Stake in a steakhouse: Owners seek future entrepreneursPublished 12:31am Tuesday, October 1, 2013
The business plan Apollo’s Steakhouse owners Angel Borg and Dennis O’Neill prepared had something few business plans include: an entrepreneurial training program.
“It’s kind of my way of giving back to an industry that’s given so much to me,” Borg said.
“To us,” added executive chef James Lewis.
The idea started out as a way to help single mothers. It has since expanded to include single fathers and anyone who shows an interest.
“I don’t hire dishwashers. I hire potential restaurant managers,” Borg said. “I’m a big believer in cross-training.”
The wait staff learns how to tend bar, and Lewis trains not only his kitchen staff, but he trains co-owner O’Neill, too.
O’Neill had a fight with a bacon-wrapped steak last weekend, but he won that fight. Lewis said O’Neill has come a long way in a few short weeks. He also sang the praises of kitchen staff who entered the kitchen six weeks ago with no experience and have already become invaluable to him.
The owners plan to promote within the ranks and open new restaurants as they build a multi-talented staff.
At first glance, one might not notice the Stewart Parkway restaurant changed hands in July. The décor is still the same as it was for Zaitona’s, and many of the same friendly faces still work there.
The menu still offers exotic options like baba ganoush and tzatziki. Chances are they still taste the same. Borg and O’Neill use the same recipes for the appetizers they decided to keep.
There is where the similarities end.
Borg said she has worked in a number of local restaurants — Café Duo, Pia’s, Zaitona’s — and learned a lot about local restaurant patrons in the process.
“I realized if you give them what they want, some will come back two or three times a week,” Borg said.
She also realized people crave things they cannot get anywhere else. In this case, that meant keeping the Mediterranean-style food (now more Greek than Arabic) Borg has always loved. It also meant adding steaks, ahi tuna and lamb chops to the menu.
Johnnie Thomason, the restaurant’s manager, said the wait staff has to be true sales people and educators with the previous restaurant’s menu.
“This one’s easy,” she said.
It may be easy to sell, but there are a few landmines on it for O’Neill. He and Borg came up with a recipe for Greek nachos, fried pita bread with all the trimmings.
What could be easier than chili-cheese fries, shrimp scampi or beef stroganoff? Joining the cabbage delight and upside-down rice are sides like a spiced-rum sweet-potato dish and the steakhouse standard, creamed spinach.
“I curse them every time I see them (on a ticket),” O’Neill said. “But then I look at them and say, ‘Ah, they’re so good.’”
A few of the new recipes came from O’Neill. When he visited Borg, who is his aunt, last December, he found that she had stocked her kitchen with prime rib and all the makings for a good bowl of chili. She had him prepare the dishes in a number of ways.
“He asked me, ‘Now, why are we doing this again?’ and I just said, ‘Keep going, keep going,’” Borg said. “My reasons were twofold. First, I wanted him to stock my freezer for the winter. But little did he know he was also building our menu.”
The rest of the menu came from Lewis, formerly with Pia’s Restaurant. The menu includes steak, sirloin, prime rib and filet mignon, Lewis said, but the steakhouse also caters to vegetarians. The menu has nine to 12 vegetarian dishes, including a wrap and vegetable lasagna.
Borg has another plan in mind. She said she would love to see a restaurant where every worker owns a share of it. But that is a plan for sometime down the road.
More than anything, Borg hopes diners will enter Apollo’s and see a happy staff. Lewis has proclaimed she is the best boss he has ever had, and Thomason said she is never critical of her staff.
“Nobody works for her,” Thomason said. “Everybody works with her.”