Three brands, more than 45 locations, and a team of chefs in every restaurant—all led by Del Frisco’s corporate chef.
Thomas Dritsas is a busy chef who clocks a lot of miles.
As vice president of culinary and corporate executive chef for the fast-growing Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, Chef Dritsas oversees the chef teams at the company’s 19 Sullivan’s Steakhouse locations, 16 Del Frisco’s Grille units, and soon-to-be-12 Double Eagle Steak House restaurants around the country, managing multiple menus and conducting all the hiring, recruiting, and retention systemwide.
Needless to say, he’s on the road quite a bit. But since he can’t physically be present at all the restaurants on a weekly basis, Chef Dritsas conducts weekly conference calls with his executive and sous chefs. The focus of these calls rotates between the different Del Frisco’s concepts to discuss pertinent issues, changes, and opportunities.
“We first run through a report card with all of our numbers across sales and labor,” says the chef, who joined Del Frisco’s in 2006 after serving as the corporate executive chef for Lone Star Steakhouse & Saloon. During the calls, the team may also discuss seasonal ingredients and brainstorm new menu items or potential specials.
The core menus don’t change too frequently at the company’s three brands: Sullivan’s is a classic upscale steakhouse concept, Del Frisco’s Grille is upscale casual, and Double Eagle Steak House is a modern, higher-end concept in major cities. Any potential changes to the menus go through rounds of testing and an approval process culminating in sign-off by Chef Dritsas before becoming permanent additions.
Still, Chef Dritsas collaborates with his team to figure out ways to incorporate local and regional specialties throughout the year. This is particularly important at the Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House brand, which competes with high-end independent restaurants in major metropolitan areas.
It helps that the brand commands strong consumer awareness along with a perception of upscale quality. “All of our locations are thought of as independent restaurants,” Chef Dritsas says. “My job is to empower the executive chef and general manager to operate as restaurateurs and entrepreneurs, and to charge them with a sense of ownership. We call them CEOs of a multimillion-dollar business because that’s essentially what they are.”
As such, the head chefs are tasked to keep a pulse on trends and on what’s happening in their region. They are also expected to collaborate, try out dishes featuring local food, and collect feedback from guests.
For example, at Del Frisco’s Grille in Tampa, the restaurant’s chef collaborated with Chef Dritsas to menu Florida Gulf grouper, which has since become a signature item. In D.C., where Millennials frequent the high-energy Double Eagle Steak House, the chef team developed a dish around the currently trending octopus, tenderizing it in a light stew with tomatoes, capers, Kalamata olives, and a touch of caviar garnish that is particularly appealing to international clientele. And in Chicago, the Double Eagle Steak House now features a bar menu with mini Chicago hot dogs, Italian beef sliders, and Chicago-style deep-dish pizza. California locations, naturally, have incorporated the use of kale and quinoa within the last year.
“Thomas is a leader who sets solid expectations but allows me to find the best way to accomplish tasks,” says Bob Kalish, executive chef at Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House in Charlotte, North Carolina.
To Dritsas’ point that each chef is in essence the CEO of his restaurant, Chef Kalish says, “Reviewing P&L’s, sales projections, labor projections, the cost of sales, days of inventory, and repair and maintenance schedules helps me keep up with the financial responsibility of the restaurant.”
Chef Dritsas helps streamline costs for his chefs across the various brands by working with the company’s purchasing director and other key managers. When it comes to prime beef, for example, Del Frisco’s has aligned with a company out of centrally located Chicago to supply all of its restaurants.
However, in keeping with the empowerment philosophy, Chef Dritsas adds, “We have standard operating procedures and cooking techniques, but we want our chefs to add their personal touches to the featured specials. We don’t want to chain our chefs to a recipe catalog. Many of our chefs have existing relationships with fish mongers and meat purveyors so if the opportunity to buy seasonal product comes up, we don’t want to hold them back.”
And, in regards to equipment, the setup remains similar from restaurant to restaurant, but Dritsas checks in with his teams regularly to discuss any needs for upgrades or enhancements.
When it comes to recruiting chefs, “I try to be involved in every hire,” the head chef explains. Dritsas participates in rounds of interviews and looks for candidates who share the philosophy and culture that characterizes Del Frisco’s.
For Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Dritsas looks for seasoned chefs with high-volume experience and a proven track record as executive chef in another restaurant. For Sullivan’s, he’s open to hiring a mid-level sous chef looking for an opportunity to serve as an executive chef with a core menu. For the Grille, Dritsas typically seeks a younger, enthusiastic culinary grad or an experienced chef eager to hone his management skills.
Daniel Tiger, executive chef of Del Frisco’s Grille Santa Monica can attest to the latter. “In addition to being my superior, I’ve always looked to Chef Thomas as a mentor,” he says. “He’s always been willing to give me advice on all aspects of the restaurant, whether it be questions or concerns that I may have with a recipe or even issues concerning managing my kitchen staff.”
Chef Dritsas also leads an 8-week live training for executive chefs at one of the company’s designated training restaurants, pairing the newbies with veterans depending on their strength and weakness. The educational process continues via in-person and phone meetings, during which Chef Dritsas reviews best practices and addresses needs and concerns. He also leads chef conferences throughout the year, held at different restaurant locations throughout the country, to review new recipes and techniques and talk openly about the company’s direction.
“We put our employees first, and that’s what has helped us give the highest level of hospitality to our guests,” says Chef Dritsas. “True hospitality is being genuine in your service and in your interaction with fellow peers and guests, rather than just serving food.”