Behind the Scenes: with Cameron Mitchell

Behind the Scenes: with Cameron Mitchell

By Liz Barrett

Cameron Mitchell knew from a very young age that he was destined for the restaurant business, and once he had his plan in place, nothing could stop him. Today, Mitchell owns more than a dozen award-winning restaurant locations across the nation under the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants ( umbrella, and shows no signs of slowing down. His success can be attributed to a combination of factors, including the company’s dedication to its employees; Mitchell’s natural-born marketing instincts; and a deep love for the restaurant business.

Mitchell recently sat down for an interview with Restaurant Marketing to discuss how he got his start, promotions that he’s found successful, what he finds most important in restaurant marketing today, and one of the biggest mistakes he’s seen restaurant marketers make.

Where did you get your start in the restaurant business?

I started washing dishes as a junior in high school 32 years ago and I fell in love with the business. After high school I was working at a local restaurant in Columbus and had an epiphany that this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life–I wanted to be in the restaurant business.  When I had my epiphany at 18, I went home and wrote out my goals and woke my mom up at 1:00 in the morning and told her my plans to attend the Culinary Institute of America, become executive chef, general manager, then regional manager then VP of operations. But the ultimate goal was to be president of a restaurant company by the time I was 35. So that’s what I pursued. By the time I was in my late 20s, I got hired as a sous chef at a local restaurant company, which had one restaurant. They built a second restaurant and I became executive chef. Then after four or five more restaurants, I grew into the general manager and oversaw operations of six restaurants. I eventually hit my head on the ceiling and decided it was time to start my own restaurant company. We opened my first restaurant in October of 1993 (Cameron’s) when I was 29 years old.

Where did the idea stem from to offer several different concepts?

I saw Rich Melman with Lettuce Entertain You, Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in Atlanta, and other multi-concept operators around the country. That’s where I got the idea and decided to become a multi-concept operator here in Columbus.

Are there pros and cons to a multi-concept setup?

In all the restaurants I equate it to the chassis being the same. The accounting system, the culture philosophy, the way we operate, etc. The window dressing is the body of the car. Meaning that with each different concept, the window dressing changes a little bit. But you don’t get to focus on the brand like you do with a singular brand. Maybe you don’t get some of the same economies of scale, results of singular focus. But for us, it’s more of a labor of love. We love the restaurant business, and whether I’m doing a great cheeseburger or a soufflé or anything in between, it’s a lot of fun.

Continue reading the rest of this interview in the current issue of Restaurant Marketing Magazine, online now.