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A Veteran Restaurateur’s Culinary View

It might be hard to believe looking at sleepy Restaurant Row today, but 25 years ago helicopters hovered overhead and paparazzi jostled for the best pictures of Tom Selleck and dozens of other celebrities who turned up for the opening of Black Orchid.

The restaurant may be gone (Hiroshi and Vino now stand in its place), but no one who was around at the time has forgotten the excitement Black Orchid created.


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Macaroni Grill’s panini, soup and salad sampler

Randy Schoch was an owner, and in the years that followed he’s gone on to become the highly successful owner of 14 restaurants, including Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Ling and Louie’s Asian Bar and Grill.

I wanted to get this veteran restaurateur’s views on the current culinary scene.

JM: Randy, what are some of the most dramatic differences you’ve seen since the Black Orchid days?

RS: It does seem like that opening was yesterday, by the way (laughs). I think one of the biggest differences is in the rise of chef-driven restaurants. There are so many highly talented young people in the food and beverage industry and they really know what they want to do. And our customers are incredibly well-educated now, too. They know beer, and food and wine … they know exactly what they want from a restaurant.

JM: You have kept pace with the changes, creating an incredibly successful number of restaurants – all with completely different menus.

RS: Yes, but listening to what people want and trying to respond is the same in any restaurant. It doesn’t matter what the menu is, it matters that we give extraordinary service and we try to do it at the right price. We are big believers in extraordinary service!

JM: You famously started as a busboy and worked your way to the top of the restaurant business. Is it still possible today to start at the bottom and reach great heights in the food and beverage industry?

RS: Absolutely. In fact, today you can raise money and start small. It might be easier, in a way. If you work hard, come in early, put in the effort, there might even be more opportunity out there today. The thing is, not a lot of people want to put in the effort.

JM: You’re adapting to the different demands of customers by changing menus to reflect what people want. At Macaroni Grill that’s really obvious …

RS:Yes, we have lighter dishes on all of our menus. At Macaroni Grill, there’s Mediterranean-inspired food and combination plates like panini with salads and soups. We’ve been doing flatbreads and fresh salads for about five years now. But you can still get a giant piece of lasagna if you want!

JM: Have to ask: What are some of your favorite dishes when you dine at Macaroni Grill and Ruth’s Chris?

RS: I mix it up a little at Ruth’s Chris – we usually cut up a rib eye or a New York strip pupu-style with a chopped salad, and I’m a big fan of our carpaccio, and a lot of times I’ll just do some fish. At Macaroni Grill, I usually do the combo platters at lunch. The problem, though, is I think I’m just having a little flatbread, a small ravioli, some soup, a salad – and then I realize I’ve eaten way more that I usually would!