The grill they all want a stake in

The Jewish Chronicle - - BUSINESS - BY CANDICE KRIEGER

RESTAU­RANT OWNER Jon Yantin is not alone in see­ing the po­ten­tial of his newly re­opened Chicago Rib Shack.

It has re­ceived £3 mil­lion in back­ing from some of the world’s most ac­com­plished en­trepreneurs.

In­vest­ment banker Michael Sher­wood, the co-chief ex­ec­u­tive of Gold­man Sachs In­ter­na­tional, and An­thony Lyons, head of Earls Court & Olympia, now hold a stake in the Lon­don restau­rant, which is of­fer­ing kosher meat.

The orig­i­nal Chicago Rib Shack, an Amer­i­can-style restau­rant based in Knights­bridge, closed i n 1999. Mr Yantin has spent the past three years try­ing to bring the con­cept back. Yes­ter­day, it re­opened its doors. Apart from Mr Sher­wood and Mr Lyons, it has re­ceived fund­ing from hedge-fund man­ager Jonathan Green, a part­ner of GLG part­ners; en­tre­pre­neur Ni­cholas Gold, who works with Sir Philip Green’s step­son, Brett Pa­los; and Matthew Miller, di­rec­tor of Gal­liard Homes. It took Mr Yantin less than a day to se­cure the fund­ing.

But why would the Chicago Rib Shack work now when it closed down be­fore? “There is noth­ing in the mar­ket that’s like it,” Mr Yantin, 36, tells JC Busi­ness. “At the top end of the restau­rant sec­tor, Lon­don is the hottest place to eat in the world.” He cites Zuma, Hakkasan and Gor­don Ram­say’s restau­rants as ex­am­ples. “And at the other end, the high-street sec­tor is also fan­tas­tic. But there is a big gap at the top-end of the mid­dle mar­ket. There is the need for a fam­ily-friendly restau­rant.” He quickly adds that the Chicago Rib Shack is not a chil­dren’s restau­rant: “We are not Gi­raffe.”

It re­mains to be seen whether the con­cept has aged well, but Mr Yantin, who co-founded the new restau­rant with Adrian Hart­ley of the orig­i­nal Rib Shack, is con­fi­dent. He took 2,000 book­ings within 48 hours of an­nounc­ing the restau­rant’s come­back and ex­pects it to reach an an­nual rev­enue of £5 mil­lion. Hav­ing worked in the in­dus­try for al­most two decades, Mr Yantin be­lieves he has the ex­per­tise to make the Chicago Rib Shack a suc­cess.

He got his first taste for the trade at 16, work­ing at a take­away pizza joint in Cock­fos­ters, North Lon­don. In 1994, he joined the man­age­ment-train­ing pro­gramme at My Kinda Town, which owned the Chicago Rib Shack be­fore sell­ing it to Cap­i­tal Ra­dio in 1996. He re­calls: “When my friends were all go­ing off to work in the City and buy­ing cus­tom-made shirts, I bought chef whites, a T-shirt and learnt how to mop the floor. I started at the bot­tom and worked my way up.”

He al­most didn’t make it, drop­ping a tray of food dur­ing his waiter exam. But the com­pany’s then man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, Si­mon Kos­soff — now the man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Car­luc­cio’s — passed him any­way. Mr Yantin spent the next few years climb­ing up the ranks, be­fore be­ing hired by Mr Kos­soff to be­come the gen­eral man­ager of Salsa on Char­ing Cross Road.

In 2000, he be­came mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of Cho­rion PLC (now Ur­bium PLC), tak­ing the com­pany, which owned Tiger Tiger, from a turnover of £12m to £100m. In 2005, the com­pany was sold to a private-eq­uity group in a £120m deal and Mr Yantin left the com­pany.

“It was time to think about the next step,” he re­calls. “I have young kids and would meet par­ents do­ing the school run. When I told them that I was in the restau­rant busi­ness, they would al­ways ask me what hap­pened to the Chicago Rib Shack. This got me think­ing.”

In 2005, he bought the brand, the recipes and all the in­tel­lec­tual prop­erty from Cap­i­tal Ra­dio for a sub­stan­tial six-fig­ure sum.

Mr Yantin has in­tro­duced a kosher pan, to cater for the more con­ser­va­tive Jew, as he puts it. “It’s for those that will eat kosher meat in a non-su­per­vised restau­rant. We will use the kosher pan to cook our three kosher meat items — the meat for which comes in pre­butchered, pre-por­tioned and sealed,” he ex­plains. He adds that the rib shack was par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar among the Jewish pop­u­la­tion. “Kosher meat is seen as hip. It’s per­ceived to be cleaner, bet­ter for you and the slaugh­ter tech­nique ap­peal to peo­ple’s eco-friendly cre­den­tials.”

He iden­ti­fies a need to cre­ate a mod­ern and fam­ily-friendly restau­rant in the kosher mar­ket. “This is some­thing my mum would love me to do.”

In the mean­time, the El­stree United Syn­a­gogue mem­ber is plan­ning to roll out a sec­ond Man­hat­tan-style steak­house con­cept, Stake. He in­tends to open six Stakes in Lon­don within the next two years — the first one open­ing later this year.

But is now not a risky time to be open­ing restau­rants, con­sid­er­ing the cur­rent eco­nomic cli­mate? “We are aware of that, but be­cause of where we sit at the top end of the mid­dle mar­ket, we are slightly pro­tected. We of­fer peo­ple the chance to trade up from the high street, per­haps in place of a week­end away, or trade down from a topend restau­rant if peo­ple are look­ing to tighten their belts.

“We of­fer peo­ple a West-End ex­pe­ri­ence at a slightly more af­ford­able price. The av­er­age meal spend is be­tween £25 and £30 for a three-course meal.” He says the com­pany is com­pet­ing with the likes of Au­tomat Amer­i­can Brasserie in Dover Street, All Star Lanes and Smiths of Smith­field.

Aside from work, Mr Yantin plays foot­ball for Faith­fold in the Mac­cabi Masters foot­ball league. He is mar­ried and has three chil­dren.

Jon Yantin, owner of the newly re­launched Chicago Rib Shack, which is now serv­ing kosher meat

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