Rena Frost, was plugging away at a career in accounting when 10 years in, she decided to return to her roots.
Walking away from what college prepared her for, and toward her lifelong love of cooking, Frost went to work for restauranteur Mike McMahan in the early 90s at his Texas landmark eatery Mac’s Bar and Grill. She never looked back.
Managing all aspects of the 30-year-old business in Arlington, Texas, Frost was McMahan’s right-hand-woman. She oversaw everything from personnel to menu, even managing to infuse a touch of her mother’s Korean culinary heritage to spice up the menu.
“It was just me and Mike in those days. We both had accounting degrees— I worked as a public accountant for 10 years before deciding that my first job,” she says, noting that once back in the business, she wore many hats. “I waited tables, managed, was a hostess, and everything that was required.”
In 2012, she bought out McMahan’s shares in the longstanding restaurant and was so successful that in 2014, she opened a second location, Mac’s on Main in Grapevine, Texas.
In this week’s Q&A with Recipe for Success @ Boxerbrand, Frost offers insights into achieving success in the competitive business.
Q: How do you maintain consistency at your restaurants?
With the Arlington location, it’s been in business for 31 years. It’s really kind of scary how long the cook’s been there. My kitchen manager has been there since 1994, and we’ve got cooks been there since I started in the 90s. I think our dedicated and seasoned labor force is a real key to our consistency.
But labor is also the biggest problem we face. When unemployment goes down, it’s harder for restaurants. We’ve been lucky with our workforce. And we pay a good wage and foster an atmosphere of respect that goes from the front of house to the back.
Q: You’ve found an interesting networking technique to help with labor issues. Please explain.
Our new location in Grapevine is in a very touristy area with lots of restaurants. It’s very hard to find labor, especially the dishwashers and wait staff. And there’s also a lot of other restaurants in the area who compete for this labor.
And since we, and other small independent restaurants don’t have the resources that larger chains have, we network with each other to fill in shifts.
I am often texting with other independent restauranteurs, and if one of us is having a shortage in staff, we’ll ask each other if they’ve got someone who can pop over and work a couple of shifts. It really helps a lot, especially on those days if you’ve only got three line cooks and one quits.
Q: Your new restaurant, Mac’s on Main, infuses an international touch to your menu.
Our new restaurant, which I just love, is 100 percent my menu. I pared down the menu of the original Mac’s, and infused it with recipes I grew up with that my Mom, who’s Korean, used to make for us. For example, we have a Korean dumpling, called a mandu, which is stuffed with beef, veggies, tofu, and a Korean sweet potato noodle. My brother, who works for me, is great at cooking his versions of my Mom’s dishes.
We also do a hanger stake, or a bistro steak, with a little twist of Argentinean chimichurri. Another thing we do to improve the flavor profile of our dishes is that we source our lamb from Australia because their product is less gamey. The Australian is raised on a careful, grass diet, and it makes a tremendous difference in taste. I’ve had so many people who’ve told me they don’t like the gamey taste of lamb, and after I make it for them, they love it.
We’re also proud of a shrimp tamale dish we make. We use fresh corn, and top it with a roasted corn and cream sauce. It’s very light and one of our most popular dishes.
Q: How do you attract customers to your doors?
In Arlington, it’s word of mouth. When you’ve been around for 30 years in a neighborhood, word spreads. I have a good email list, and also use social media. And we don’t advertise for that location.
In Grapevine, I do a lot more advertising in small, local publication. At both restaurants, I do charity events like crazy. I’m in a big believer that if you’re located in a community, you give back to that community. I only do charitable events that I support. I’d rather spend $20,000 in the community I’m in than on ads.
Q: What advice do you have for a budding restauranteur?
Don’t be disappointed for the first 2 years. Know the business part of the restaurant business. I love food and I cook all the time. But, I also know my books, so I know what I have to sell my food for. Just plug away. Because it took two years for Grapevine to kick in, and I had a following. Keep at it every day. I’ve talked to a lot of women who’ve opened up restaurants. These women are so smart, and they know how much that seat is, every time you turn it. And know your food costs, pricing, and sourcing. — Mac’s on the Main and Mac’s Bar and Grill use Boxerbrand Metallic Tones menu covers in their table presentation. Thank you!