Life & Culture

The grill they all want a stake in


Restaurant owner Jon Yantin is not alone in seeing the potential of his newly reopened Chicago Rib Shack.

It has received £3 million in backing from some of the world’s most accomplished entrepreneurs.

John Yantin, owner of Chicago Rib Shack

Investment banker Michael Sherwood, the co-chief executive of Goldman Sachs International, and Anthony Lyons, head of Earls Court & Olympia, now hold a stake in the London restaurant, which is offering kosher meat.

The original Chicago Rib Shack, an American-style restaurant based in Knightsbridge, closed in 1999. Mr Yantin has spent the past three years trying to bring the concept back. Yesterday, it reopened its doors. Apart from Mr Sherwood and Mr Lyons, it has received funding from hedge-fund manager Jonathan Green, a partner of GLG partners; entrepreneur Nicholas Gold, who works with Sir Philip Green’s stepson, Brett Palos; and Matthew Miller, director of Galliard Homes. It took Mr Yantin less than a day to secure the funding.

But why would the Chicago Rib Shack work now when it closed down before? “There is nothing in the market that’s like it,” Mr Yantin, 36, tells JC Business. “At the top end of the restaurant sector, London is the hottest place to eat in the world.” He cites Zuma, Hakkasan and Gordon Ramsay’s restaurants as examples. “And at the other end, the high-street sector is also fantastic. But there is a big gap at the top-end of the middle market. There is the need for a family-friendly restaurant.” He quickly adds that the Chicago Rib Shack is not a children’s restaurant: “We are not Giraffe.”

It remains to be seen whether the concept has aged well, but Mr Yantin, who co-founded the new restaurant with Adrian Hartley of the original Rib Shack, is confident. He took 2,000 bookings within 48 hours of announcing the restaurant’s comeback and expects it to reach an annual revenue of £5 million. Having worked in the industry for almost two decades, Mr Yantin believes he has the expertise to make the Chicago Rib Shack a success.

He got his first taste for the trade at 16, working at a takeaway pizza joint in Cockfosters, North London. In 1994, he joined the management-training programme at My Kinda Town, which owned the Chicago Rib Shack before selling it to Capital Radio in 1996. He recalls: “When my friends were all going off to work in the City and buying custom-made shirts, I bought chef whites, a T-shirt and learnt how to mop the floor. I started at the bottom and worked my way up.”

He almost didn’t make it, dropping a tray of food during his waiter exam. But the company’s then managing director, Simon Kossoff — now the managing director of Carluccio’s — passed him anyway. Mr Yantin spent the next few years climbing up the ranks, before being hired by Mr Kossoff to become the general manager of Salsa on Charing Cross Road.

In 2000, he became marketing director of Chorion PLC (now Urbium PLC), taking the company, which owned Tiger Tiger, from a turnover of £12m to £100m. In 2005, the company was sold to a private-equity group in a £120m deal and Mr Yantin left the company.

“It was time to think about the next step,” he recalls. “I have young kids and would meet parents doing the school run. When I told them that I was in the restaurant business, they would always ask me what happened to the Chicago Rib Shack. This got me thinking.”

In 2005, he bought the brand, the recipes and all the intellectual property from Capital Radio for a substantial six-figure sum.

Mr Yantin has introduced a kosher pan, to cater for the more conservative Jew, as he puts it. “It’s for those that will eat kosher meat in a non-supervised restaurant. We will use the kosher pan to cook our three kosher meat items — the meat for which comes in pre-butchered, pre-portioned and sealed,” he explains. He adds that the rib shack was particularly popular among the Jewish population. “Kosher meat is seen as hip. It’s perceived to be cleaner, better for you and the slaughter technique appeal to people’s eco-friendly credentials.”

He identifies a need to create a modern and family-friendly restaurant in the kosher market. “This is something my mum would love me to do.”

In the meantime, the Elstree United Synagogue member is planning to roll out a second Manhattan-style steak-house concept, Stake. He intends to open six Stakes in London within the next two years — the first one opening later this year.

But is now not a risky time to be opening restaurants, considering the current economic climate? “We are aware of that, but because of where we sit at the top end of the middle market, we are slightly protected. We offer people the chance to trade up from the high street, perhaps in place of a weekend away, or trade down from a top-end restaurant if people are looking to tighten their belts.

“We offer people a West-End experience at a slightly more affordable price. The average meal spend is between £25 and £30 for a three-course meal.” He says the company is competing with the likes of Automat American Brasserie in Dover Street, All Star Lanes and Smiths of Smithfield.

Aside from work, Mr Yantin plays football for Faithfold in the Maccabi Masters football league. He is married has three children.

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