It's the latest restaurant concept under Shula Restaurant Group, which was founded 34 years ago.
Walking into the recently opened Don Shula’s American Kitchen in Canton, Ohio, guests are met with memorabilia of the Miami Dolphins coaching legend—like an NFL Hall of Fame jacket given to Shula for an undefeated season, and a jersey signed by all 51 players of the 1972 Miami Dolphins team. Shula, who is best known for leading his team to the only perfect season in NFL history, took home 347 victories over the course of his career, which is in line with his motto: “Strive for perfection, but settle for excellence.” He took that philosophy with him during his foray into the restaurant industry in 1989.
Established 34 years ago with the launch of Shula’s Steak House, Shula’s Restaurant Group has now created six restaurant brands across 16 locations in the U.S., which span fine dining, premium casual and casual, and fast-casual: 347 Grille, Shula’s Bar & Grill, Arizona-based Prime, and Shula Burger, which has non-traditional units in airports and stadiums.
This year, the group expanded its portfolio by welcoming the new dining concept inspired by the NFL coach, who was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1997. Don Shula’s American Kitchen is the first upscale-casual dining experience to open in the Hall of Fame Village, a 100-acre sports and entertainment resort destination in Canton developed around the Pro Football Hall of Fame Museum.
HQ: South Florida
Cuisine: Steak and American Classics
Unit Count: 16
Founder: Don Shula
Shula Restaurant Group CEO Cody Plott sees Don Shula’s American Kitchen as a “natural fit” for the restaurant group. “We’ve always had upscale casual as the target, and this is just a larger spectrum from that,” he says. “I think what it does instead of a specialty restaurant—which sometimes can be a special-event type restaurant—is that this is much more regulated to people who can make it there two or three times a week.”
The 9,400-square-foot restaurant focuses on giving guests a personalized experience. For a more casual outing, the bar features 28 seats where patrons can sit and watch sports on multiple TV screens. The space also has different dining spaces away from the bar, including an upstairs enclosed area and two private dining areas.
With a large selection of menu items compared to a typical steakhouse, Plott sees Don Shula’s American Kitchen appealing to a wider variety of customers who are looking for an upscale-casual experience. Along with serving main dishes like its 48-hour short rib, the restaurant also offers white cheddar and corn enchiladas and an Asian grilled shrimp salad. A dessert menu features treats like the Peanut Butter Cremeaux and the Banana Bread Waffle, while specialty drinks on its cocktail menu include Latenight Game—a coconut-washed Tito’s vodka with blueberry coffee and noix de coco—and their Sparkling Trophy, which consists of botanist gin, lime, lemon, creme de violette, blackberries, and basil. Along with the cocktail menu, they have an extensive wine list with bottles ranging from $34 to north of $200.
“Whether you're having the Bolognese or the short rib or a sandwich, you have the ability to experience all of those things in a dining experience that we think from a service standpoint, will be highly enjoyed. Plus, dining should be part of the entertainment,” says Plott, who replaced Bill Freeman as CEO of Shula Restaurant Group in February this year.
The contract to build Don Shula’s American Kitchen was originally signed three years ago, but the project just came together in the past year. The Hall of Fame Village team played a key role in the launch of Shula’s Restaurant Kitchen, aiding in construction and design elements.
“We gave a lot of input to the menu [and] the pricing. We also gave input to making the place unique and different, creating a sense of place from a design point of view for Coach Shula and to represent his brand,” says Michael Crawford, Hall of Fame Village CEO. “And obviously, being around the Hall of Fame, we wanted it to really stand out as something unique and different.”
Besides providing insight and input, Crawford says the Village trusted the Shula Group to create a place that would honor Hall of Famer Shula. The restaurant opened to the public on March 21, and has already received a positive community response and media praise.
“I think the feedback has been, I use three letters—wow,” says Crawford. “It's just been reviewed in the local newspaper; I would echo their words that everything is great, the food experience and the service is fantastic.”
The Village sees many high-profile guests visit such as NFL team owners, and with the addition of Don Shula’s American Kitchen, those guests will have closer proximity to an elevated dining experience, Crawford adds. As the brand expands its food options in the Village, the company also wants to cater to guests who come for a waterpark day, events, or just to visit the Hall of Fame.
Though the restaurant group plans to open more units in the future, the success of the Canton location remains the top priority. “I think [from] Shula’s standpoint, this is just another opportunity for us to expand the brand, and we do want to take [it] across the country,” says Plott. He expects an uptick in business during the summer months will yield great success for the restaurant, especially as the Village expands its food program.
“We thought through the types of food experiences that would make the most sense. With Don Shula being more about higher-end casual dining experiences, we wanted to balance that between a brew pub, a pizza place, and an ice cream place—something that was really there for everyone to enjoy,” says Crawford.
Before joining the Hall of Fame Resort & Entertainment Company as CEO in 2018, Crawford first learned the ropes of creating unique food experiences for customers while working for The Walt Disney Company. There, he considered the different types of customers across Disney’s parks in California, Florida, and Shanghai, China, and helped develop what would best fit their dining needs.
Crawford hopes the Don Shula’s American Kitchen will act as a signal to Pro Football Hall of Famers that the Village wants to continue to grow their relationship with them, and make the athletes feel like they’re a part of the destination. And while the Village wants to be a place that honors Hall of Fame legends, it also seeks to become a place where visitors can feel entertained and bring their family and friends, and leave feeling like their own legacy is growing.
“Our hope is that the legacy of the Hall of Fame and the men that are enshrined there just continues to permeate through the Village, and gives an extension of everything that they've done at a high level through their careers,” he adds.