An exception to the rule

Restaurant group’s sales are up in Hattiesburg

By Amy McCullough

See “Why Businesses Are Not Expanding,” July 11, 2011.

Many restaurants took a hard hit during the Great Recession as patrons chose to eat out less or choose less expensive venues. New South Restaurant Group in Hattiesburg, however, barely suffered. Owner and executive chef Robert St. John, who opened the new “scratch” Italian restaurant Tabella in March, said sales are up substantially.

“We’re up 10 percent. In the 23 years we’ve been open, we’ve had increased sales every year but one — two years ago when the (bad) economy hit. The key in a down economy for restaurants is consistency, but you can’t achieve that unless you’ve got a solid management team. When I talk about management, I am not talking about myself,” St. John said.

“The key to the restaurant business? People will tell you it’s location, location, location. That’s not true. It’s management, management, management. All success in the restaurant business comes as a direct result of management following through.”

New South Restaurant Group has 230 employees, some of which started with the company in 1987, and have moved up to management positions. The group comprises the Purple Parrot Café, a contemporary Southern fine dining establishment; Crescent City Grill, a mid-scale restaurant serving seafood, salads and pastas; Mahogany Bar; and now Tabella.

St. John believes consistent restaurants win in any economy.

“People are still eating out although the economy is bad. It’s my philosophy that consistency wins the day in the restaurant business, especially in a bad economy. Because if customers have been to a restaurant, and two out of the last four experiences were iffy, the next time that restaurant will go to the back of the list,” he said.

Additionally, more than two decades of experience in the Hattiesburg market and low advertising costs helped.

St. John said, “I think we had several things working in our favor. One we’ve been in this market for 23 years. I have lived in this market for 49 years. I grew up four blocks behind the restaurants (which are all in same parking lot). .Through this new age of social media, our budget for marketing and advertising to open was zero. We had crowds on opening day. Tabella was really a 15-year project in the making.”

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