For Mark and Mary Shapley of Mississippi, it feels like old times since the couple decided to roll up their sleeves and reopen their wildly popular steakhouse this past summer.
The doors to MM Shapley’s Restaurant (formerly Shapley’s Restaurant) in Ridgeland were thrown open in July following extensive renovations and a 20-year hiatus from the hospitality business.
“In 1988, we sold the business (but retained ownership of the 8,000 square foot building it was in) so we could raise our two daughters,” says co-owner Mark Shapley, pictured above with wife Mary, his daughters and son in law. “We had a really good business and were blessed with a level of success that allowed us to step back and allow another tenant to come in to run the restaurant.”
With their daughters now grown and pursuing professional careers outside the hospitality industry, the Shapleys were recently presented with the opportunity to reclaim their beautiful old restaurant and start the whole thing all over again.
In this week’s Q&A with Boxerbrand blog Recipe for Success, Mark Shapley says the transition that finds him back in the kitchen and his wife at the front of the house has been both “interesting” and far smoother than they thought.
Q: What have been the biggest changes since the Shapleys last ran the restaurant?
Interestingly, a lot of the same challenges we faced 20 years ago still exist. The biggest one is in attracting and retaining good quality people to represent your product, your theory and your business model. Our back-of-the-house has been fantastic. These people are a lot older and experienced. We had a few transitions with the front-of-the-house, and had to cull through people who didn’t share our vision. But other than that, the steakhouse business is pretty timeless.
I think the biggest change is the social media aspect. If it weren’t for my daughter, we just wouldn’t be on it. But she keeps saying, ‘Dad, you have to be on this.’ Back 20 years ago, we attracted customers word-of-mouth. We still attract them that way, and we have many longtime customers who’ve been coming to Shapley’s all this time. But we found social media helped us get the news out that we were returning to the restaurant and making a slight change to the restaurant’s name.
Q: Did you make any changes to your menu?
Really, we haven’t. It’s almost identical to what we were doing 20 years ago. A great steakhouse is a universal thing, and what people loved back then, they still love today. Though we did add regional seafood items and remove fish that was coming in from greater distances. We decided that we have great Gulf of Mexico fish, so it wasn’t really worth it to bring in a halibut from Nova Scotia.
Q: How did you get into the restaurant business?
My wife and I had no formal training, but food and family gatherings were a very big part of our lives. We both had big, social families with parents who were remarkable cooks. I never worked in a restaurant before we opened Shapley’s Restaurant in 1985. It was trial by fire, but it was fun, and we had great success.
Q: How’s it going since you reopened as MM Shapley’s Restaurant in July?
Since getting through an extensive renovation, including all new equipment, and getting our sea legs under us, we’ve been having a great time. I’m back in the kitchen, and my wife Mary is back up front. Our kids are grown and pursuing careers—my daughter Amy is a chemical engineer, but she still insists on coming by to help out, and her husband Mark is the general manager, which helps a lot.
When we realized that the tenant who ran Shapley’s Restaurant wasn’t staying, my wife and I felt it was really important to step back in because we didn’t want what we’d built to fade away into obscurity. We talked about it. And we decided if we could do it once, we could do it again.
Q: What advice do you have for aspiring restauranteurs?
This is not rocket science. This is nothing that’s unattainable for someone who’s willing to work hard. And when I say hard, I mean 80-90 hours a week. This is just what you do, and if you do it right, you’ll love it. And when you love it, it doesn’t feel like a chore. We’re seeing many of the same people we used to see when we first opened. It’s a great feeling being back. — MM Shapley’s Restaurant uses Boxerbrand’s Italian Ultra menu cover line in its table presentation. Thank you!