Douglas is a born and bred New Yorker with over 15 years of restaurant experience. He began his career with Hale & Hearty Soups managing its first store on the Upper East Side and subsequently opening 8 locations each grossing over $1M annually. As an Operating Partner he was responsible for implementing standards and procedures to meet the growing demand in the specialty QSR segment. While soups were the catalyst for Hale & Hearty’s success, it was Douglas’ implementation of the tossed salad business merged within the concept that helped crystallize the business model.
Inspired by classic New York burger institutions, In March of 2003 Douglas launched Rare Bar & Grill at the Affinia Shelburne Hotel located in Murray Hill. Operating a “burger” concept in a four star hotel required that perfect blend of unpretentious hospitality and quality fare in order to meet guest expectations. As the exclusive food and beverage provider for the hotel, Rare services the 2500 square feet of event space and 5,000 square foot rooftop seasonal bar Rare View. In April, 2009 Douglas opened its second hotel burger operation in the Hilton New York Fashion District located in Chelsea. Rare Chelsea offers the neighborhood and hotel guests the same product and services operating a 4,000 square foot restaurant and lobby bar, 1,400 square feet of event space and a 3,000 square foot year round rooftop bar Rare View. Combined, both locations generate over $12M in annual revenue and employs over 150 people.
How did you get into the Culinary industry?
Right out of college I was introduced to a gentleman that was opening a QSR soup concept called Hale & Hearty Soups. That is where I learned the business from both the operational and culinary side.
Tell us about RARE Restaurant Group. What inspired the idea and what is your vision for the company?
There is nothing better than walking into a packed restaurant with energy and excitement oozing out of the guests eyeballs. Rare Restaurant Group provides a similar experience that serves as a one-stop shop burger and booze emporium that operates restaurants and rooftop bars located in 2 Manhattan boutique hotels. Rare focuses on delivering a high quality dining and imbibing experience that appeals to many different guests for many different occasions. The concept was originally inspired through my love of burgers starting from an early age. When I opened Rare Bar & Grill 12 years ago I knew that there was a demand for a higher quality burger that people would pay for. All of our burgers are butchered and ground daily to ensure that the quality is kept to a high standard.
What strategic partnerships/marketing strategies have you implemented that have attributed to RARE Restaurant Group's success?
It was always important to me that Rare be recognized as having the best quality burger in New York so I asked Terrance Brennan if he would pair his cheese with my burgers on a weekly basis. He graciously accepted and The “Artisanal” cheeseburger was born. Having an association with another quality product gave Rare legitimacy in the competitive NYC restaurant market.
What industry trends are you noticing and how do you capitalize on them?
Clearly it’s all about making things easier and less invasive for the guest and their experience. Mobile payments via smart phones without money, credit cards or smiles being exchanged is a foregone conclusion. Personally, I think it takes away from the entire experience but if my guests can get in and out faster on my rooftop bars, it’s probably a good thing for business.
Do not judge people by what they say, but by what they do… This is a full proof way to find out about a person’s character. As Harvey Keitel’s character “The Wolf” said in Pulp Fiction… “Just because you are a character doesn’t mean you have character”.
Your greatest success as Proprietor of RARE Restaurant Group? Most difficult moment-how did you overcome and what did you learn?
I opened up Rare as a burger centric concept, but the greatest challenge was expanding the menu without compromising quality. It was a very scary proposition that worked out for the best in the long run.
Your advice to an aspiring restaurateur?
The most important decisions you will make are choosing managers to run your business. It’s better to take more time to ensure you find the right person, rather than hiring the wrong person out of necessity.
Describe the ideal experience at RARE Restaurant.
Rare is a one-stop shop, merry – go round. A group of friends meet for drinks at Rare View after work, engage in conversation with some ladies, then head downstairs to the restaurant for great burgers and more cocktails. The cherry on top of this sundae is when this experience ends in holy matrimony. It has happened several times before that I know of and hope it continues to happen.
How important are architecture/design to the success of RARE Restaurant?
Extremely important. My two restaurant locations couldn’t be more different. Murray Hill was spatially challenged, while Chelsea was cold and cavernous. In both cases we overcame the obstacles by creating a warm and intimate environment.
Most popular dishes/drinks and your favorites?
To my delight, the 2nd most popular burger is the “M&M Burger”, the rare classic flambéed in Makers Mark bourbon, topped with cheddar, caramelized shallots and apple smoked bacon. We pride ourselves on staying ahead of the burger curve and our “Flambeed Burgers” helped us achieve that. The “M & M” is our “go to” burger when participating in festivals and contests. The most popular drink is the SEXY SEXY. A quality cocktail that speaks to everone.
How do you motivate your employees?
To be honest, there is nothing that motivates an employee more than money. If an employee has the drive to succeed and the passion for the business, they can do very well.
One food and drink left on earth, what would you choose?
Chicken Scarpariello on the bone with a cold can of Mountain Dew to wash it down.
What literature is on your bed stand?
Tony LaRussa – One Last Strike. I’m a big baseball fan and have always been impressed by his ability to win and motivate his players, regardless of who his 9 starters were. I also admired his courage by letting his pitcher hit 8th in the lineup, knowing he’d be ridiculed in the press.
Role model - business and personal?
My father is my role model. A trusted advisor who has made his living by doing the right thing regardless of the consequences.
Ramen. This has been hot for a while, but I can’t seem to get enough of it. I have been experimenting like crazy and it’s truly amazing how creative you can get with this. It’s an extremely satisfying dish and can be a healthy alternative to my usual unwholesome meal.
Favorite travel destination?
I don’t travel much because I’m always working, but when I do, I prefer some place warm that has great food. I haven’t been on true vacation in 3 years.
What's next for RARE Restaurant Group?
A new NYC location in a dense residential neighborhood where the rent is affordable. Do you know of any spaces?