREBAC began with five members and experienced steady growth. The organization name was later shortened to The Council of International Restaurant Real Estate Brokers (CIRB) and has since been renamed to the Restaurant And Real Estate Connection (RARE), the premier association for independent real estate brokers that specialize in restaurant and related real estate services. Through the years, adding members from different parts of the country has added new perspectives and new experiences to the organization which enhances growth and development of the members. According to Richard, the commitment to participating in industry events held by groups such as ICSC is critical because “It sustains growth, and more importantly, growth that is meaningful.”
Richard served as president of the organization for a number of years and then passed the torch of leadership as it grew, while maintaining an active role in guiding and serving the organization. According to current RARE president Allen Joffe, “It’s not just that Richard is a visionary, though he absolutely is. It’s not just that Richard is a phenomenal restaurant broker, though he absolutely is. Richard’s biggest impact on RARE is the culture of camaraderie and collaboration that he facilitated from day one. He combines initiative and excellence with knowledge and trustworthiness. We should all want to emulate Richard’s best qualities.”
Knowledge is Power
As his business took him frequently to other countries across the globe, Richard realized in the early 2000s that his access to knowledge sources vastly outweighed the rest of the industry and began to produce The Lackey Report. The newsletter served as the premier source for international restaurant real estate information for nearly two decades.
W. M. "Marty" Kotis III, CEO/Owner of Kick Ass Concepts in Greensboro, NC, met Richard in 1998 and recalls, “People would often wonder why Richard would spend so much time on his newsletter. But it was a discipline each month - he scoured the market for information, called dealmakers and restaurant presidents, exchanged info, then shared some of that knowledge with those on his mailing list. And he generated some additional deals and contacts along the way - not only for himself, but for other members of RARE/CIRB.”
Richard’s willingness to share information in his monthly commentary cultivated a newsletter following in more than 18 countries. He has been quoted or featured in hundreds of publications worldwide, including Catering and Hotelkeeper, Shopping Center Business, Atlanta Journal, Baltimore Sun, Chicago Tribune, Crain's New York, Florida Today, Florida Trend, Miami Herald, Honolulu Advertiser, Palm Beach Post, Philadelphia Daily News, Pittsburgh Business Times, Restaurant Business Magazine, Restaurant and Institutions Magazine, South Florida Business Journal and Toronto Daily Mail.
A Business Legacy Built on Fundamentals
Richard demonstrates the importance of who you know, what you know, and creating lasting enjoyable relationships with business partners. He cares deeply about his clients and real estate partners.
There are always leaders who suggest ‘we should do this’ and leave the execution to others. Then there are those who develop an idea and complete the work to bring it to fruition. Throughout his career, Richard has had the latter, a reputation of a do-er. His uncommon level of care and attention to his clients’ needs have taken him around the world. In addition to representing clients in their acquisition or lease of properties, Richard has identified operators and facilitated partnerships for clients in Belgium, Dubai, India, Kuala Lumpur, the UK and the US. Under Richard, The Lackey Companies has facilitated close to $1 billion in sales/leasing/consulting transactions.
“Lasting relationships are built on trust,” says Penelope Cheroff. “Richard has been my confidant, partner, and most trusted resource for over 40 years.”
As Richard prepares to retire, the restaurant industry is indebted to his willingness to act – to find the right tenant, to epitomize the term ‘restaurant broker’, to build and sustain a restaurant-specific real estate organization, to share knowledge, to facilitate international expansion, to be a friend and advisor to countless professionals.
News and information presented in this release has not been corroborated by WTWH Media LLC.