Cameron Mitchell

$300M+ in Revenue – Cameron Mitchell, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants

June 4, 2019

In this episode, we explore the inspiring journey of Cameron Mitchell. He founded the renowned Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which has generated over $300 million in revenue. Join us as we explore Cameron’s journey to success and the lessons he discovered along the way. And the methods he used to create a successful company in the fiercely competitive restaurant sector. Get ready to learn insightful lessons and find inspiration from one of the most successful businesspeople in the field.

About Cameron Mitchell:

Cameron Mitchell is the Founder and CEO of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Cameron Mitchell Restaurants (CMR) celebrated its 25th anniversary in 2018. Mitchell has enjoyed success as a lifelong entrepreneur, accomplished businessman, culinary expert and nationally recognized restaurateur.

Cameron’s rise has been called “a dish room to board room story.” His career began almost 40 ago as a dishwasher at a local Columbus steakhouse in 1980. A few years later, when he was working as a line cook during a chaotic shift change, time stood still amidst the pandemonium and Cameron had an epiphany. He realized then he loved the restaurant business and set out to make it his lifelong career.

After that shift, he put pen to paper to map out his career goals. He would wake his mother in the middle of the night to share them with her. Those goals: To attend the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), to become an executive chef by age 23. To be a restaurant general manager by 24, and ultimately to be president of a restaurant company by the age of 35 were the benchmarks that would set the course of Cameron’s career.

At the age of 22, Cameron graduated from the CIA and started his professional career with the 55 Restaurant Group. He rose through the company’s ranks until he was directing all restaurant operations of the six-unit restaurant company. But eventually, his corporate ladder ran out of rungs, and in 1992. He mapped out his ideal restaurant company, an associate centered culture which provides guests genuine hospitality and extraordinary dining experiences. This set Cameron forth on his final career aspiration – to become the president of a restaurant company.

In October of 1993, after going 14 months without a paycheck and overcoming numerous obstacles along the way, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants began with the launch of Cameron’s, an intimate, contemporary American bistro in northwest Columbus. Through the development of new concepts and the expansion of several of his most popular concepts, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants grew to become a 33-unit, multi-concept operation with locations in nine states and sales exceeding $120 million annually in 2007.

In 2008, Cameron’s prominence in the industry increased exponentially when he guided the sale of two of his most popular concepts – Mitchell’s Fish Market and Mitchell’s Steakhouse, a total of 22 restaurants – to Ruth’s Hospitality Group for $92 million. Mitchell has spent the years since that sale continuing on his culinary journey to develop and introduce innovative dining concepts. Today, CMR remains independent and privately held, with 37 units and 16 different concepts in 12 states. He also has a separate and highly successful catering division, Cameron Mitchell Premier Events. Furthermore, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants also and manages the growth and development of its sister company, Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern.

With an entrepreneur’s energy, vision and passion, Mitchell’s sights are set on the development of new restaurant concepts, and the expansion of concepts currently in his company’s portfolio, particularly Ocean Prime (known in Columbus, OH, as Mitchell’s Ocean Club). Plans include the continued introduction of this concept in major metropolitan markets across the country. Additionally, Cameron has published his new book Yes is the Answer! What is the Question? The book chronicles Mitchell’s rise in the restaurant industry from troubled youth to the highs and lows of growing his multi-unit, multi-concept, nationwide, associate-centered restaurant company.

Cameron Mitchell’s successes in business and keen understanding of the restaurant industry have earned him countless awards and acknowledgements. He has been recognized as Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernst and Young, as a Small Business Person of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Administration and as one of 50 New Taste Makers by Nation’s Restaurant News. He also received the Richard Melman Concepts of Tomorrow Award in 2005. He is also a recepient of a prestigious Silver Plate award from the International Foodservice Manufacturers Association and a Commitment to People Award from the Council of Hotel and Restaurant Trainers (CHART) in 2007. In 2008, he was inducted into the Junior Achievement Hall of Fame. In 2009, Nation’s Restaurant News honored Mitchell by naming him one of the five Golden Chain Winners. Fast forward to 2015, Columbus CEO named him as the CEO of the year.

National business and industry publications regularly seek after Cameron for speaking engagements. He has been featured in publications including Restaurant Business, Nation’s Restaurant News, Restaurant Hospitality, Chain Leader, Restaurants and Institutions, and People. He also completed a “Behind the Brand” interview, which ran on Huffington Post and Entrepreneur.com.

Cameron demonstrates a strong commitment to both his profession and the community he calls home. He completed a two-year term as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the CIA. He actively recruits and mentors current and prospective students. Today, he is the school’s largest alumni donor, having established a $500,000 scholarship fund. Among his service to numerous local charities and committees in Columbus, Ohio, where he lives with his family, is his dedication to The United Way, Nationwide Children’s Hospital Foundation, and the Columbus State Community College Foundation. Cameron recently announced the lead pledge of $2.5 million towards a new, $40 million, state-of-the-art Hospitality Management and Culinary Arts School at Columbus State. He is an active member of the Young President’s Gold Organization and the Columbus Partnership. He also serves on the board of directors of the charter school, KIPP Columbus.

In this episode, Steve, Mary, Richard, and Cameron discuss:

  • His professional journey from Dishwasher to Restaurateur.
  • His exits and the scaling of his past and current company.
  • Deciding on appropriate locations and generational sites.
  • What keeps Cameron up at night.

Key Takeaways:

  • If you don’t aim high, if you’re not driving your business hard, you won’t know what the possibilities are.
  • Keep your culture present and alive even as you expand your business or locations.
  • Build something you want to make great.
  • Live within your goals and your values and everything will be okay.

“A restaurant company is built buy its people for its people.” — Cameron Mitchell

Best Advice I Ever Received: I was at a YPO forum meeting/retreat and a member asked why I wasn’t taking the approach of slowing down and focusing instead of being all things to all people. That coincided with my reading From Good to Great and it hit like a ton of bricks. The result was we built 19 more Mitchell’s Fish Markets and sold for $92M and I don’t think we would have done that without that comment.

Best Advice I’d Give To Someone Who Wants To Build A $10m+ Business: I was mentoring a Young Entrepreneur member who was talking about taking his business to $20M and I asked him “why not think big?” Every year, we set a goal and every year we don’t hit it. It doesn’t matter to me. $3.7B in 10 years is CMR’s goal and we may not hit that goal. So what if it takes 11 years, 12 years? If you don’t aim high, if you’re not driving your business hard, you won’t know what the possibilities are. Being a great restaurateur is difficult, if it was easy everyone would do it. It takes everything you have, inertia is behind you, and you’re going against the current. You have to set your goals, paint your vision and tell everyone. Believe in yourself. If you don’t, who else will? And it’s not even confidence, it’s belief. People can feel it. It runs to the deepest depths of your body. Run the walk. Having this core belief and the price you have to pay to get there, and then the commitment and resolve is where the rubber meets the road.

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