While not a rare or unusual breed, restaurant groups exist in an in-between space. They’re not quite independents, but they’re also not traditional chains. Instead, these groups blend the spirit and sensibility of one-off restaurants with the structure and streamlined operations of multiunit brands.
But beyond these basics, restaurant groups are just as varied as the concepts they comprise. Some stay local, filling up a single market or region. Others build a presence in their home turf before journeying into new territories. Some groups have only a single location for each restaurant while others choose to grow certain brands within their portfolio.
Regardless of these differences, restaurant groups are proving, time and again, that they’re a competitive force in the foodservice landscape—as illustrated by the following 10 hospitality brands.
HQ: Chicago • Est. 1971
Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises (LEYE) has more than 110 restaurants nationwide, from its very first concept, R.J. Grunts, which opened in 1971 to an ever-growing roster of multiunit brands like Big Bowl and Beatrix.
While the company remains Chicago-centric, it is planting flags beyond the midwest with a slew of new openings including RPM Italian in West Palm Beach, Florida. A new location of its California-inspired Summer House is slated to premiere in Disney Springs later this year, and would mark the group’s first foray into resort territory.
LEYE is also looking at additional growth opportunities for Aba, per R.J. Melman, president and son of founder and James Beard Award–winning restaurateur Rich Melman.
On its home turf, LEYE is working on expanding Ramen-san and Sushi-san, while also debuting a new concept in Fulton Market.
Additionally, the group will be the official food and beverage partner at the forthcoming St. Regis Hotel. At 101 stories with views of Lake Michigan, the new property will open in the spring with two LEYE restaurants to boot.
Furthermore, it’s collaborating with Tao Group Hospitality on a new, private social club with a curated dining experience.
Never one to rest on its laurels, LEYE doesn’t want to be the biggest or the richest.
"We want to be the best we can be,” Melman says. “This has been in our training program for more than 50 years. As a privately held company, we pride ourselves on pursuing opportunities we are truly excited and proud of. In addition to great food and design, Lettuce prides itself on the hospitality we provide.”
HQ: Reston, Virginia • Est. 1992
Thompson Hospitality is the largest privately held, Black-owned foodservice company in the U.S., and diversity and inclusion are core tenets of its culture.
The company has a variety of brands, ranging from quick service to fine dining, and including such multiunit concepts as Wiseguy Pizza, Velocity Wings, and Matchbox. It plans to grow its 63 units to 75 by the end of the year and hit triple digits by the end of 2024.
Thompson Hospitality is focused on organic and sustainable expansion in the D.C. metro region, as well as key external markets like South Florida and Columbus, Ohio. This growth will be fueled by existing brands, and some undisclosed launches and acquisitions. It’s also aiming to create a coffee concept and new bar/pub restaurant.
On the accommodations side, Thompson Hospitality also owns Homewood Suites, a Hilton property in its homebase of Reston, Virginia. It provides F&B services to post-secondary schools, many of which are historically Black colleges and universities, as well as corporations like Capital One and American Express, often through a partnership with management contractor Compass Group.
“Our partnership with Compass Group has allowed us to grow and expand to markets we otherwise wouldn’t have been able to penetrate,” says Michael Katigbak, vice president of marketing. “This strategic partnership has also created exceptional economies of scale and pricing efficiencies a company of our size wouldn’t otherwise have access to.”
HQ: St. Paul, Minnesota • Est. 1995
Twin Cities group Morrissey Hospitality boasts a portfolio of 14 restaurants, such as Kendall’s Tavern & Chophouse, The Bad Waitress, and Momento. The group also operates three hotels, The Roy Wilkins Auditorium, Bunker Hills Event Center, and the Saint Paul RiverCentre.
In addition to creating fresh concepts, Morrissey Hospitality is actively seeking opportunities to open second locations of specific brands, including Italian restaurant/wine bar Pazzaluna and Stockyards Tavern & Chophouse. “Venues, event centers, and off-premises catering, as well as our continued growth in hotels are also top of mind,” says Elizabeth Morrissey Brown, principal and vice president of business development and marketing.
The group’s mantra, “exceptional every time,” permeates its individual concepts, with an emphasis on quality, consistency, and memorable experiences. “You need to get it right the first time, every time, to retain guests and establish any kind of loyalty and future success,” Morrissey Brown adds.
HQ: New York City • Est. 2020
Overthrow Hospitality operates 11 restaurants and bars, including: Amor y Amargo, Avant Garden, and Soda Club. The first of these restaurants opened in 2006, but the group wasn’t formally established until 2020.
The company’s mission is to spread awareness and build enthusiasm around plant-based eating. Since 2017, it has converted all restaurants to plant-based operations. “We love to iterate and test new concepts, working with unique chefs to pilot different projects,” says founder Ravi Derossi.
But plant-based dining can be challenging. “A huge first hurdle is to show the world that plant-based cooking can be as delicious, fun, and whimsical as ‘normal’ restaurants,” Derossi says. “Beyond this, sourcing becomes a major struggle as we work to include premier produce and ingredients that may not be as common or readily available as staple animal ingredients.”
Overthrow plans to open several new restaurants in 2023.
Beyond bringing attention to plant-based cuisine, Overthrow is also working to shine a spotlight on and uplift underrepresented chefs as it grows.
“More recently, our expansion plans have gone hand-in-hand with uplifting marginalized chefs and cuisines,” Derossi says.
HQ: Portland, Oregon • Est. 2018
Based in the funky market of Portland, Oregon, Holler Hospitality is just now reaching its five-year mark, but it already comprises multiple concepts, including Abigail Hall, Bullard Tavern, Holler, and Holler Treats. Additionally, it manages all food and drink programming at the downtown hotel Woodlark.
“Our company is all about hospitality, no matter the concept,” says cofounder Jen Quist. “Our concepts vary greatly in their offerings, but there is a nostalgic element woven through each—through our food, drinks, and design—to create a sense of comfort.”
Currently, Holler Hospitality is taking a brief respite from expansion mode to refine and perfect its business, from ensuring that each outlet finds its footing to taking care of its employees after weathering multiple years of Covid challenges.
“Returning to high employee retention is our No. 1 goal, so we are laser-focused on our teams and how we can create the best possible company and work environments,” Quist says.
Part of this refining process involves design. In a city like Portland where character and authenticity are key, Holler Hospitality prioritizes the details, including the history of the concept and its space to nostalgic elements that connect with guests.
“In our pre-design phase, we develop the concept’s story and do a deep dive to make sure we are developing layers upon layers, so the design feels really special and unexpected,” Quist says.
HQ: Richmond, Virginia • Est. 1988
The HOUSEpitality Family Restaurant Group is made up of three concepts, The Boathouse (seafood and upscale classics, with four locations), Casa Del Barco (Mexican, with three locations), Island Shrimp Co. (island themed, with two units), and one pop-up, Dinner in the Field.
“Our whole mission is to celebrate life one bite at a time,” says Kim Harrison, director of marketing. “No matter what you are celebrating, we strive to make each moment memorable.”
HOUSEpitality’s restaurants are known for their waterfront views and vibrant, locally sourced cuisine. They’re also all distinct. One Island Shrimp Co. location runs out of bright blue cargo containers, and the other is an open concept on the riverfront with sweeping views of the Richmond, Virginia, skyline.
No matter which HOUSEpitality Family restaurant guests visit, the experience will be immersive and feel both intentional and special, Harrison says.
The restaurant group isn’t just a family in name. Family members of owner Kevin Healy also work in the HOUSEpitality brands.
“One benefit to being a family-owned restaurant group is that we have the freedom to make decisions that positively impact our teams, including guaranteeing fair wages that do not require our staff members to rely on tipped income,” Harrison says.
HQ: Frisco, Texas • Est. 2007
33 Restaurant Group has seven restaurants with four under development, including a production craft brewery and a full-service, bar-forward version of its Heritage Pizza concept.
The company is suburbs-focused and plans to keep things that way, opening up more restaurants in Texas and continuing to grow in different ways.
Founder and CEO Preston Lancaster is looking to expand, especially through second-generation spaces and is beginning to acquire the real estate where his restaurants reside; currently, he owns three. “Our growth goals are more about the opportunity and filling the need within the market versus our desired number of units,” he says. “A strength is being able to assess developments and determine which of our concepts might be a good fit or if we should develop something new.”
And because 33 Restaurant Group pursues second-generation spaces, interior design is a key component that only becomes more important as the group continues to grow.
“The design and development stages are something we get a lot of fulfillment and joy in creating,” Lancaster says. “The environments at our concepts are just as important as everything else we’re doing.”
HQ: San Jose, California • Est. 1992
Vine Hospitality is growing its brands, which include Left Bank Brasserie, LB Steak, and Meso Modern Mediterranean. Two restaurants are slated to open this year, one of which will be a new Italian concept, Rollati Ristorante, in downtown San Jose, California.
At this location, “we are planning to introduce a retail component that we haven’t tried before, with grab-and-go options such as fresh pastas and wine,” says CEO Obadiah Ostergard. “The idea is to have residents of the area dine with us, but also stop by to pick up meals to make [at home].”
The company will also renew its focus on Mac’n Cheese Shop, which offers gourmet macaroni and cheese for pickup and delivery across the Bay Area.
Vine Hospitality prides itself on building restaurants that are long-lasting members of the community; one of its restaurants has been open for 20 years, and another for 30. “We enjoy participating in community events and giving back through programs to support local schools, and our Flight for Allyship,” Ostergard says of the program Vine Hospitality launched in 2021 that spotlights underrepresented winemakers.
The group plans to stay focused on the Bay Area, “but the thought of expansion has certainly crossed our minds,” Ostergard adds. “We continually see lots of opportunities in California and have not explored them, but that’s not to say we wouldn’t in the future.”
HQ: Denver and Houston • Est. 2009
TAG Restaurant Group comprises four restaurant concepts and one food hall, including steakhouse Guard & Grace and fast casual Bubu.
The horizon is looking bright and varied for TAG. “We are builders and buyers in 2023 and beyond,” says owner and executive chef Troy Guard, referring to growing TAG restaurants and acquiring others. TAG is also exploring the potential of to-go items.
“We’re looking at the gap between grocery and restaurants, and we are acutely aware of the need to understand the gap difference between convenient and convenience, especially as we are looking to serve the needs of the guests today and tomorrow,” he says. To that end, Guard says he’s considering new technologies to enhance both digital and in-person experiences.
Soon, the company will launch a high-rise commercial project with New York–based real estate firm Brookfield Properties, though details on the modern bar and cocktail lounge are still undisclosed.
Guard says all his restaurants are created with “design thinking” and experience in mind. “This means we’re conscious of every part, including the customer journey, efficiency, iconic elements, etc. All locations speak to the heritage that is ‘ohana’ [family culture] and my background,” says the Hawaiian-raised chef. “It helps guide and influence everything from menu to culture and interiors.”
HQ: Charleston, South Carolina • Est. 2009
Indigo Road Hospitality owns and operates 30-plus restaurants across more than a dozen original concepts throughout the Carolinas, with additional outposts in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida, and D.C.
In 2019, the group expanded into lodging when it acquired and renovated the Skyline Lodge in Highlands, North Carolina, which reopened the following fall. Now, Indigo Road has four hotel properties in operation and even more in the pipeline, beginning with The Flatiron in Asheville, North Carolina, which is slated to open in the near future.
Founder Steve Palmer expects the group to have four to five additional hotels in its portfolio by the end of 2024, “all boutique hotels with a focus on food,” he says, “and an authentic food and beverage experience.”
At the same time, Indigo Road will open more units of existing concepts, particularly Oak Steakhouse and sushi concept, O-KU. Already, both have grown to seven units.
In addition to providing excellent hospitality to its guests, Indigo Road strives to put its employees first. “We are really rooted in the thought that our employees have to have a hospitable experience first, before our customers can have a hospitality experience,” Palmer says. “If our employees don’t feel that from within, the guests can’t.”
Taking this commitment a step further, Palmer cofounded Ben’s Friends in 2016. The organization helps those in the industry struggling with substance abuse and addiction. Ben's Friends now has chapters in 25 cities and “is thriving beyond what we ever thought possible,” he says.