Santa Fe Cattle Co.

When DBMC Rest­au­r­ants LLC purchased Santé Fe Cattle Co., they brought in John Lush as president. Lush knew the competition in the casual-dining category would be fierce given the current economic and competitive environment. Everyone hopes to catch the next big wave in food trends and the atmosphere and value pricing that will make them the destination of choice for demographics of all ages, income brackets and family sizes.

However, its management and executives pour everything they have into every decision to improve the Santa Fe Cattle Co. experience. Lush and his fellow executives believe it is this passion that will push their concept ahead of the competitors, and they make sure customers feel the love, as well. “The core of who we are is that it comes from our heart,” Lush says. “We really strive for real, fresh fun. Our people are everything as relates to future success.”

Santa Fe Cattle Co. was founded in 1996 by David K. Wachtel and Dan York. Wachtel had gained experienced in the restaurant business by working for Shoney’s and starting brands such as O’Charley’s and Logan’s Roadhouse. > > The restaurant chain operates more than 19 locations – including three fran­chisee’s – throughout the southeastern United States and Oklahoma with more than 2,000 employees. Santa Fe Cattle Co. offers a casual-dining atmosphere and fare inspired by cuisine found in the Southwest, as well as aged-to-perfection hand-cut steaks. Each location has its own butcher. The company also introduces new food quarterly, keeping its menu fresh for its regulars.

The investment group – DBMC In­vest­ments LLC – purchased Santa Fe Cattle Co. when Santa Fe Holdings filed for bankruptcy in 2009. To turn the company around, DBMC recruited proven veterans from the casual-dining industry to revamp Santa Fe’s dire situation.

Along with Lush, who himself work­ed for Logan’s Roadhouse for nine-and-a-half years, the second expert DBMC brought in was Vice President Megan Klock, who boasts more than 15 years of ex­perience with Outback Steakhouse. There, she rolled out numerous locations for the Australian-inspired concept. Her background is in training and operations, which means instilling a culture of fun and understanding that a customer-first mentality is essential to success.

“When I first started, the whole culture piece was a big deal for me be­cause we needed it be in all aspects of the business,” Klock says. “Devel­oping a whole culture piece was a huge priority to move forward. Once we all fell in love with ‘our culture’ it was time to roll it out to the field.”

The leadership team did just that, starting with the general managers at their annual conference and then on to each location. Once a clear picture was painted through workshops and meetings, everyone realized they must work to keep the Santa Fe experience fresh for everyone.

“When you treat everyone with courtesy, honesty and respect and celebrate all successes, small and big, work becomes fun,” Klock adds.

Lush and Klock then hired Eric Cook as corporate development chef for Santa Fe Cattle Co. Cook spent the bulk of his career with Outback Steakhouse as well before moving into the fine dining category. Cook was lured back to casual dining because of the enthusiasm Santa Fe’s employees have for the concept.

“The culture of Santa Fe is what drives my passion, as well,” Cook says.

New Attitude

With this team in place, Santa Fe Cattle Co. has launched nine core principles that guide the concept in every endeavor, whether it is a new beverage menu, kids menu or a memo to its “Ranch Hands,” or team members.

Klock says these principles guide their actions. They explain how Santa Fe Cattle Co. must treat its people – guests and Ranch Hands – and are incorporated throughout training and development. If any of this is misunderstood by the thousands of Santa Fe Cattle Co. Ranch Hands, Klock considers it a failure.

“If someone has to ask why or how to do something, then I haven’t done it right,” she says. “The whole culture piece that we send to the field is real down to earth. There are no airs or falsifying who we are.”

Customer service is one thing, but training back-of-the-house staff to in­still this passion in its food is another matter. Cook took the challenge head-on by recreating the menu, fo­cusing on fresh and authentic rec­ipes, including hand-breaded chic­ken tenders as well as hand-cut aged steaks. More importan­tly, Cook wants his kitchen Ranch Hands buying into the new way of thinking.

“I was enthusiastic with the challen­ges that were ahead of me.  It was great fun for me to come to Santa Fe and coach and train and watch the managers fall in love with what they are doing again,” Cook says.

“It’s about having pride in what you’re putting on the plates, not just in the how, but also the why. If you can teach people not just how, but why, you can really see the growth and the change,” he adds.