January 2012

Medium Rare

Morton's The Steakhouse brings Midwestern style service and steaks to Chinese diners with a taste for something different

Q: How did your journey with Morton’s begin?

A: Food, entertaining and hospitality have always been a passion for my family. My mother has always been passionate about cooking and my father about fine restaurants. I joined the company in 1995 and I began my career in the pantry kitchen at Morton’s New York City and was quickly promoted to Assistant Manager and then General Manager. In 2002, I was promoted to Regional Director of Operations, and in 2004, I was promoted again to Vice President of East Coast Operations. It’s been over one year now that I’ve been named the CEO of the company and so far it’s been an exciting journey.

Q: What are some of the unique challenges of running your business in China?

A: Overall, it was a success. It took a bit longer to train our staff here and it took us some time to learn to go around the local ways but in general we were very lucky when we set up our Morton’s branch in Shanghai, which is our first restaurant in the mainland China. We had great people to work with and we couldn’t be happier with our work here. Morton’s has been open in Shanghai for just over a year now and ever since the beginning we haven't encountered any major difficulties. Also, the strength and the popularity of the brand helped us when we first opened our Shanghai branch.

Q: How is your business different in China compared to other markets?

A: The menu, the dining experience and the way we serve our guests are exactly the same here as in other parts of the world. Each Morton’s Steakhouse offers finest food, wine and authentic Midwestern hospitality. We make sure that our staff are well-trained and serve our consumers the best way that they can. A signature open display kitchen where our guests can choose what they want to eat and wine lockers where regular customers can store bottles selected from Morton’s cellar in personally labeled vaults completes the Morton’s dining experience.

Q: What can customers expect at the Shanghai venue?

A: Shanghai’s Morton’s, just like the other locations, serves the best available beef, fresh fish, lamb chops and chicken entrees. Reflecting the same style of Morton’s restaurants across the world, our Shanghai branch, features dark woods, subdued lighting and white table linens. We only had to do some subtle changes in order to localize our branch here. One of the differences is that, in Shanghai, we have more private rooms and a patio with an incredible view of the Pearl Tower. In the States we usually have two to three private rooms; in Shanghai we have eleven. We know that the Chinese consumers appreciate the experience of the private dining more than the consumer in other parts of the world. Also, the Shanghai Morton’s is the biggest Morton’s restaurant in the world – it has an area of 15,000 square meters. Also, while the items on the menu are the same, we designed them differently so it’s easier for everyone to share.

Q: Why do you think Morton’s is so successful in China?

A: Morton’s is America’s most successful and acclaimed fine dining restaurant. Since its founding 32 years ago, it has established itself as a unique place in the high-end of the American restaurant industry. In the USA we operate 70 Morton’s steakhouses, in 65 cities across 27 states. Also, we have seven international locations: in Mexico City, Puerto Rico, Toronto, Singapore, Hong Kong, Macau and one here, in Shanghai. Our customers, across the world, know that this is the finest brand. So do our Chinese customers and that is why our business is working so well in Shanghai.

Q: About your customers, are they generally foreign, or are the Chinese developing a taste for steaks?

A: Our customers are mostly Chinese, though in the bar area foreigners are definitely a majority. Morton’s is known to be the best steakhouse in the world and our consumers worldwide know this is the finest brand. In China people appreciate great brands and that is why we are so successful here.

Q: Do you have expansion plans in other Chinese cities or elsewhere in Asia?

A: We are constantly looking for new places and new ways to expand our business. We will open at least a second restaurant in Shanghai and hopefully one in Beijing very soon. With China booming, we might even be able to open 30 or 40 new restaurants in the mainland. But for now, we are taking it one step at a time. Shenzhen and Guangzhou are our next targets after Beijing. We are also looking at opening new restaurants in Tokyo and Seoul. Our Asian restaurants are the most successful ones in the world. I am very excited about our growth in this part of the world – the plan for the future is to open two new restaurants in Asia a year.

Q: What are the business development plans for Morton’s worldwide?

A: For now, we are focusing on our growth in Asia. But we are constantly being asked about expanding to Europe and South America, so that is something we need to work on in the near future.

Christopher Artinian is the President and CEO of Morton’s Restaurant Group and is recognized for his role in building Morton’s The Steakhouse as a niche leader and the largest company-owned fine-dining restaurant brand in the world