Recently, Restaurant Business came out with their annual top 100 independent restaurants based on their 2021 sales. These restaurants served about 272 million meals and, together, generated $1.8 billion in sales. Let’s explore what makes these the top contenders, where the greatest number of high-performance independents live, and the changes many implemented in 2022.
The Top Five Cities
Chicago came in number one, with 16 top-performing independent restaurants, followed closely by Miami-Fort Lauderdale with 15. The runners-up were New York City and Las Vegas, with a total of 10 each. It’s no surprise that Alinea, in Chicago, made the list, bringing in over $27 million and sporting the highest check average of $650.
The top 10 restaurants were found in three states: Florida, Illinois, and Nevada, with Florida taking the lion’s share with a total of seven of the top 10 achievers.
The Top Four Restaurants
Komodo came in number one independent restaurant with annual sales of $41 million, and 285,000 meals served. This multi-level experiential dining concept is found in Miami’s Brickell District and features flavors from Southeast Asia interpreted with a global approach. House favorites include Miso Chilean Seabass Skewers, Peking Duck, and Salmon Tacos.
Second place is The Boathouse Orlando. This restaurant served a whopping 921,785 meals and, despite one of the lowest check averages of $44, brought in over $39.8 million. Part of the clue to its success is the location. The restaurant is located inside Disney Springs and features an oyster bar, fresh seafood, and steaks.
The elegant Swan restaurant in Miami’s Design District boasted $31 million in annual sales. The seasonal menu features small plates like Burrata and Octopus Carpaccio. Both Swan and Komodo fall under David Grutman’s and Chris Cuomo’s parent company, Groot Hospitality.
Chicago made the top five thanks to Maple & Ash, with over $30.2 million in sales. The two-Michelin-star chef Danny Grant crafted the wood-fired steak and seafood menu, and the wine list received “one of the most outstanding in the world” by the Wine Spectator. One of their outstanding selections is the Fire Roasted Seafood Tower.
The Notable Standouts
Mélisse, an establishment that only seats 14, represents the smallest capacity restaurant to make the list at number 100. Chef Josiah Citrin’s Michelin two-star establishment in Santa Monica blurs the dining room and kitchen with chefs and staff exploring a 2.5-hour culinary experience with guests. In this seven-course tasting menu, you’ll find food sourced from California farmers.
On the flip side is Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth, a restaurant that seats 1,500 and made number 46. This Frankenmuth, Michigan, Bavarian-themed restaurant served over 908,000 meals with an average check of $19. They’re followed by one many of us are familiar with, Hell’s Kitchen in Las Vegas.
One of the new members of this elite club, MILA, received the highest-ranking debut, ranking number five with over $27.3 million in sales. Greg Galy, the founder, told Restaurant Business that the restaurant was initially created to handle a volume of $9 million. This Miami Beach hotspot opened in January 2020 and is described as a rooftop sanctuary serving Mediterranean-Asian fusion cuisine. MILA was inspired by the minimalist details of nature, incorporating the five elements with Balearic music and a lively ambiance. Thanks to their success, the brand introduced three new secluded concepts, the MILA Omakase, MILA Lounge, and the MM Club.
Insights From the Leaders
Many of the top 100 restaurants had a few things in common, including creating an exciting guest experience and multi-level design. While MILA’s culinary and service experience excels, they also decided to add entertainment with fire shows occurring nightly in the water feature outside the restaurant.
Groot Hospitality’s Cuomo shared one of the most discussed offerings from their Papi Steak brand, the 18th restaurant on the list. The $1,000 beef case, a tomahawk steak that arrives at the table in a golden bejeweled briefcase, is then branded and returned to the kitchen to be prepared. Many of these restaurants also don’t shy away from technology. Cuomo said the company introduced a handheld POS system that enables guests to pay tableside. He reported the addition led to quicker conversion rates, expedited service, and a higher check average due to faster service that allowed guests to order more drinks.
The CEO of Zehnder’s of Frankenmuth shared that a full-time IT staff focuses on all social media platforms and regular email blasts to the 250,000 guests on their email list. In addition, Harris Ranch Inn & Restaurant, number 33, has 98 electric car charging stations, including 80 Tesla charging ports.
The one element evident in many of the independent restaurants is a passion for the industry and a desire to create a space that immerses their guests in an environment that enlivens the senses. Doing what you love has always proved an essential cornerstone in successful operations.
What independent restaurants in Chicago made Restaurant Business’s Top 100 List?
Maple & Ash made the 4th spot, with Alinea coming in 6th. The 14 additional restaurants in Chicago to make the top 100 include Gibsons Italia; Joe’s Seafood, Prime Steak & Stone Crab; Gibsons Bar & Steakhouse, RPM Steak, Shaw’s Crab House, Chicago Cut Steakhouse, Swift & Sons, Tavern on Rush, Harry Caray’s Italian Steakhouse, Prime & Provisions, Bar Siena, Girl & the Goat, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House, and Siena Tavern.
Who are some of the top newcomers in independent restaurants?
The top newcomers were MILA, the new Maple & Ash in Scottsdale, Papi Steak in Miami Beach, Pastis in New York City, Old Mill Restaurant in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee, Bar Siena in Chicago, The Hampton Social in Nashville, Bistro 31 in Dallas, The Spot in Galveston, Steak 954 in Fort Lauderdale, El Vex Philadelphia, and Toulouse Café & Bar Houston.