Richard McLain, the chef/owner of a successful multi-unit independent group of restaurants in Connecticut called Nataz, started in the hospitality business as a dishwasher at age 14.
But at 17, the entrepreneurial young man was unexpectedly let go after his employer discovered he’d fathered a little baby girl whom he named Natasha; Nataz for short.
“I didn’t know what to do at that point,”McLain says. “I had learned restaurants the right way, working side-by-side with Italian immigrants who had high standards with everything, from their food, to the cleanliness of their facility. I tried to work for other restaurants but was disappointed in their standards: they were dirty, didn’t care, and served all pre-prepared food.”
With a young daughter to support, McLain didn’t dwell on his setback. Instead, he enrolled in school, trained in law enforcement, and worked a good, solid career for over 12 years.
“I got out of law enforcement in the 1990s and threw myself into the first prix fix of our Natza restaurants,” McLain says. “I lost a ton of money, and my house went into foreclosure.”
But always in the back of his mind was the joy of cooking, and the dedication to the hospitality business.
McLain never gave up. He kept honing his craft, paying particular attention to serving all-fresh meats and fish, and today oversees an expanding business. In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, McLain discusses his niche.
Q: Please tell me more about your background in the biz.
I’m a dishwasher who worked my way up. I’ve been doing this for 40 years, and despite some setbacks, I love it. I love to cook. My kids are involved. And for me, it’s all about the entrée. We pride ourselves on having the best cuts of meat and offering great meals for $35.
Our concept is a prix fixe where we serve reliably great cuts of meat. We have seven different cuts of beef, as well as lamb, veal and fresh fish. I travel to the fish market in New York twice a week to ensure the quality.
Q: Why did you go with a BYOB concept?
We could have gotten a liquor license like everyone else, but we chose not to because without focusing on mixing drinks, we’re able to devote more time and effort into our food. Everything we do is made fresh, and we buy really, really well.
And the concept has really worked. When people come in with a special bottle of wine they got for Christmas, or a great bottle of scotch, and they pour it out for themselves while we’re preparing a great steak, they feel like they own the restaurant. We never rush our diners or try to flip tables either. We serve about 250dinners a night, in total, at our three locations, and we’re making a good margin.
Q: Where are your Nataz restaurants located?
Our first location is near Yale University. This has been around for 22 years. Our second location is in Southington, near the ESPN headquarters. We transformed an old doctor’s office and it’s beautiful, with an interior design featuring a lot of reclaimed wood. And we just opened our third location in Clinton and the concept is really catching on.
We’re a suburban restaurant with big city quality. We aspire to follow in the footsteps of restaurants like Le Colonial Restaurant, which has locations in SanFrancisco, Chicago and Austin.
Q: You mentioned Boxerbrand’s menu covers were a happy find for you. Please tell me about that.
We never had menu covers before, and frankly I thought menu covers were a waste of money. But I worked with your sales associate Stacey, who was incredibly patient with me. I talked about them for three years before I finally bit the bullet and spent $700.
When they finally arrived, they were absolutely gorgeous. As soon as we put our menu in those books, our customers started teasing us about “getting fancy on them.”
And we did!The menu covers made us up our standards even higher! We’ve extended our line of steaks, and now have seven. And, we just really appreciate your quality. —Natza uses Boxerbrand’s Classic Leather in its table presentation. Thank you!