Fairgrounds Fulton Market interior.
Fairgrounds Fulton Market

The company came to be as a means to solving a problem

Infuse Hospitality, a Group Designed for Up-and-Coming Restaurateurs

In just three years, the company has expanded to cover 15 million square feet in 26 states and two provinces of Canada. 

Concept creation is one of the most challenging corners of the restaurant industry. How can you capture current trends, meet the customer where they’re headed, and yet create a restaurant that also has staying power? Infuse Hospitality a group of Chicago-based restaurateurs and food and beverage specialists, tackles the challenge by implementing hospitality amenities to increase productivity in work environments, stressing the value of culture and perks.

Founded in 2016, the company has found success across all segments, and continues to develop restaurants.

Chief executive officer Michael Schultz took some time to chat with FSR about the company’s mission and how it’s navigating the industry’s biggest hurdles.

Firstly, tell us a little bit about Infuse Hospitality and the company’s mission. 

Infuse Hospitality creates and operates custom, authentic and curated food and beverage experiences, which ultimately provides solutions via management agreements for traditional retail, commercial real estate, in-office or campus F&B solutions. Our company offers amenities for employers looking to attract the millennial generation through these concepts to drive culture, create community, attract and retain workforce or customers at your hotel, mall, store, office or building.

Infuse which was founded over three years ago now services 15 million square feet in 26 states and two provinces of Canada. 

How did Infuse get started?

Infuse came to be as a means to solving a problem. We were tasked with creating solutions for a tech company that needed someone to be a strategic value ad partner in creating solutions within their offices around the country. At that point, we saw a massive need in the space where there was no one fulfilling authentic solutions through sales or commercial real estate. As the workforce and the world of real estate leasing changing, we saw the current available solutions as being antiquated. Infuse Hospitality solved for that need. 

I was working 90 hour weeks and missing important family moments and milestones. One week before my first daughter was born, I quit my corporate job to start a business that had a mission and culture which would have a positive impact on people, their families and the community by providing opportunity, commitment to balance and entrepreneurial spirit. I was and still am obsessed with the legacy I leave my children, one where when I’m gone people can share with my children of how their Dad helped them. That one business turned into numerous businesses and a few years later eventually Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea, a first of its kind cafe that offers multiple roasters under one roof and Infuse Hospitality. 

How does having a group of restaurateurs and F&B specialists at the helm really separate Infuse? 

Being that the parent company owns and operates retail brands gives us a competitive advantage of knowing what is relevant and on trend with today's consumer. That in combination with our concepts only being limited by the scope of the imagination is powerful. Organizations that partner with Infuse really get to experience having a strategic value ad partner and see it all through the lens of ownership, it's like having an in-house team of restaurant experts on staff. 

This provides our clients the ultimate flexibility in creating the perfect solution for their needs, which shifts something from an expense to something often times more profitable than traditional rent income. On the Infuse side the unparalleled and diverse opportunity coupled with extreme rate of growth is exciting and allows us to attract top talent. Infuse allows our team members to utilize everything they learned in their careers into a controlled experience as an owner, resulting in true entrepreneurial spirit and control. So it allows individuals to actually be in control and allows them to take it from an idea to fruition. These opportunities combined with our culture and deep commitment to our people and their well-being is the perfect storm for attracting top talent in an industry that hasn't always provided a quality of life, support, and opportunity to make a better life for themselves and their families.  

Julie Newell Photography

"Be conservative in your assumptions and don't plan on everything being perfect, they never are," Michael Schultz says.

Let’s talk about concept creation in the restaurant business. With such a saturated field, where do you begin? 

Being that we’re a data driven organization, we start with a financial model, sometimes that means pen to paper (or napkin), other times it’s a super sophisticated financial model based on comps and other data pulled from our other organizations and current operations throughout Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea and Infuse. The second piece (because Infuse is not a concept but a problem solver) is looking for the problem that needs to be solved and coming up with the perfect custom curated solution. Those are the first key pieces in concept creation, however the most important piece of it all—whether it’s a cafe concept, a kiosk, or a 10,000-square-foot bar; is to create authentic concepts that offer a great experience fueled by exceptional service and hospitality.

What are some of the most important things to consider for any upstart restaurant entrepreneur?

The most important thing is … Why am I doing it? My companies (Infuse Hospitality and Fairgrounds Coffee & Tea) are a vehicle for me to create opportunities for others to make a better life for themselves and their families, to encourage entrepreneurial spirit, and to create balance in their lives. Additionally, if we continue to be fiscally responsible, it is also a vehicle for our philanthropic efforts to make the communities in which we operate better by being a part of it. In the end, I am obsessed with the legacy I leave my children, that legacy is the stories others will share with them about their dad. If these pure and honest goals are the northern star it's always easy to go back and reference them as a basis for all decision making. I believe success is a by-product of fulfilling your passion. Be conservative in your assumptions and don't plan on everything being perfect, they never are. Additionally, have a strategy for the worst-case scenario and give yourself some space to adapt and make changes so you are always playing to win, not playing not to lose.

What is the most overlooked element?

Undercapitalization. People should make decisions based on data not emotions, and inexperienced operators. This is a profession where you really need to make mistakes to learn the most important lessons.

In terms of culture and perks, how critical are those core equities to a successful restaurant?

It is the most important thing in ANY industry. Infuse at its core is advising top employers, business owners, etc. on how to attract and attain top talent and consumers, so in doing that, we have to be experts in our own organization, now your own team becomes the most important guests/clients. Creating a culture where people can do what they love and love what they do in a safe space is critical.

From your vantage point, where do you think the restaurant industry is headed right now? What does the restaurant of the future look like?

I think currently everybody seems to be in love with a few things ... one being food halls. The second is more businesses moving toward tech, eliminating humans/human aspects or even opening more ghost restaurants. As the world becomes more tech driven, there’s still a humanistic urge to have experiences and interactions with other humans. What we’re seeing now is temporary. Consumers will revert back to those experiences and human interactions, trends are trends but in reality, people are driven by experiences and memories.  

It's important for me as a business owner to try to find ways to keep jobs for humans rather than replacing them with computers. No one will count my things when I’m gone, but the impact I had on this planet and on other people. Tech is critically important, but so is balance.

What is the biggest challenge facing operators?

Costs of real estate, labor costs and available workforce, and commodity pricing. There’s a misconception that restaurants make so much money but margins are so tiny, operators need to factor in the skyrocketing cost of real estate as well as the increase of labor and product costs. You need to have a great financial plan because the cards are stacked against you. 

Where is the biggest opportunity?

The opportunity remains the same. Focus on service, hospitality, offering a great product, and never assume you're owed anything. I never assume people are going to come but I only need one to create a raving fan and then they will come back and bring their friends. Build your business one guest at a time.