Dan Casey thinks his 1200° Chophouse is the restaurant of the future — not because of the powerful griddle and broiler that gives his steaks great char, nor because of the beachside location or cozy atmosphere.
Instead, Casey points to the fact that, with 50 seats and 25 staff members, the restaurant fits well below the 50-employee threshold that would require him to pay for medical insurance under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
“With everyone worried about insurance for employees now, we thought we’d take $100,000, open an upscale steak restaurant with under 25 employees, and I think we’ve pretty much accomplished it,” said Casey, who also operates Snapper’s Sea Grill and Madfish, several hundred yards north of 1200° Chophouse, all on Gulf Boulevard in St. Petersburg, Fla.
He discussed his new restaurant, which opened about six weeks ago, with Nation’s Restaurant News.
With beef prices so high, why did you open a steakhouse?
Steak is something that every hotel concierge I ask says [consumers are] looking for.
Is there anything you can do to manage the cost?
If you’re aggressive, you can find a good deal and product that’s aged the way I want. I want [wet-aged] steak that has 45 days of age on it. When I get a [typical] case of steaks it has two weeks of age on it, and I have two to four weeks before I break it open. But if I buy older steak, [the distributor sees] product growing on their inventory. But for me, it has four weeks’ age on it. That just makes it more tender; more desirable, that’s for sure.
How do you keep your staffing lean?
The trick was to try to come up with a menu that would get the check average high enough to sustain the location [$35-$40 per person]. You figure with 25 employees, you’re going to run it without a manager, but with a head line cook and head server. They tally the money, and for that they get the choice of stations and shifts.
We have 50 seats, and we have the ability to move up to about 70 before adding more staff, but since it’s a learning process, I’d be afraid to do that to my staff just yet.
We just opened our doors [six weeks ago] and didn’t tell anybody we were there, and we ended up doing one and a half turns a night.
What’s on the menu?
For the steak, we have a rack broiler that slides out and it’s got a giant flat griddle on top. So you put the steak on the griddle and sear it at a very high temperature, and then you put it in the broiler and it cooks at 1200 degrees and gets a really nice char. It works out well.
We’re also doing an open-faced lasagna, a bone-in veal chop with a little pasta on the side, a couple of appetizers like Louisiana Creole-style shrimp and meatballs with a glaze of tomato, Thai chile and brown sugar.
We have bread delivered every day because we have no space.
We do sea bass. We do a lobster-crusted grouper. We do pear reduction on our pork chops, a lobster and shrimp risotto. We have a couple of salads and a 38-ounce porterhouse for 2, for $30 a head. It’s a good price on that, actually.
Do you think many restaurateurs are concerned about the health care regulations?
Yeah. I think we’re going to see a lot of 50-to-75-seat restaurants. They won’t be done on such a massive scale, so it will be good for food, and workers will flock to it because they’ll take any job, even if it doesn’t provide health care.