Resilient Restaurateurs

Mastro family perfects the art of fine dining

If the name Mastro gets you daydreaming about sizzling steaks and seafood towers, you’re not alone. What you may not realize is that the eponymous restaurants that, in 1999, launched the family into the fine dining business— with such restaurants as Mastro’s Steakhouse and later Mastro’s Ocean Club and Mastro’s City Hall—were sold in 2007 and are currently operated by Landry’s.

At that point, the restaurant group’s founder Dennis Mastro, and his sons Mike and Jeff, had to take time off due to a non-compete agreement. Once it expired, it was time to fire up the grill again.

“My brother and I wanted to continue in the business. Our dad is currently in an invaluable consulting role,” says Jeff Mastro, CEO of Prime Steak Concepts.

The new company’s first venture was Dominick’s Steakhouse, a traditional-style steakhouse that opened in 2011 at the Scottsdale Quarter.

“As we thought about it, we believed that there was a draw for a more contemporary steakhouse—but not overly modern,” Mastro says. “So, in 2014, we opened Steak 44, which has a lot of traditional items on the menu, but also more interesting ones, too.”

The rousing success of Steak 44 in the Arcadia area led the family to launch Steak 48—a tribute to Arizona being the 48th state—with locations in Houston and Chicago. In December 2018, the company opened its first high-end seafood concept, Ocean 44, on the site of the former Harkins Camelview by Scottsdale Fashion Square Mall.

The restaurant business is notoriously challenging, and family businesses have a similar difficult reputation. How does the family make it work?

“Part of it comes down to defining roles,” says Mastro. “Currently, I’m the CEO of the company and Mike is the president. So I manage the CEO functions, while he handles all the development aspects as we grow new stores. Dad is more in an advisory role, and having that expertise and wisdom is invaluable. And then Scott Troilo, who partnered in creating Prime Steak Concepts, also serves in a consulting role. He’s like a brother to me and Mike, so it’s truly a family business in that sense.”

Mastro recognizes that the amiable relationships are not only critical to their success, but somewhat unusual.

“As I got older and heard more stories about family businesses, I became ever more grateful that it really works for our family dynamic,” he says. “I’m younger, but Mike and I are only 14 months apart. He went straight into the restaurant business, while I went to law school and started in 2002. I guess we’re similar in some ways, but very different in others. I often joke with him that over the all the years we’ve been in business, I think we’ve had one argument.”

From a broader perspective, the family focuses on the challenges that are specific to the fine-dining business.

“Whenever we open a new store, we have to be ready for it, because people have much higher expectations at this level,” he says. “You spend four or five weeks hiring people, and another month getting everybody trained before you can even open your doors. After that, there’s constant training, both daily and at the boot camps we do three times a year. Honestly, our people love it, because they like to stay on top of everything.”

The Mastros’ recipe for success also includes managing growth. “One of the most important things that my dad said all the time is don’t grow too quickly,” Mastro says. “A lot of restaurant companies will open a second location, then try to open five the next year. That can work, but the fine dining business is labor intensive. If you build too quickly, you won’t have the right personnel in place and can’t watch things properly. You’ve got to be on top of it 365 days a year.”

As the family looks to the future, that’s exactly the plan. “If things go perfectly, you can open two or maybe three stores a year,” says Mastro, noting that there’s a Steak 48 under construction in Philadelphia. The team is also exploring Beverly Hills, where they previously had success with a Mastro’s Steakhouse. As far as seafood, it’s still early in the game—but don’t be surprised if you soon hear the words, “Houston, you have an Ocean 48.”

 

Story: Jake Poinier

Photo: Mark Lipczynski

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