Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:00] ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the show. My name is cliff and today we’re talking to the president and CEO of main street ventures restaurant group who happens to own probably one of my top three favorite restaurants in the state of Michigan. That’s a real seafood company plug plug plug. Kevin Gudejko,
Kevin, how are you?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:00:52] All right. Well today. Thank you.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:54] Great. Thanks for taking the time to be with us today. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from and where you grew up.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:01:00] No, I am initially from East coast. Outside of Boston in Newton, Massachusetts. Grew up there went off to college. Kind of never looked back. You’re getting the restaurant business at an early age.
Was that was it. Caddy on the golf course, then moved into the interview. Clubhouse in the winters. Sound, they had a liking for it and stuck with it. No once after college, I just really hit the road. lived in 13 different States. I’ll restaurant related. You know, in the earlier days of casual dining, would it.
When it was, kind of moved every year or 18 months. So. And they were from Miami to. To LA to Dallas. Chicago and multiple places in between.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:37] What.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:01:38] spilled here years ago.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:39] What was it about the restaurant? It business industry vertical that attracted you to it.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:01:44] No, I think that.
It added a lot of the elements that I really found. Interesting. It’s not. Certainly not what I went to school for. but I think that. Having every day, be a challenge in getting a scorecard at the end of every shift. Every day. really was something that attracted me to the business. And show it.
And that, you know, Being able to help people in a number of different ways. We certainly look at it. I’m sure it’ll come up. As we talk more today that, you know, I think that the restaurant business has evolved over feet. Over the years from feeding people to entertain people. certainly the way that we look at it now.
That just kind of sit with my personality. What I was doing and thinking about at the time.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:02:23] Yeah. And you bring up a good point because I think that. From a restaurant perspective, the, the vernacular that I’m hearing more and more as I talk to restaurant owners, it’s not so much about. Like you said, just feeding people. It’s about, it’s about the dining experience and that’s a term that I’m hearing a lot more from restaurant tours. Is that word experience.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:02:47] Yeah, we, we just changed our mission statement here. Going back a month or so ago to. They’re really designed that a little bit more. We didn’t change it a great deal. But, you know, before we talked about having a memorable dining experiences of creative and distinctive restaurants, and I think that.
Right now it’s just having a memorable experience. It doesn’t always revolve around dining. Certainly there is. a cocktail side of that as we’ve ever seen explode around the country, but. Just in general. I think it, especially during these times, With the lockdowns. We’ve seen people just, not being able to do things that they want to do.
Socializing. becomes important. What we’re trying to fill that need.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:23] So, what was it? Cause I know you said before that you lived in 13 different States, what was it that brought you to Michigan?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:03:29] I was, I was living outside of Chicago in Barrington, Illinois. Responsible for five States. Blooming brands. Awesome. Joint venture partner. In that role, you can develop, markets in there eventually. The company buys them back from you. And, I was recruited to come. My, my former partner here, Mike givens.
Was the chairman of the national restaurant association. So we got to know each other a little bit. And his, his role at that time really started expanding. In that realm. And I came in 13 years ago. To run the day-to-day operations. As director of operations and a partner. and moved again from a, from a big city to a first time I lived in a medium-sized city.
Ann Arbor and that. Was that it was a good choice. Certainly pretty cosmopolitan city, but, That’s how we ended up here back in 2007.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:15] So let’s go back and talk about, cause I know you said you were part of the. You know, you’ve been a part of the restaurant business seemingly all of your life. Talk to us about what it was like stepping into the role of actually. Creating and building a restaurant.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:04:31] Yeah. Yeah. It’s been unique because as you just mentioned that I’ve done it for quite some time, but even in the roles that I’ve had in the past, It was surrounded by a great support team, whether it came down to two, construction and design or, or human resources or legal or anything else along those lines. So.
When we did this role.
You know, our, our philosophy has always been there. That I think we do a great job of running restaurants and understanding that, but we try and outsource everything that we can along those lines. So. When I came into this role. You know, When we look at doing. A restaurant. And we identify a market.
It’s typically when we go in and decide, we’ve got a number of concepts, is that we’ve got 17 restaurants and, and really, you know, four different concepts, whether it be So you’ve moved American or Italian. And then identify the market and see where we think we can make an impact, what might be missing from the market.
and then, then kind of tailor our design and venue. Concept. Along those lines. So getting into this world that was completely different before it was. You know, I might identify a market and in grand Rapids, That could support a couple of, Carrabba’s. And then we just go look into the sites. And at that point you turned it over to somebody else.
In the design construction. And you came back in, you know, five weeks before you opened up. a good hire and team together and move forward from there. And so. Much more diverse now.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:54] And when you’re talking about. Cause we were talking before a little bit about experiences. What is it that if you’re going to an area, like you mentioned grand Rapids, if you’re going into that particular area there, what, what goes into your thinking process? Not just like, Oh, we want to build a restaurant, but maybe like one level down from that where you’re talking about, we want this experience. We want this theme. We want to offer this type of food. What drives those kinds of decisions?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:06:22] Well, I think that the,
You have to fall back on what we’ve done and what we’ve done well, and what we know. So when I look at that, Again, I think we, we identify it more from a market perspective first to say, In this market and grand Rapids. We understand the dynamics out. But the demographics of it. Psychographics of it and look to say, that’s a market we want to be in and out.
They kind of focus on, as I mentioned, what’s missing. So is there. You know, at the time when we built it, the chop house there, which has been a number of years. I’ll go now. It really was only one other. We considered fine dining steakhouse there. And it was, it was really kind of old world where you still need to.
You know, quiet to wear a jacket. At a tie. So we identified it from that perspective. We know the state demographics would support a high-end restaurant. And then we moved on from there to, to really start looking at the design. Of what we’re trying to accomplish with it.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:14] Excellent. And so I do want to spend some time and give it a little bit of love to the real seafood company, because to be honest, that’s what brought me to your door. Aye. I love that restaurant. And I know in California, we had access to really good seafood. And when I came back here, I was like, you know, I want that same experience. And someone said, you need to go and check this place out.
I, I love that restaurant. Talk to us a little bit about the history of, you know, that place. Like when did it get started? Who was, you know, let’s talk about like, why did you decide to put it in Bay city?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:07:46] Okay. you know, Real seafood is really is the Genesis of the whole company. Real seasoned company started in 1975 here in Ann Arbor. Back when, and that’s really our namesake. When we came up with the mainstream ventures, I was before my time, but. During that time, it was really, you know, that was in the mid to late seventies.
Early eighties when, when malls and suburban locations are really booming. And, You get to Sarah’s who was the original founder of real seafood. And then Mike Gibbons, who I mentioned was a, it was a camera, the restaurant association. Identified some opportunities in downtown markets, which certainly in arm was one of them. And well-supported by the university.
at that point, you know, The seafood part that you mentioned is something that is near and dear to our hearts. Again. We’ve grown that concept. We have a great one in Toledo. We’ve got one in, in Naples. Seafood’s really been our backbone. We’ve got a seafood restaurant in Fort Myers, another one in Charleston, West Virginia. So when you mentioned, may mentioned Bay city,
but one of his habits always worked off of is we have to get the best possible product. Almost regardless of cost. Because I think that whether it’s the crisis we went through and in 2007, 2008, Or even now where we look at it and say, we’re not going to deviate from that. we’re gonna, we still buy all of our.
Georges bank seafood. Oysters and mussels and scallops. we have flown in from Boston and we’ll continue to do that. So that, that, In the early days. it was, it was not flown in, it was actually a train, but, So that’s been a, it’s been a staple here in Ann Arbor for decades now.
and because of that, just like yourself, we’ve, we’ve kind of developed that reputation for that experience. And when people want traditional new England seafood, we certainly have the Lake session. We do purchase and Whitefish. And the rest of that as well. But it’s all the it’s it’s, given the opportunity for other people too.
seek us out. And basically he was one of those opportunities were. the developer they’re going to impeaching. was developing a downtown. Location. And was trying to revive downtown Bay city. And, he had known us for a number of years and really been talking to us for a number of years about trying to do something really spectacular on the river.
And I’m up there and see those conversations. We’ve just grown that relationship and, and, decided it was going to be a real. Will a good spot. To look at another seafood restaurant.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:11] So now I know who to thank for bringing this great restaurant to my back door.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:10:15] Yep. Gene families strong, developers up there they’ve been advocates of, of main street ventures, for a number of years. They’re also our landlord across, down the road and in Midland with, with the grad students in Midland.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:27] Yeah. And I know before we were talking about. You know, the new England style of seafood. And I do have to say I’m on a little bit of a foodie. And to me, the benchmark of a good seafood place is so their lobster bisque. I am fanatical about it. and I do have really high standards. And when, when you do have it in your restaurant, when it is lobster season,
You guys do it really well. And that’s a shameless plug. So if you’re listening to this right now. Yeah. So, you know, talk to us a little bit about what drives the menu.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:10:56] Yeah. You know, bisque is one of them. And I’ll always go back to that. No matter if I’m talking to you or, or, you know, doing an orientation for people. So Fisk is one of the things that we talk about. We’ve, we’ve certainly, we have fun with it in a way that we’ve, we’ve had people over the years, come in and say, you know, you serve it. A lot of places, we can do it for you. We can do that in our commissary and make it for you.
And then we sit down and start talking to the recipe with them and it quickly becomes apparent and pay to have an interest in and taking live lobsters and breaking them down and starting from that point. So. A lot of risks out there. You’re starting with a little lobster base and we don’t, we start with fresh live lobster. So,
That that’s, it’s a hallmark for what we do. And I think that, that goes back and move talked about a little bit. It goes back to the branding. So I think that, you know, we talk about experience and, we don’t let loose of our brand. We have to keep, The tight fist on, on exactly how that’s working and what we’re, what we’re shooting for.
Now if seafood. Evolve. You know, we we’ve, we have to continue to evolve too, because, The younger generation. The millennials. Rest of them are, just have different, different desires and different understanding of what they want and seafood. And then, you know, we used to sell just UN UN.
Inordinate amount of fresh fish. Just to have. And over the time that just seemed to wane and for no apparent reason, other than it’s just not top of mind, people tend to like a more composed dish than they used to just get a, you know, Royal piece of fish with some, Some student tomatoes and some red potatoes. So things, things change and you have to evolve with it.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:23] You’re doing and, you know, you bring up something interesting in the fact that when I grew up. it seemed like the only way that you could eat fish was deep fried in Cresco. And, I found that revolting. And I remember I swore off seafood for so many years, but I was living in Florida at the time.
And, there was a great restaurant down there. The name escapes me, but somebody finally convinced me to go. And I actually had. You know, I loved it so much, but it, you know, the fish was, you know, sometimes it was fried. Sometimes it was baked or there was any number of different ways that it could prepared.
And I, I discovered that I truly, truly loved seafood. And so. You know, again, that’s, you know, Hit the cave. Keep bringing this up, but that’s what brought me to your door, you know? Cause you guys do it and you guys do it really well. And I’m, I’m grateful for that for, for your company, because I know you said you’re a main street ventures restaurant group. What are some of the other restaurants that fall under your umbrella?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:13:21] So, you know, we’ve, we’ve got, We’ve got four restaurants here in Ann Arbor, which is again our home base. So right next door. on the East side of the street on main street is polio. Which is, you know, a casual Italian restaurant. Polly has been around since the early eighties, 81.
Great rooftop restaurant, summertime. We have a rooftop, that we open up the seats and other couple of hundred people in a normal year. It’s still a seed. A lot of people this year, it was very popular, but obviously we couldn’t do. Then do the 200 people we normally do up there. You know, across the street, we have, the original Chophouse as well in the Dolce Vita, which is,
Adulting video as a dessert. After dinner, cocktail bar. That’s attached to the chop house. Trap houses is prime steak, really fine dining. Unbelievably great service. And, they do a wonderful job there. And then out on a little bit further out on, on, on Plymouth road, we have Carson’s American bistro in Karstens is a, is a casual American style restaurant. Caters more to those.
Suburban people that are there with their families. the knot. and that’s the core is at, I mentioned seafoods always been our course to China, to chop houses, have. Have joined that group and then Italian. You know, we have a number of Italian restaurants. They may be different names. and in all of these cases, the menus.
Typically tend to be about 60 to 75% the same, the matter of the market. except for Italians, they vary quite a bit. but we, we catered to that group and, and what people truly want there in those markets. So. As I said, it gives us the opportunity when we do go into a new market to look at it and say, what did we have.
In in the, In the arsenal that that will work for us here.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:54] That’s great. And so what I want to do is, I want to take a couple minutes and I want to talk about, you know, if somebody is listening to this podcast and I’m like, you know what, I’m actually interested in going to this restaurant. I want to try these. You know, a couple of dishes here and I’ll put you on the spot. I admit it.
if, if I was rolling too, you know, You know, in Arbor I’m, I’m looking forward to spending more time there. So I want to come, I want to check out a polio.
What would be like, what would be like maybe three things that you would say, if you’re going to come to the restaurant, check out these things, they could, you. They could be staples or it could be like maybe a dish that you wish that people would try. What would you recommend?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:15:30] No. It’s interesting. You say that because I had that conversation. We had. As everybody’s changing, evolving. We had a zoom meeting for, all of our dining room managers, just just a week or so ago. And that was part of the conversation because people tend to, to come in and, they’re not always really adventurous.
So they, they tend to go for the same thing all the time. So part of that conversation was just that. we’re talking about if somebody is always coming in and getting the ball and A’s, which is a great product. You know, Maybe you should, you can get them a little chicken Marsala because that’s something that I think we do fantastically well.
and they may not try it. They may just look at it as, as a pasta house and that’s all they ever do. So. You know, to that point. I think that that, But the chicken Marsala is one of those that I think that can be done really well and it can be done really poorly. I think we’ve done a great job with that one.
at, at, at poly or particular. So I, you can’t have a great Italian restaurant with serving without sharing. Great pasta. So that goes without saying, I think people understand it and, And I mentioned the bone A’s, which is one, but we have, we have, you know, a pesto, that we do really well, to go along with that.
So, and then, you know, the capital city Kampala funky, which is our, Catalina roasted forest mushrooms and grilled chicken is a, is a fan favorite as well as other that you don’t typically see a lot of places.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:44] Excellent. So you’re talking about the chicken Marsala, the bolonaise and the Capitol Laney.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:16:48] Yup.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:49] Sweet. So I got three things to check out. Let’s talk about, let’s talk about Carson’s American be straw. What would be some dishes you would recommend people to try if they went there?
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:16:57] Questions. It’s interesting. again, it, it catered a little bit more to that suburban crowd. and it’s. The number one thing, which always kind of surprised we have a great chop salad and it, no matter what we add to the menu, change to the menu. it always comes out as a number one seller.
So. You know, even, even when I go there, My wife and I we’ll go and we’ll, we’ll get a chop salad to split. And then, you know, maybe, maybe a burger. So it’s known for again. Number one thing is chopped is that it’s got great prime rib, but sandwiches or in that range to a really strong burgers was a prime, prime beef that we use on our burgers.
which really creates quite a, quite a flavor profile there.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:37] Excellent. So you’re talking about chop salad. The prime rib and your burgers, can’t beat him.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:17:42] Yep.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:43] Sweet. And I do want to go back cause I want to talk a couple more about restaurants, but you said something that really struck me because it was a conversation that I had just recently where, you know, there’s, there’s some restaurants that I will go to. And I will try everything that’s on the menu because I absolutely enjoy it. There’s other restaurants that I go to that I F I found a dish that I absolutely love.
And I’m scared to death to try something else, because I don’t know if I’m going to love it and I don’t want to leave the restaurant. Regretting that I didn’t get that dish that I know what tastes good.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:18:16] No, it it’s it’s all the time. And I think that, that’s why. Yeah, it’s kind of what we talked about too. Going back to why, why? I think some of our people do this, why I do it, where you can even expand that horizon, whether it’s you talking about. You know, deep fried fish and somebody, you know, convincing you that you might want to try something and, and fish, and it’s supposed to smell like fish when you get it at the table.
So, you’re having that ability to say. I mean, you’ve gotten, you’ve gotten that dish every time you have seen you over the last six months, let’s let’s try something else.
I’ve always been happy to say, listen, try it. If you don’t like it, it’s on me. And I’m not convinced you’re gonna like it though.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:18:50] Yeah. And that’s something, that is something there that, that I will admit that I’m. I am working on, but, you know, here we go. So real seafood company, what are the places that I love to go in there? And I love to try the different dishes, but what would be, what would be three things that you would recommend people would try.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:19:07] Sure. so. You know, one of the things that is unusual, but it is it’s pan pan fried. I know we just talked about that, but as Parmesan question. Flounder, which has been a fan favorite for decades. One that we’ve, we’ve brought on a menu in the recent past. And I mentioned, this is kind of the, these composed dishes have kind of taken front center, which has a miso glaze.
Sea bass. fantastic light flaky. Well, white fish. That’s me. So marinated. But, you know, I think. To test is, is trying to get a. To have some Paya. In a, in a, in a restaurant and seeing how the, well, they can do that. A lot of people do it, but you got to get it done. Right? You gotta take your time to cook it. And you want that little crunch to the, you know,
Those little crunchy, Pieces of rice around the outside that make it special.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:51] Yeah, because paja is one of those dishes that is an absolute labor of love.
Yeah. Now it’s not something that you can just quick whip up as they get into the microwave. So,
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:20:00] No. Absolutely. And you’ve got to understand that, as I said, you’ve got to be able to willing as, as it. As a restaurant tour to say, I understand that this dish is not going to be pushed out of here in 10 minutes. It’s going to take some time to do it right.
But we’re committed to doing that. Again, I’ve always found too. If you go to a table and say, listen, you know, you’ve got to buy it tonight. It’s going to take us 20 minutes. But it’s going to be right. And you’re going to really enjoy it. People. People like to hear that, that you’re doing things the right way.
And that. And not upset by that point. Anyway.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:20:27] Yeah. And I think as long as you know, we’re, we’re talking a little bit here almost of managing those expectations. So if you just let them know that. You know, this is going to be a dish and it’s going to be worth it. You know, people wait, they’ll have another cocktail, you know, and yeah. And from my experience anyway, it’s fine. Dining is not something that can be rushed.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:20:46] No. Absolutely. And I think the worst possible thing you can do is avoid telling people what’s going on. No excuses, I’m not going to go and say. Yeah. I’m on two people short in the kitchen. but. Just being honest with people and telling them what’s going on and, and, making sure that at the end of the day, it’s right.
We’re saying you can do is have to take an extra amount of time and not be what they wanted.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:06] Yeah, exactly. And I do want to go back cause I’ve seen the miso glaze sea bass on your menu, and I’ve been hesitating to get it because you described it as light and flaky. Every sea bass I’ve ever tried has not been that. So I will, I will commit that the next time I go, I will have the sea bass.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:21:24] Well, you will not be disappointed. I guarantee you that you know how to get ahold of me. And, it’s on me if, if we screw that up, but as well,
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:30] I might have to hold you to that. You can tell, I am ridiculously hungry at this point. So, you know, talking about food and that’s just made it a that’s just made it even worse, so. Okay, great. So we’re talking about from the real seafood company. the Parmesan crusted flounder tried and trued favorite, the music Lacey bass and the Paya.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:21:48] Absolutely. Yep.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:49] Sweet. Absolutely love it. So here’s the old Kevin. I know you’ve got all these restaurants going on, and stuff, and I’m just gonna. Yeah. People want to follow, we know what it is that you’re doing, or keep up with these restaurants or whatever it is. They want to check them out. What’s what’s the best way for them to do that.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:22:05] You know, we’re on all the social media stuff, but, the best way is just going straight to our website. May she ventures restaurants? restaurant group, excuse me. And, you, you’re going to be able to find everything from there. You know, we were in the process of let’s take a little bit longer with COVID, but getting in the process of updating those and,
Moving forward, but that’s really the best, the best way. And again, on all the social media sites, each, each restaurant has their own Instagram account. So we try and, you know, I’m, I’ve already mentioned branding, but one of the things we don’t want people to do, I think people understand when they come into one of our restaurants and it is one of our restaurants.
But even on the restaurants that, I think if you’ve been to Bay city. And like you mentioned that if you walk into that real seafood and you walked into the real seafood here in Ann Arbor, completely different look and feel. To those restaurants and that’s on that. Intentionally done, but I think at the end of the dining experience, you.
You understand that it’s a main street ventures restaurant, group, restaurant.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:56] Excellent. Yes. And for our audience, we will make sure to include those links in the show notes down below Kevin. It’s been great rapping with you today and talking about food. And right now I can start licking my hand cause I’m so hungry. Thank you so much for being on the podcast study and talking to us.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:23:14] No problem. I appreciate doing it. And you go. One thing I would just wrap up with two and I know that during these times, you know, was with COVID. There’s a lot of stress. Not only on, on people coming out to dinner, but I’ve certainly seen it from, from our perspective and our manager perspectives. But I think as an industry, we’re uniquely situated.
To handle what’s going on right now. You know, other than the, and I really less to the healthcare workers that are out there, but, you know, we deal with, with sanitation and keeping people safe on an ongoing basis. So. Not that it’s easy, but this is something that we’ve been able to do well. And I think that,
try and make sure you get out there and, and, and especially your fan support and your local restaurant, local, local Barla servers, bartenders, and the rest. So we certainly need the help right now.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:59] Yes. And I whole heartedly agree with that and, nothing pleases me more than going to. The, you know, these local restaurants and seeing them, you know, full, seen them with, with people that you know, are being embraced and, and heading out. And, I was actually at the real seafood company. I want to say it was maybe two or two and a half months ago.
And, I give your staff. Kudos give them props because you know, the, the, you guys are, I mean, this is a trying time. Totally acknowledged that and your staff did a great time of really minimizing that. So that way we could really just enjoy the, enjoy the experience. You know, it was basically just like it was before this whole thing happened. So I will give.
A hat tip to you and your staff or for making that happen. And, and thank you for that.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:24:51] Well, I appreciate hearing that. And again, I know people, I look at it, there were. There were three groups of people this summer, there were the ones that. They were willing to come in and dine with us socially distance. And, you know, we’ve upgraded all of our HPAC systems. you know, I waved, you can take care of some things and some other issues and UV.
But there’s people that were willing to command there’s people that, We’re only willing to eat outside now that although this weekend is supposed to be beautiful now. The weather’s gone away. we’re seeing a transition. No food. And I think that everyone, including us has stepped up our game on, on doing, to go and doing it well.
So it’s just another Avenue that you can, that you can support. Support your local restaurants.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:29] Sure. Excellent. And, once again, Kevin, thank you for being on the show today.
Kevin, Real Seafood Company: [00:25:33] Thanks. Talk to you. I appreciate it.