Rising from the vast, flat stretches dominated by defense contractor buildings and busy highways stands a castle, of sorts. Designed with symmetry inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, the 8,000 square foot, two-story structure of stone and wood, houses a restaurant fit for King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table.
Under the peaked roofline of River Stone Chophouse, in a dining room and four event spaces echoing an Arts and Crafts architectural style, guests feast on the finest Hereford beef; most notably, a specialty cut that is aged, in house, for 28 days.
All this is born of a vision shared by friends who were architects and chefs. And since opening in 2008, Riverstone Chop House has served Department of Defense contractors from around the world in a restaurant venture that surpassed all their expectations.
“To say we’re a little ahead of our time would be a vast understatement,” says partner Ken Dodd. “Brian Mullins and his wife Teresa, who were both architects inspired by Frank Lloyd Wright, had their finger on the pulse of what the North Suffolk area wanted and needed. We have Joint Forces Command, which is a Department of Defense (DOD) institution serving an international community, and a log of DOD contractors out here. And major corporations like Lockheed Martin. And there was really no restaurant to provide for them.”
In 2008 that all changed when the doors of Riverstone Chop House were opened by Brian and Teresa Mullins and chef Sam McGann, who jumped in to assist original executive chef Meredith Nicholls.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Dodd tells us how the Chophouse made it all work so well.
Q: Please tell me more about the River Stone Chophouse vision.
Brian and Teresa Mullins were the biggest influence. Brian was an architect and businessman had gone to school with a gentleman named Meredith Nichols, who was the original executive chef. They were all friends in high school and they used to talk about opening a restaurant together one day. Much later on, when they’d both made names for themselves in their respective industries, they came together and said, ‘It’s time.’
They started by opening a restaurant near the Chophouse called Vintage Tavern. It’s a traditional French brigade kitchen that’s known for consistently great food, service and charm. The River Stone vision came about after that. Brian, as I said, had his ear to the ground and felt a great steakhouse with a metropolitan feel would appeal to a more international crowd.
The architectural design and nuance are what’s stunning about the building. It’s a very elegant feeling building. It pays homage to a traditional to Frank Lloyd Wright structure with its symmetry and designs. The interior is very grand. It’s beautiful. And the menu is distinguished by the finest beef. We use Hereford, which surpassed Angus beef in blind taste tests we conducted, and was once so rare it was only served to aristocracy.
Q: What obstacles did you encounter on the road to success?
Two weeks before the chophouse opened our executive was training for a bike race when he fell and broke his neck. Sitting in the hospital room, he decided the only person he could trust to step in was a Cordon Bleu chef and friend Sam McGann, who made his name in Outer banks restaurants. Sam McGann and his wife Cindy, who had hospitality in their veins, jumped right in and are now partners.
Q: How did you attract your first customers?
By the time we opened, we already had such a good reputation with the first restaurant, Vintage Tavern, that we benefitted from word-of-mouth. And Sam McGann had his own following. We did some local advertising, but, the area was primed for a fine-dining steakhouse.
Q: How does River Stone Chophouse ensure consistency?
There are two main themes of our success. The product and the culture.
We decided to use Hereford beef after Sam put it to a blind taste test and all our chefs and managers chose the Hereford beef over Angus. It’s a prime product raised on little farms, by smaller ranchers. The beef is fed on grass, which gives it a high mineral content and good marbleization.
And one of the stars of our menu is a beef we age for 28 days. It’s a costly process in which you lose 1/3 of the product in the process. But at the end of 28 days, the flavor you get is unparalleled. This is our signature steak that we’ve hung our hat on.
Q: How does consistency arise from the culture?
Everyone who works here has a sense of pride in what they do, and they’ve learned a culture of hospitality that is exemplified in the service you find at the Ritz Carlton, and also, at Chick-Fil-A. For example, Chick-Fil-A is leader in the fast-food industry. What stands out about them is their hospitality. Every person who serves you says, it’s “my pleasure” and they mean it. Their culture of service is taken from the playbook of the Ritz, and it’s the reason people stand in long lines for their product.
Q: What advice do you have for someone entering the restaurant biz?
Make sure you love the industry before you go blindly go into it. It’s a lot of hard work, and a lot of moving parts. You have to sell and have to make a profit. If you can juggle a lot of balls, you will find it extremely gratifying. But it’s a lot of hard work, sweat and toil, and the hours are not conventional.
At the end of the day it’s a business that has to make a profit margin to keep the doors open. But it’s so worth it. One of the best parts of my day is going downstairs into the dining room and touching tables, talking to guests who are celebrating their anniversary of some other life event. There’s nothing like it. — River Stone Chophouse uses Boxerbrand’s Metallic Tones and iCandy lines in its table presentation. Thank you!