(Photo by Collin Richie: Stephen Hightower)
As co-owner and director of operations for City Pork I and II and comfort food eatery Leroy’s Kitchen, Stephen Hightower is accustomed to juggling priorities.
A veteran restaurant manager whose resume includes regional Ruth’s Chris Steak Houses and the Bocage Racquet Club, Hightower recently took the plunge as an owner, satisfying a longtime professional goal. In 2013 he bought Frankie’s Dawg House in the Perkins Road Overpass District, then opened Leroy’s on Nicholson Drive. The same year, he had a chance to buy into the first location of City Pork. When it was clear City Pork would open a second location on Jefferson Highway, Hightower sold his interest in Frankie’s to narrow his focus.
We asked Hightower about the challenges of managing multiple locations and what’s next on his agenda.
With dozens of new eateries opening, and only a few closing, there’s a lot of competition among Baton Rouge restaurants. How do you position your two concepts to succeed?
When I worked for Ruth’s Chris as general manager in Baton Rouge, [owner] TJ Moran used to say that if you tended your own garden it would grow. Keep your head down and don’t worry about what the competition is doing. That’s what we’re trying to do, just do what we do really well.
With City Pork, you seem to have found a concept that’s a good fit for Baton Rouge, in that it appeals to both traditionalists and foodies. It’s using a favorite ingredient, pork, in modern preparations. How have sales fared at the second location?
They’ve exceeded our expectations by about 12%. We’ve been making great relationships, and Chef Ryan Andre is doing an incredible job. But we’re still so young, and we need to focus on maintaining what we’ve started. I guess that’s what I’ve learned. You can’t get ahead of yourself.
How would you characterize the Baton Rouge restaurant scene?
I think Baton Rouge can stand alone as a culinary market. Ten years ago, no one could name a chef in Baton Rouge. That’s changed. People like to follow chefs and local sourcing is big. We’re becoming more progressive. This is becoming a destination city.
How do you juggle three sites?
We have discussions daily about the issues and priorities at each location. I’m based at City Pork II because it’s new, but I’m constantly on the phone or going by the other locations. I took on another investor at Leroy’s because I think it’s important to have someone there who has an interest. City Pork co-owner Chase Lyons is on site at the Perkins Road Overpass.
Our goal is to grow City Pork, and if that happens we’ll set up a top line company that will serve as the administrative, marketing and operations hub.