A Columbus dining institution that flirted with failure is in the midst of a turnaround. The Knotty Pine, 1765 W. 3rd Ave., just outside Grandview Heights, was placed in receivership in October.
A Columbus dining institution that flirted with failure is in the midst of a turnaround.
The Knotty Pine, 1765 W. 3rd Ave., just outside Grandview Heights, was placed in receivership in October. Gryphon Asset Management has been charged with making it profitable again and finding a suitable buyer. Although several parties have expressed interest in buying the restaurant, no deal has been made.
In the meantime, “We’re going through the equivalent of Extreme Restaurant Makeover,” said Melissa Kruse, a principal of Gryphon Asset Management. Baise and Maria Ciconne opened the Knotty Pine in 1935, in what was once a Kroger store. The most-recent owner, Jim Savage, bought the restaurant in 2004. He is still there, helping with the turnaround. Court records show that the Knotty Pine went into receivership after Savage and co-owner Roger Essig defaulted on a $456,726 loan from WesBanco.
Rich Kruse, a co-owner of Gryphon, said: “This is a fabulous location with a long history in the community and has all the signs of completing a successful turnaround.“If you walk in tomorrow, it looks just like it did last year. That is a good thing. It is a local place. Folks in Grandview know it, love it and continue to go there. We don’t want to change that and make it something that it’s not.”But since taking over onOct. 24, Gryphon has made changes — some visible, some not.Customers might notice that the menu has been tweaked.
Gone are items that weren’t profitable and didn’t sell well, such as shrimp scampi and baby back ribs. “We had to take a look at the menu and the food costs on each item,” Kruse said. “We discovered there were certain things with extremely low margins and low sales.” Some also contained ingredients that weren’t used in other dishes. “You have to buy ingredients in certain quantities, and if it was only used in one dish, and that dish wasn’t selling very much, we were throwing a lot of food away,” he said.
As a result, the profit on each plate served has increased 15 percent.
The restaurant has added a regular menu of daily specials, such as chicken and noodles on Mondays and meatloaf on Tuesdays. Daily specials had been unpredictable, based on discounts and incentives that food vendors offered in any given week, Kruse said. “Now, we have it down to a schedule. It’s just a question of getting the public used to them, and coming back for them.”
Most of the other changes have been invisible to customers.
For example, the number of food vendors has been reduced from nine to one. “That (multiple-vendor) arrangement doesn’t give you any sort of a discount,” Kruse said, “but when we consolidated all of that into one food vendor, we were able to get a bulk discount.”
Those discounts matter, particularly in an industry with razor-thin profit margins, he said.
The kitchen also was rearranged to be more efficient. “The staff used to have to run across the kitchen to do certain tasks, so we readjusted things so they can now take two steps to accomplish the same task,” Kruse said. “It’s less stress on them, and it gets the food out faster. Time matters, especially when you’re busy.”
The staff’s hours aren’t as long, either. Kruse shortened shifts to both save money and ensure that the same people weren’t working straight through from early morning until closing time.
The strategies that are making the Knotty Pine more profitable are tips that many other restaurateurs could use to boost their bottom line. Profitability is “not about one big thing,” Kruse said. “It’s about the number of little things you can do to drop more dollars to the bottom line.”
That means taking advantage of opportunities. Some brand-name food and drink companies — think purveyors of Angus beef, or soda companies — will give rebates on products for displaying their signs in the restaurant or their logos on the menu. Some will even pay for the staff uniform if it bears their logo, Kruse said. Some alcohol and beer vendors will supply free bar glasses and equipment. “Everything you don’t have to pay for as an owner is another dollar to the bottom line."
In many ways, running a successful restaurant is a matter of math, Kruse said. Sometimes, business owners are doing just fine but “need an outside view to see what can be tweaked.”
The goal of Gryphon Asset Management, in the long term, is to preserve the Knotty Pine by making it a desirable business. “We want to do what we can to strengthen the business so it becomes salable,” Kruse said.
“If we have a stronger business, the chances someone will come in and continue to operate it with a similar menu and function are a lot higher than if we were to shut it down and sell it as a building. Then, it could totally change.
“The Knotty Pine’s value is that it’s been there for 80 years, and the customer base it’s grown through the years. Shutting it down would diminish the value, because you’d lose what it is.”Souper Bowl time
The Brotherhood of Congregation Beth Tikvah, 6121 Olentangy River Rd. in Worthington, is looking for professional and amateur chefs to compete for the titles of best chicken soup and best challah bread in its annual Chicken Souper Bowl.
The cook-off is on Feb. 2, and the registration deadline is Dec. 30. All proceeds are used to send children to summer camp. Soup and foods from the event are donated to the Holy Family Soup Kitchen.
For more information, contact Jeff Wasserstrom at 614-760-0026 or
email@example.com.Off the menu
Yagööt, a Cincinnati-based frozen-yogurt brand, is leaving the Columbus market and will close its only local location, at Easton Town Center, on Dec. 24. Officials said the site was profitable, but it diverted attention from focusing on growth in Cincinnati.
Denise Trowbridge, Dispatch restaurant columnist, can be reached at onrestaurants@dispatch .com .