My Stuff: Chris LaRocca, Owner, Culinary Architects Restaurant Development & Management Co.
December 31, 2011 7:00 am • Written by Catherine NevilleShot on location at EdgeWild Restaurant & Winery
You've almost certainly eaten in one of Chris LaRocca's restaurants. He's had a hand in a number of buzz-heavy spots around town: Sage, Triumph, Kota Wood Fired Grill and now EdgeWild and the upcoming Crushed Red.
He's also been a part of Crazy Fish, Chandler Hill Winery, Mile 277 Tap & Grill, Tony Roma's, Tomatillo and Casa Gallardo. One could say that LaRocca has helped define the flavor of St. Louis, but every concept he designs is different.
So what's his role in each new venture?
"Sometimes it's a concept that I'm working on, and I'm able to find a location and partner that fit," says LaRocca. "Sometimes it's a building or business owner that needs a restaurant, and they seek out my services. Other times it may be a specific location that I've identified and then develop a concept that fits. In the latter, it becomes an exercise of identifying a style of restaurant that will complement the neighborhood."
When you consider a new concept, what's the litmus test to determine whether you should move on it or not?
Generally, I trust my first reaction, and then I push hard to go after that project. There is a core group of people that I trust and rely on to give me honest feedback.
Your restaurants all launch with fully conceived, well-done collateral. Menus, websites ... every piece is professionally produced. How did you learn that this was such a necessary piece of the puzzle?
Having been a part of corporate restaurant companies has taught me to understand how important all of those pieces are in the success of a concept. We try to think at a higher level, which allows us to more thoroughly cover all the bases.
What is your favorite part of launching a new restaurant?
Developing the menu. The soul of the restaurant is in the menu and its ingredients. In addition, I especially enjoy the seven to nine days of staff training leading up to the first day of opening ... a brand new staff that is fired up and ready to hit it hard.
What drives you?
There is something about putting together a specific concept with the right food. I really enjoy creating original concepts that allow me to showcase a certain culinary flair. I am fortunate to have some very talented people that work with me to bring concepts to fruition: culinary, Jason Tilford and Aaron Baggett, and operations, Todd Wyatt. They are the ones that critique and fine-tune the initial ideas and help mold it into a concept that works on all levels.
Once a place launches, how hands-on are you?
I am extremely hands on, but the management team prefers to keep me away from the POS system - I generally cause more problems than solutions there.
As Clint Eastwood said, "A man's got to realize his limitations." For me, it's best to float from one area of the restaurant to another and comment on everything. We hire great people and let them do their jobs.
Favorite midnight snack?
Edy's Double Fudge Brownie ice cream
Shot of El Patron tequila - no training wheels!
What's in your fridge right now?
Chicken, black beans, salsa, and my own concoction of tortilla soup.
Wine or beer?
Vanilla or chocolate?
Fried or grilled?
Favorite food memory?
Barbecued chicken at my grandparents. My grandpa had this great brick barbecue pit in his backyard, and he would grill chicken until the skin was charred black and then slather it with sauce. Not sure how healthy it was, but man it was good!
"Generally, I trust my first reaction, and then I push hard to go after that project," says Chris LaRocca about considering a new concept. "There is a core group of people that I trust and rely on to give me honest feedback."