Restaurateur Cameron Mitchell is planning the next phase of his career, with new concepts in the works.
The founder of Columbus, Ohio-based Cameron Mitchell Restaurants — which operates the eight-unit upscale chain Ocean Prime, 13-unit Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern, and several single-unit concepts in that city — plans to build 14 restaurants in the next two years, including more Ocean Prime locations, upscale single-concept operations, and, after a five-year hiatus, some steakhouses.
A five-year deal struck in 2008 with Ruth’s Chris Steak House to sell 22 fish market and steakhouse concepts prevented Mitchell from opening steakhouses. That agreement expired on Feb. 19.
Today, with five-year-old Ocean Prime thriving, Mitchell is planning new concepts in Columbus.
“If you’re a restaurateur, there’s no time to stand around. You have to continue to push things and experiment and bring things to the table, because if you don’t, someone else is going to bring it to the table beside you,” Mitchell said.
His latest restaurant, a gastropub called The Pearl, opened on Feb. 5 in Columbus’ Short North Arts District.
“We bill it as where chefs take over a tavern,” Mitchell said. “It’s the same level of technique as a fine-dining restaurant, but with pub food.”
Beer is a serious component of the business, with 10 brews on tap and 40 bottled offerings. “We have our whole front-of-the-house team going through the Cicerone beer training program,” he said, noting that he will have the first Cicerones — similar to a sommelier — in Ohio.
He also is working on an unnamed polished-casual grill concept, similar to Houston’s and Del Frisco’s Grille, where guests can order steak along with sandwiches, pasta and flatbreads, plus a strong bar and wine program.
“It’s a place where you can go a couple times a week and not get bored; a place where my wife and I would want to go all the time,” he said.
Mitchell visualizes a pair of such concepts in two affluent Columbus-area neighborhoods, Upper Arlington and New Albany, which he said have similar demographics but are on opposite sides of town, so they wouldn’t compete for customers.
He added that affluent diners continue to spend money, as same-store sales have risen continuously at Ocean Prime. “They’re doing very well across the country,” he said of sales there.
A farm-to-table restaurant and steakhouses are also in the works, he noted. “We love that business, and we think we’re pretty good at it,” he said of steakhouses, but added that competition in that segment is fierce.
“The bar just keeps rising. There are a lot of unique restaurants and bars in Columbus, just like everywhere else. There’s an opportunity for guests to have a different dining experience every night. And the winner is the diner,” he said.
“Dining out is such an important part of our society,” he added. “It’s our form of entertainment and how we socialize. And now guests have the opportunity to experience new food and beverage styles and new culinary techniques that aren’t being done elsewhere.”