Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, the group known for wide-reaching brands such as Ocean Prime, Marcella’s, and Molly Woo’s. At the helm of the company is Cameron Mitchell himself, who has been working in restaurants since he was 16 years old — he’s opened an impressive 85 restaurants to date, which have done “a few billion dollars” in sales. In addition to working his way up from from dishwasher to founder and president of a restaurant company, Cameron has been honored by Nation’s Restaurant News and the U.S. Small Business Administration, among other organizations, and he also served as Chairman and Board of Trustees at the Culinary Institute of America (the first alumnus to do so).
Success in the restaurant business doesn’t come easily, so when we see someone at Cameron’s level, we all take note. Recently, we asked him all about his background and philosophy to learn his top insights for growing and thriving in this ever-changing and -challenging industry. Read on for inspiration, education, and much more.
1. Set specific goals.
After graduating high school, Cameron was working in restaurants — washing dishes, bussing tables, cooking here and there. He didn’t immediately enroll in college because he didn’t know what he wanted to do. “I was living at home, working two jobs, going nowhere,” he says. He was suspended for three days for being late and put on probation, during which time he worked a double-shift as an AM grill cook and a host in the evening. That night, before service, he looked across the kitchen and said, “This is what I’m going to do the rest of my life — I absolutely love this.”
That night, after his shift, he went home and wrote out his goals: to graduate from the Culinary Institute of America; become Executive Chef by the time he was 23; become a GM by 24; a Regional Director by 26; a VP of Operations by 30; and president of a restaurant company by 35. He woke his mom up at 1 a.m. to share the goals with her.
“I went back to work the next day and literally did a 180-degree turn,” says Cameron. “On Friday I was working for the man, for beer money, lost and lazy, and Saturday morning I was working for myself, my career, my future. I was the hardest working guy in the kitchen. I really never looked back from there. It changed for me overnight in one fell swoop.”
And the reality? He beat many of those initial goals he set, ultimately overseeing the operations for four restaurants by the time he was 26. Then, he hit his head on the ceiling. In 1992, he decided to start his own restaurant company and began raising the capital and building the business plan for his first concept. The following year, in 1993, Cameron’s opened its doors in Columbus, Ohio. [Read more…]