Trade Talks looks at branding in the world of the ever changing restaurateur
By Kristen Oliveri

Photo courtesy of Bullfrog & Baum

In a world where you’re nobody until you’re on TV or have become a social media sensation, keeping street cred amongst chef peers while satisfying diners’ need for celebrity chef status that validates and/or enhances their experience in your restaurant(s) is no easy feat.

What is easy is to get lost in the shuffle if you don’t hone your business to create a brand with mass appeal that resonates in the market.

At How to Build Your Brand Without Selling Out at Trade Talks 2012, a program conceived of and hosted by hospitality PR firm Bullfrog & Baum (, in conjunction with the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival (, chefs Daniel Boulud, David Burke, Marc Murphy and John Kunkel talked candidly about the world of endorsements, product lines and the dreaded chain restaurant.

Daniel Boulud, co-owner of the Dinex Group and the chef who most recently opened a restaurant in Toronto, is no stranger to building a brand. “One more is always too many,” began Boulud. He explained that his approach to creating a cohesive and recognizable brand was to name all of his restaurants with his name in the title. While his name is front and center when you call for a reservation the reality of any given dining experience is predicated upon the fact that he crafts each one to be chef-driven with each chef he employs to be totally responsible for managing that individual restaurant.

“I am the brand,” he comments. However, while he understands the need for consistent branding in titles and restaurants, Boulud also recognizes that the success of his restaurant group lies with each kitchen’s head chef.

Marc Murphy, owner of Landmarc, Ditch Plains, and Benchmarc Events, as well as being a guest chef on popular TV cooking show, Chopped, echoed Boulud’s sentiment. After establishing his brand with the Landmarc restaurants in Tribeca and in the Time Warner Building, he was looking for a more casual space to expand his brand, which was how his Ditch Plains restaurant concept was born. “It’s a matter of keeping everyone busy,” said Murphy. “The restaurant industry is a family industry.”

David Burke’s restaurant family stretches from New Jersey to Chicago and beyond. For the chef known now for his David Burke Townhouse, Fishtail, Primehouse, David Burke Kitchen, and Fromagerie (the restaurant in NJ where he first got his start) his branding expansion really began when Bloomingdale’s approached him about wanting to do the ‘Burke in the Box’ concept. Whether he’s dishing up delicious bites in his dining rooms, at special events or leaving his own restaurants to collaborate and lend his name and recipes to a mass market brand like Hale & Hearty soups where he recently participated in a six chef/six week specials program with proceeds going to charity, Burke is adept at identifying his target audience and marketing to them in a way that feels good and keeps them coming back. Though, he admits, that while he’s found success it hasn’t all been smooth sailing. “I have a restaurant in New Jersey and Chicago,” began Burke. “I opened three to four restaurants in a two year period and I had to go back and fix certain concepts.”

Burke expounded on the idea that in the two worlds of fine dining and chain restaurants, there are more similarities than one may think and that it’s not uncommon today for chefs to have more casual versions of their brands.

A strong concept casual restaurant is what CEO and founder of Lime Fresh Mexican Grill, John Kunkel is known for. He well understands what it takes to build large-scale brands as his business was recently sold to the restaurant chain, Ruby Tuesday; and, like Burke, he understands that tweaks have to happen along the way. While he was excited to take his business to the next level, he stressed the importance of having a great team in order to keep the brand alive. He remarks, “Sometimes you have to go back and fix a restaurant from an infrastructure standpoint. It takes a business mind alongside a culinary mind to make a business work.”

When asked how it works while maintaining a balance between using marketing and public relations to get the word out on a brand and retaining credibility amongst their contemporaries, Kunkel believes the answer lies within social media. He believes you can control the messaging if you use the medium accurately. Murphy concludes, “It’s also paramount to know your own brand. You have to keep it within your wheelhouse.”

Photo courtesy of Bullfrog & Baum