"None of us wants to be bankrupt in a year," says Steve Palmer, a partner with Chef Brett McKee in the Indigo Road group, which is in the midst of an aggressive growth cycle. The group owns and operates Oak Steakhouse, O-Ku, and 17 North Roadside Kitchen, and they're in the process of expanding their operations to include Charlotte, Greenville, and eventually Atlanta by taking the Roadside Kitchen concept on the road, with an awareness of the risks involved when a company grows too much too fast.
"As soon as we feel overextended or that we don't have the right people on the bus," says McKee, "we'll slow down the bus."
Right now, the bus is barreling full speed ahead with the Charlotte kitchen opening in August, in time for the first preseason Panthers game.
"It's a chef-driven concept," says McKee. "At that $13-$20 price point, we give you good farm-to-table food."
Unlike typical chain concepts, which use the same menu and decor from city to city, the Roadside Kitchens will be unique to their setting. The Charlotte location will be called 15 North Roadside Kitchen and will have a menu largely created using input from fans and friends in the area using Facebook.
When he opened 17 North in Mt. Pleasant, McKee asked friends to suggest dishes they'd like to see. With 200 comments to guide him, McKee created a menu with a variety of Southern-style comfort food, from fried chicken to braised short ribs.
"At every place we go," says McKee, "we'll develop a fan base and see what we get. The menu will change to fit the demographics." For instance, in Pittsburgh, you might end up with pierogies on the menu, while Charlotte might go more for fried chicken.
Charlotte is already underway, and they're currently scouting a location in Greenville. Palmer also fully expects to expand with a location in his hometown of Atlanta. But before they can deck out new locations with gardens, fire pits, and plenty of cozy seating, the duo has to open Grand Avenue Bistro at the Chequit Inn on Shelter Island in New York.
Indigo Road's unnamed private investors purchased the Victorian Inn and asked the duo to oversee the restaurant, creating a breakfast, lunch, and dinner menu, training the staff, and getting everything up and running by Memorial Day. No pressure.
In the meantime, McKee promises his loyal patrons that Oak Steakhouse remains his home base, where he holds court Thursday through Saturday nights, wowing diners with cowboy steaks and the like.