What does it mean to be fearless? To never be afraid of failure, as Sydney Grims, Director of Business Development at Fearless Restaurants (Fearless), suggests to Food Chain.
Reflecting on her family’s restaurant business, she candidly reveals: “We have grown very organically. There have been restaurants that have succeeded, and we have celebrated that success.
“But there have also been restaurants that have failed. That is just part of the natural lifecycle of the restaurant world.”
Fearless has been in business, navigating the highs and lows of the hospitality sector, for 40 years. The group, which comprises 12 locations, became Fearless in name when Sydney joined in 2016, but it’s been fearless in nature since its inception.
Sydney’s father, Marty Grims, was just 25 years old when he opened his first restaurant. He had just graduated from Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration, and he burned with a passion for hospitality. Though inspired by his studies, he was hungry for more. Opening Taquet in 1985 proved to be the start of an illustrious career. As the plaudits poured in, Marty would go on to be featured on the cover of the New York Times’ food and wine section. Heroes of haute cuisine lauded him for bringing a taste of France to Philadelphia.
Over the years, more success followed as Marty opened a diverse string of restaurants – all of which became a hit with the public and critics alike. This included La Fourchette in Wayne and Taquet and Bravo Bistro in Radnor, among others.
In 2003, he expanded operations further by purchasing the 400-foot-tall mast ship, Moshulu, from Dorrance Hamilton, heiress to Campbell Soup. Just six years later, Marty took over Widas Hotel in Long Beach Island, converting it into the hip boutique hotel Daddy O Restaurant Hotel and White Dog Cafe (University City).
It’s quite clear that Marty was building a legacy. Sydney recognized this. Before joining her father’s business, she was Director of Hospitality at MacAndrews & Forbes in New York City for billionaire Ron Perelman, and managing restaurants in Manhattan and East Hampton for Hillstone.
At first, she was taken aback. Where was the cutthroat behavior and the Machiavellian tactics to get ahead? What happened to the grueling 16-hour days? She was not in the Big Apple any more. The shift was hard at first, she tells us. But at least she was not getting work calls after midnight. “I had a hard transition back to Philadelphia from New York: I had to learn what a healthy culture looked like,” she recalls. “Not to mention transitioning into a family business where my boss was also my dad. We had to learn when to turn off work conversations.
“At first, my dad was cautious about branding Fearless as a group,” Sydney goes on. “He never wanted the restaurants to be about him, calling it Grims Restaurants.
“He also never wanted to be a corporate restaurant group because he felt we would lose the soul of what made Fearless so special – namely, the diversity of thought and the independent, entrepreneurial approach that our team takes.
“It is worth pointing out, we do not label ourselves a corporate group because, to be truthful, we are a family-owned and -operated collection of artisanal restaurants.
For Sydney and Marty, maintaining the authenticity of that statement is paramount. “Creativity is really important to us and it must be incorporated in all aspects of our business,” she says.
“We certainly see it, and we strive for our guests to see it as well. This is not a huge corporate entity, sapped of its creativity.
“Our employees are not pawns on a chessboard, I care what each one thinks and I want to know their opinions to help shape our business,” Sydney continues.
“When we branded the collection as Fearless in 2017, we wanted that sense of bravery to be instilled in our managers, motivating an entrepreneurial spirit across the team.”
In doing so, Sydney asserts that team members – whether they are working at Tuckers Tavern, White Dog Café, Daddy O, Moshulu, Louie Louie, Rosalie, or Autograph Brasserie – possess a unique sense of ownership.
But which concept does Sydney feel a particular affinity toward? “I can’t answer that!” she laughs. “That would be like me telling you which one of my children is my favorite!
“It is really hard because each one is super unique and has its own quirks. Each concept also has its own personality, so I suppose each one is my favorite for a different reason.
“But if I wanted to go to a lively place and have a little celebration, I would probably head to Louie Louie, especially if I was already downtown. It is just so fun! However, there is also Moshulu!” she smiles. Proudly docked on the Delaware River Waterfront, Moshulu is the only restaurant in the world situated aboard a tall ship.
Diners from all over visit to enjoy contemporary American cuisine in a memorable setting. “I cannot think of anywhere else like it,” says Sydney. “Just imagine it: being on a 400-foot tall, masted ship on the water, sipping on a cocktail and looking out over a beautiful Philadelphia skyline as the sun goes down. That must
be a number one on anyone’s list! There is nothing in the world that can offer a feeling like that.”
Key to delivering a range of memorable experiences across a range of restaurants is a strong and supportive supply chain. Fortunately, Fearless has just that.
“We are so lucky,” asserts Sydney. “Our suppliers are always so supportive. A great example is Singer – we have always had a really strong relationship with them.
“From a supply chain perspective, we use Singer for pretty much all our kitchen supplies, equipment, and smallwares. Not to mention they are also family-owned. I recently sat down with owner Fred Singer; he just really cares about their relationships.
“Our salesperson, Chuck, is always available for a call and handles potential problems professionally and quickly if they arise,” she adds. “His service is second to none. But when you are dealing with small issues, that is a necessity.
“We also use another system called Restaurant365, which assists us with buying and just understanding what opportunities are out there in terms of pricing and so on.”
Looking ahead, Sydney shares with us that her hopes for the business are, unsurprisingly, tied to the familial. In her eyes, nothing would be better for Fearless than having her brother and sister join the family-owned company.
“I think it would just complete us all,” she concludes. “I do not know how to describe it, but there is so much more to Fearless than just being a business. It is quickly becoming a way of life. My family is really close, and to bring us even closer through work would be a blessing.” ■