— By James King —
How one Mid-Atlantic restaurant group is navigating supply chain, inflation, COVID and staffing challenges.
Losing a generation of crab pickers, hurricanes in South America, and a COVID outbreak shutting down a plant in Mexico… You would think, how do some of these events affect my five restaurants in the Mid-Atlantic region? Like so many other businesses trying to stay afloat during these times, supply chain, inflation, COVID and staffing challenges affect the day-to-day operations, which can come with the possibility of compromising the customer experience. At Titan Hospitality, we have the highest standard when it comes to customer experience and, while there are challenges, we have learned to quickly adapt and have seen success by shifting and navigating new ways to serve our guests during these times.
My journey to becoming a restaurateur began at the age of 14, working as a dishwasher and busboy for a family friend who owned several popular restaurants in Washington, D.C. I’ve worked every job in the industry until I became the CEO and owner of Titan Hospitality, headquartered in Anne Arundel County, Maryland. As mentioned, we operate five restaurants, including the original concept establishments of Blackwall Barn & Lodge (Gambrills, Md.) and Blackwall Hitch (Annapolis, Md., and Alexandria, Va.), and Smashing Grapes (Gambrills, Md., and Annapolis, Md.). During countless years in the fast-paced and invigorating restaurant business, these past 3 years have been the most demanding and challenging to our resilience. Here are a few tips on how we’ve been able to adapt.
Facing product shortages and shipment delays have become daily occurrences. Not only do these obstacles affect our daily menu options, but they also affect product development for our seasonal menus. We must go into each day knowing there will be changes that need to be made. Thanks to obstacles, though, we can find news way of doing things. Luckily, we have an agile and innovative culinary team. Our commitment to providing the staples our restaurants are known for is paramount. If our daily special is Sea Bass and we receive Halibut, we adjust our daily special. If we get a different type of flatbread, we rearrange plating and test the product to ensure it meets the standard for one of our signature dishes.
We make sure to watch market reports for the week ahead. Hurricanes in South America affect asparagus production and shipments. A plant goes down in Mexico, and the price of avocados skyrockets. Inflation has our food cost up 30% to 40%. As a Mid-Atlantic waterfront restaurant, crab is essential and expected to be featured in the cuisine we offer. Jumbo crab meat used to be priced at $22/lb but ballooned to $75/lb at one point. Now it’s around $50. A generation of East Coast crab pickers was lost in the last 10 years, affecting the price and availability of one of our most treasured goods. We’ve had to navigate prices to keep these dishes reasonable for our guests.
We’ve been proactive in creating a company culture for several years now, and it’s been a game-changer for retention. We’ve kept our management team on salary throughout the pandemic, even when restaurants were shuttered at the beginning of COVID shutdowns. We invest in our employees and believe in developing our most valuable commodity: our people.
We’ve also invested in a user-friendly POS system for our ordering process to ensure our new staff members can serve our guests with ease and efficiency. Whether our staff members are first-time employees or seasoned veterans in the restaurant industry, the new system is easy-to-use for everyone in the Titan family.
In closing, I want to thank my fellow restaurateurs for continuing to keep the hospitality industry going during these times and proving that passion is driven by purpose. Restaurants, their food and their people provide the lifeblood for our communities and provide a place for families, friends and businesses to gather, celebrate and enjoy a meal together. It is a passion of mine to continue growing and bringing a world-class experience — no matter the challenges we face — to our guests always.
— James King is CEO/owner of Titan Hospitality.