Alex Smith, CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group, is one of the youngest restaurant group owners in the U.S. In an interview with FSR, Smith shares how he built his company to over 30 concepts nationwide, with concepts ranging from fine-dining Japanese restaurant Azumi located in the Four Seasons Baltimore Hotel and French brasserie Monarque to Italian chophouses, authentic Greek fare eateries, and more.
How does your lacrosse background influence your leadership style?
That’s a fun fact. So I was a pro lacrosse player for six years, and I did win a gold medal with Team USA. I truly believe that lacrosse is in a lot of ways like a restaurant—you’re not going to necessarily find the one player that can play every position.
Brand: Atlas Restaurant Group
Unit Count: 34
Everybody has their specialties, and just from a management perspective, you may have somebody that’s better with guest hospitality, somebody that has attention to detail and is great with operations, and just like any lacrosse team, it’s about putting together the best players to really make the best team.
What does your creative process look like for developing new concepts?
You look at the very best people in the world that are doing it. For example, before we opened our French concept, we went over to Paris and went to 30 or 40 different restaurants in a week and got ideas, tasted food and wine, and cultivated a great French wine list and menu by going and doing research. We’re building a steakhouse right now, and we went to Chicago and New York and looked at some of the traditional great steakhouses of the U.S., places that have been around longer than I’ve been alive. So you go around and look at what other people have done, right? Then you look at the little details that create a unique experience, and you try and emulate that in your market by putting your own spin on it.
What’s the biggest challenge of having a diverse portfolio of restaurants?
The procurement process. We have thousands of different ingredients, and we’re very culinary-driven companies, so we allow chefs to have tremendous bandwidth to build their programs. It’s not all the same spice, same proteins, or even the same plates. We’re getting handmade ceramics for our Japanese and Mexican restaurants; they’re very unique to concept. That’s certainly a disadvantage when it comes to buying power and procurement. We have tremendous purchasing power with things like credit card fees and to-go packages, so there is some bandwidth there. The operating procedure is certainly different in some of our more casual places than is in the fine-dining places. We try and streamline whatever we can that works, and then obviously there’s certain programs that are tailored specifically.