Opening a great restaurant that people want to come back to is one of the most challenging endeavors in retail. Patrick Whalen has made that happen, and is continuing to duplicate that success with his restaurants, 5Church Charlotte and 5Church Charleston.
“5Church tapped into a completely underserved marketplace,” Whalen told Commercial Real Estate Broker Adam Williams on this episode of the Retail Redeveloped podcast. He describes the “underserved marketplace” as diners age 25 to 55 who want an upscale night out, but “didn’t want a steak.”
Whalen credits some of 5Church Charlotte’s “instant” success to when it opened — a few months before the 2012 Democratic National Convention came to the Queen City. The cash flow provided the restaurant time to try new things and fail.
“Because we were successful from the outset, we had time to make mistakes,” Whalen tells Williams. He says time to make mistakes is critical to the longevity of the restaurant’s brand.
Another factor in 5Church’s success, says Whalen, is something we hear often: Location, location, location. Built in the heart of uptown Charlotte, 5Church can draw diners from a “critical mass” of a wide diversity of people who come to uptown, according to Whalen.
“That melting pot is ultimately what I think makes a healthy environment for the restaurant business,” said Whalen.
What else? Food, of course. But there is one thing Whalen considers more important than food — that’s the culture of the restaurant, or how they serve the people who come there.
“We have tried to prioritize the culture of the restaurant over the food, or the drink, or even the design,” says Whalen, adding that staff trains more on culture than anything else. “How it feels at a 5Church is a lot more important than how it tastes.”
This means that frontline staff must be happy about coming to work, so they can make diners feel good when they walk into the restaurant. Whalen says a good host or hostess can make or break a restaurant.
“You are the first and last person every person who comes into the restaurant sees,” he says. They must be attentive. “I find indifference maddening.”
While keeping a close eye on one restaurant is difficult enough, Whalen understands the complexity of duplicating that success without making the experience feel like it’s carbon-copied. In the end, he says every customer has to enjoy a dining experience that is a combination of good food, atmosphere, and service.
“We’re in the hospitality business; we’re in the business of taking care of other people,” says Whalen. “Every customer matters.”