Business

Embracing Passion: Chris Sutton of KC Hopps Ltd.

Chris Sutton had big plans based on good food from the beginning of what is now a thriving local enterprise.

KC Hopps Ltd.’s first restaurant, 75th Street Brewery, opened its doors in 1993 with a solid leadership group and infrastructure in place.

“We had the right people scouting locations and preparing for strategic growth,” Sutton says. “Although we have adjusted the plan many times along the way, we essentially stuck to the basic company mission to become the Kansas City area leader in the upscale casual food and beer culture.”

KC Hopps has added an urban beer garden called The Alley, beside 75th Street Brewery. The company also owns three locations of 810 Zone (a sports bar and restaurant), two outposts for Barley’s Brewhaus and O’Dowd’s Little Dublin, a popular Irish bar on the Country Club Plaza.

Their Blue Moose restaurants operate in Topeka as well as three Johnson County spots, and they recently launched The Moose Truck, a bright blue and green food truck that serves special events. KC Hopps has been so successful that The Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association (GKCRA) named Sutton their 2012 Restaurateur of the Year.

Birth Of a Foodie

Sutton grew up in a big foodie family and environment in Chicago and has never looked back. Sutton loves food of many varieties, from French and innovative, modern American cuisine to Vietnamese dishes. Much of his travel and entertainment focuses on food and interesting dining, such as his new favorite place, Cochon Restaurant in New Orleans, where he took his family. His top choice for a “last meal” is Taillevent in Paris.

But Sutton also finds plenty to like about Kansas City restaurants. “Much of dining has to do with the people you are with,” he says. “One of my favorite places is Blue Koi, and I think Colby and Megan [Garrelts] are doing great work at Bluestem and Rye. Michael Smith is doing great work, Jonathan and Camille Justus [owners of Justus Drugstore] are fantastic, and the list goes on and on.”

Clear sight lines and high-standard bar fare are what keep foodies and fans coming back to 810 Sports Zone bar.

 “The food in KC has really come into its own over the last decade and there are a lot of talented chefs and a lot of interesting concepts [here],” Sutton says. “It’s nice to have options for not only me and my friends, but also for friends and family that come to Kansas City from bigger, more interesting, culinary markets.”

Honing their focus Throughout the years, Sutton and KC Hopps have owned, operated or consulted on “beer-centric” restaurants throughout the metropolitan area in addition to Lawrence and Wichita, Kan.; Springfield, Mo.; Des Moines, Iowa; Cincinnati, Ohio and Fayetteville, N.C.

“[KC Hopps] has consulted for many companies on a national level,” Sutton says. “But we decided, years ago, that it was too distracting to what our core objectives were. So the lesson we learned was that you can’t do everything under the sun as well as you want. You’d better make some choices on where to expend your efforts.”

 

All 12 of the company’s restaurants are in the Kansas City area and each of the five remaining restaurant brands is inherently unique. “Each one has a personality which must be tweaked and massaged in order to keep it relevant and interesting,” Sutton says. We do this with renovations, menu changes and uniform, design and décor updates.”

Cultivating Better Corporate Culture

In an industry known for turnover, KC Hopps restaurants have an amazingly stable workforce. Perhaps that’s because, with just over 700 employees, management prides themselves on being a considerate employer where the individual matters. They encourage people to work hard and learn everything they can, to become as successful as possible with KC Hopps, another organization or on their own.

“We attract top talent with our competitive packages and our culture,” Sutton says. “We are one of the few restaurant companies in the Midwest that will take young managers along a path of learning, which will allow them to master the different components necessary to run their own restaurant. We have had almost a dozen team members start their own restaurants.” ~ Chris Sutton, CEO of KC Hopps, Ltd.

Overseeing such a large service operation, Sutton says he is tough but fair with KC Hopps employees. “I have tried my whole career to be more delicate and less bull in a China shop, and I have made some serious progress. I just turned 49 and my goal is to be a ‘softie’ by the time I am 89.”