Monday, January 22, 2007

Buh bye Du Soleil; Hello Capital Grille

Word on the street is that The Conrad is finally putting both its restaurants out of their misery. We hear that Hilton corporate has agreed to lease the space for both Vitesse and Resataurant Du Soleil to Atlanta-based RARE Hospitality Intl, owners of The Capital Grille line of steakhouses. (Note that's "capital" as in "What a capital idea to make our restaurants profitable" as opposed to "Look, the Capitol is right over there.") No word on food and beverage for the rest of the hotel. I assume they'll keep hotel staff in place to handle events and catering.

The Capital Grille is a high-end steakhouse featuring 5000 wines and rated favorably by Wine Spectator and food guides such as Zagat's. They have around 25 restaurants in the chain with heavy saturation in south Florida, the northeast corridor, and even the Chicago area.

In the past week, I've had a lot of emails and dinner discussions with folks demanding we protest and blanket hotel developer Kite and corporate parent Hilton with letters. But, hey, how much space have I devoted here to how awful the Conrad restaurants are after all the hype? While I think independent restaurants are great, I've also made no secret about the fact that I think smart, successful independent restaurateurs have to pursue excellence. And sometimes chains can get the job done better. Would anyone really want Du Soleil to stick around when they've had execution problems, service problems, and even a question that Indianapolis will support a pricey French bistro downtown? Hotel restaurants are already a tough game to run -- and even tougher in a downtown like ours so heavily saturated with convention hotels and stand-alone restaurants. There are two things restaurateurs know about Indianapolis: It's a steakhouse town, and it's a perfect spot for smaller, high end chains. (If you don't think chains work, try getting a table at Fleming's on a weekend.) Restaurants are business and sentimental favorites don't make good business sense. What does make good sense is for Hilton to find an good, solid restaurant company to take over operations of their eateries.

I'd love to hear other opinions on this, so please feel free to post. But also check out The Capital Grille's website and while you're watching the elegant flash animation, remember that Du Soleil and Vitesse never even *had* websites of their own let alone updated menus and wine lists.

1 comment:

Cathleen Litz said...

I haven't yet been to Du Soleil but have definitely heard mixed reviews. While we do already have a ton of high end steakhouse chains in Indianapolis, Capital Grille is one of my favorite restaurants. I recently moved to Indianapolis from Chicago and the Capital Grille in Chicago is outstanding. They have an excellent combination of both steak and seafood. The service is consistently great too and it definitely does not "feel" like a chain. While I would have loved to see a restaurant which is not a chain steakhouse go into the Conrad, I was happy to see it was a Capital Grille.