Craft & Crew

Craft & Crew

Noteworthy: Restaurant group known for casual neighborhood gathering spots

Founded: 1976; became Craft & Crew in 2014

Locations: Hastings, Hopkins, Minneapolis (2), St. Louis Park

Employees: 250 pre-pandemic

Craft & Crew is a west metro-based restaurant company with multigenerational roots in Minnesota. President David Benowitz joined the business 17 years ago, working with his father, Steve, who founded the business in 1976, buying a “working-class” tavern in Hastings, now called the Bar DraftHouse.

A little over a decade ago, Benowitz saw changes in the southeast Minneapolis neighborhood where his Rail Station tavern was located. The neighborhood was getting younger and hipper, and its taste in alcohol and food was changing, so he made the risky decision to change his customers. The Rail Station became The Howe, creating a template for what is soon to be a six-outlet group spread across the metro area.

“Our vision is to be a neighborhood place, not to compete with destination restaurants,” says Benowitz. Sixty percent of C&C’s customers are regulars who visit two or three times a week. The business model is to seek out locations in underserved neighborhoods. “We’ll never be downtown or Uptown,” he says.

Craft & Crew employs a savvy formula, rooted in real estate. It only opens where it can own its space, which is uncommon in the restaurant industry. This has reduced its vulnerability in the pandemic, because it doesn’t have to worry about paying rent to someone else. “You want to control your own destiny,” says Benowitz. “A lot of restaurants are struggling with landlords right now.”

Last March, the company pivoted to takeout, created all-season outdoor patios, and doubled down on social media and marketing to make sure its guests knew how C&C was operating through the ups and downs. Benowitz says 2020 revenues end at 40 percent of normal, but that leaves this restaurant group in a better spot than many of its peers.

Benowitz’s advice for building a hospitality business that can withstand ups and downs:

Prioritize staff development. A focus on culture and retention is unusual in an industry built on turnover. “Success in this business is 30 percent skills and 70 percent mindset and communication.”

Invest in technology. The pandemic compelled C&C to invest in third-party delivery technology and internal operations software, which enables the company “to measure and react to our profit/loss in real time vs. waiting four to six weeks for true numbers,” Benowitz says. “The delivery technology allows us to integrate all of the services within our POS. This saves so much labor and headaches and means fewer mistakes and faster service for our customers.” 

2021 goals: A Minnetonka expansion.

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