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Women Bisnow
   
April 17, 2008
 
 
 

THE HIGH MISSUS
OF MORTON'S


This issue of Washington Women is presented by
Reznick Group:
"Building Business Value"

 

By Karin Tanabe, Bisnow on Business

 

On a bright spring morning, overlooking the rush-hour bustle of Connecticut Avenue, Edie Ames leans over her herbal tea and murmurs, “I often say that the inmates are running the asylum.” No, we’re not discussing the glitches in the healthcare system, but the power-dining establishment that is Morton’s, The Steakhouse. Ames, who in 2005 became the first female president of Chicago-based Mortons (79 restaurants) is showing the old boy’s club the value of listening to your staff.  We caught up with her the other day when she was visiting DC.

 

Ames under Morton’s first outdoor enclosure. She tells us that the Farragut North restaurant, pictured, is a guinea pig for the company. Items often go on the menu there first and if they succeed, will move to the rest of the East Coast. That’s right DC, we’re the tastemakers.

 

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 Morton’s called,” says Ames, who adds that Morton’s vision and culture sold her. “The biggest challenge is our need to evolve to remain competitive. Thirty years ago, we didn’t have to worry about it, we didn’t have competition. Now there is a steakhouse on every corner.”

 

Ames, center, surrounded by the people that make your meal happen. “My style of speaking openly and often to employees is different for them—they first thought I was digging for dirt. Is listening something just a woman does? I don’t know. I think men would be smart to do the same.”

 

Let there be light! The days of lobbyists lurking in dark corners are over. Morton’s is bringing in more patios, larger bar areas and yes, more windows. “People didn’t want to be found,” says Ames of Morton’s past aversion to natural light. I’m not changing the culture but I’m changing the little things. Our staff says we may loose a few guests, but we’ll win more of the younger generation.” They certainly have—in fact, Morton’s employees may need to start reading Teen People magazine on their breaks. Miley Cyrus/Hannah Montana recently ate at Morton’s in Georgetown with a friend and the Jonas Brothers popped in anonymously at Easter until some younger patrons squealed with glee.

 

How to establish yourself as the most popular dinner party guest? We suggest ordering this bottle of wine.

 

“It doesn’t matter if you’re 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 Morton’s and of course, the 24-ounce porterhouse as well. Bon Appétit.

 
 
 
 
Gilbert Randolph
 
Reznick Group
 
Donatelli
 
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