Maria Hines: How Not to Make Money as a Restaurateur
The James Beard-award-winning chef opens up on the challenge of running three organic restaurants, how Agrodolce stacks up—and what’s driving her nuts right now.
Then: “It’s a learning curve for sure.”
Then this: “Come to me if you want to learn to open a restaurant that has low margins.”
Hines’ restaurants Tilth and Golden Beetle are certified organic through the strict Oregon Tilth; her new Agrodolce is in process of being certified. What that means, among many other things, is that her restaurants require a level of rigor in sourcing and preparation that others do not.
“It’s really expensive doing the organic thing,” she admits. “I have three different restaurants with three different price points—the Tilth check average is $60, Agrodolce is $40, and Golden Beetle is $30. I wanted that—to provide something for everyone and to have variety.”
“But here’s what drives me nuts. I am buying the same exact product for Beetle that I am for Tilth, but only charging half as much for it. That sucks as a business model!" she says. “If you want to be certified organic, do it…but know that it’s really, really hard if your check average is lower than $40.”
How hard? Consider Agrodolce’s process for making its organic pasta. Buy organic wheat berries from an Idaho farm. Mill them in the kitchen’s “nice expensive miller.” Mill them again if making the fine, fine cavatelli pasta. Put through blender. Sift through a fine tami sieve. Make into pasta. Cook. Prepare into dish.
Uh, Maria….there is an easier way. She laughs. “If we’re going to be an Italian restaurant, I want to take it to its core. At the end of the day, that’s what makes me happy.”