On a bright spring morning, overlooking the rush-hour bustle, Edie Ames leans over her herbal tea and murmurs, I often say that the inmates are running the asylum. No, were not discussing the glitches in the healthcare system, but the power-dining establishment that is Mortons, The Steakhouse.
Ames, who in 2005 became the first female president of Chicago-based Mortons (79 restaurants, with one in Crystal City) is showing the old boys club the value of listening to your staff.
We caught up with her the other day during a swing through town.
The restaurant industry grabbed hold of Ames at the age of 15, when she began waitressing in a pie shop in the Chicago suburbs. She spent many years at California Pizza Kitchen in Chicago and LA, becoming, in quick succession, general manager, regional manager and VP of operations in HR.
I was about to be named COO when Mortons called, said Ames, who adds that Mortons vision and culture sold her. The biggest challenge is our need to evolve to remain competitive. Thirty years ago, we didnt have to worry about it, we didnt have competition. Now there is a steakhouse on every corner.
Let there be light!
The days of lobbyists lurking in dark corners are over. Mortons is bringing in more patios, larger bar areas and yes, more windows.
People didnt want to be found, said Ames of Mortons past aversion to natural light. Im not changing the culture but Im changing the little things. Our staff says we may loose a few guests, but well win more of the younger generation.
They certainly havein fact, Mortons employees may need to start reading Teen People magazine on their breaks.
Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana recently ate at Mortons in Georgetown with a friend and the Jonas Brothers popped in anonymously at Easter until some younger patrons squealed with glee.
It doesnt matter if youre a man or a woman. At the end of the day, my board of directors expects the same thing, says Ames in the surprisingly light-filled restaurant. And in the world where change is almost a dirty word, changes have been made. Yes, you can order fish at Mortons and of course, the 24-ounce porterhouse as well. Bon Apptit.
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