I am Ken McGarrie, and along with my wife, Morgen Klepfer, we launched Korgen Hospitality. We are dedicated to working alongside passionate restauranteurs to elevate both the guest experience and the bottom dollar.
Beyond a comprehensive, in-depth knowledge of the industry, Korgen makes recommendations to restaurant owners on how to improve their business—even beyond the scope of what Korgen itself might supply. When establishing a custom list of services, it is common for us to say to restaurateurs, “Here is a step-by-step list of actions you can take to improve your operations on your own.” Sometimes an owner will successfully tackle these challenges internally, and we are happy to have played a role in their accomplishments. Oftentimes, a restaurant simply doesn’t have the personnel to execute the strategy effectively, which is where Korgen Hospitality comes in to help.
Morgen started as a door host of a trendy nightclub, and Ken began as a dishwasher/mouse mascot for Chuck E. Cheese. Although we took separate paths—Morgen developed a loyal clientele base as the premier Chicago events and catering contact, and Ken worked to open numerous exceptional venues in both the U.S. and Canada—we share a true appreciation for genuine hospitality.
Our biggest influences have always been our most memorable dining experiences. We find inspiration at each extreme end of the pendulum:
The moment when a server assistant graciously replaced a fallen napkin at Gramercy Tavern that motivated a discussion on being present without being obvious.
The genuine way a bartender at Dinosaur Bar-B-Que made a menu recommendation that changed a fundamental training practice.
We have met so many people who opened restaurants for the sheer love of serving others. They are good people who have a dream of inviting the community into their kitchen to enjoy their family’s recipes. Unfortunately, that desire doesn’t always equate to profitability and they find themselves in challenging circumstances. Our passion is working alongside these visionaries to make sure they are around for years to come.
The biggest challenge today is the same as it has always been—creating a buzz that inspires people to visit a venue. Fortunately, social media has become a powerful tool, especially in the hands of the consumer. Online reviews and posted pictures are the truest form of word-of-mouth, and work to drive traffic toward (or away from) a business. Restaurants who opt to ignore these outlets do so at their own peril.
Technology is the answer for our biggest challenges, and smart owners channel their online reputation accordingly. Many restauranteurs have a negative opinion of review sites, but it is the best way to continue the conversation with guests outside the four walls of the venue. The antiquated restaurant waits to develop Instagram content, while the visionaries utilize it to create a buzz 3-6 months before opening.
The greatest opportunities are found in systemizing controllable expenses. Having software which cross-references three food vendors for the best pricing helps drive down costs. Technology that links food and cocktail recipes with inventory and invoicing allows restauranteurs to react quicker to negative trends. The success of any business is to be nimble, and platforms like BevSpot are making it easier to manage.
Above-store data allows restauranteurs to gain real-time perspective on a host of important factors. Reporting software (like Avero) sends owners daily sales reports, labor percentages and management logs. Scheduling platforms (like Hot Schedules) monitor overtime, forecasts labor impact, and bridges the communication gap between manager and staff. Inventory software (like BevSpot) tracks usage, pars, and controllable costs. Gone are the days of cobbled-together data—now it’s simply waiting in your email inbox each morning.
Morgen: I would have to name Schwa in Chicago. The tasting menu was incredibly inventive, and the service was truly genuine. The restaurant is intimate, only 26 seats total, and is the epitome of chef-driven. And did I mention heavy metal played at full volume?
Ken: I would pick Fabulous Freddies Italian Eatery in Bridgeport. When I first moved to Chicago, my friend insisted that my first meal was a hot dipped beef at Freddies. When I moved away, I searched for that taste. But, as much as I like cheesesteaks and po’ boys, nothing beat the memory of that Italian Beef. It was so authentic and made me feel a part of the city. It’s not the only reason I came back to Chicago, but it was absolutely the first meal I had again when I returned.”