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Oregon-Based Restaurant Group ChefStable Plots Major Midwest Expansion

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ChefStable Midwest is eyeing Detroit, East Lansing, Ann Arbor, and beyond

Kurt Huffman
Kurt Huffman
Courtesy of ChefStable
Brenna Houck is a Cities Manager for the Eater network. She previously edited Eater Detroit and reported for Eater. You can follow her on the internet at @brennahouck.

If you were looking for more signs that Detroit is becoming a hot restaurant market, here’s another. Major Portland, Oregon-based restaurant group ChefStable is prepping for a Midwest expansion with eyes set to Detroit, Ann Arbor, East Lansing, Bloomington, Indiana, and Madison, Wisconsin.

ChefStable owner Kurt Huffman tells Eater he’s in the early stages of developing a Midwest branch with three potential partners: restaurant manager Malcolm Simkoff, sommelier Joshua Wludyka, and chef Evan Sumrell. All three have ties to Chicago. Simkoff, for example, previously worked with Boka Restaurant Group and has helped open A-10. However, as Simkoff told The Oregonian earlier this month, he reached out to ChefStable with the idea of developing new concepts in emerging markets beyond the "saturated" Windy City.

"The whole idea of ChefStable is to try to put chefs operators into ownership positions right off the bat"

Huffman says he started ChefStable in 2009 as an alternative to the typical model for opening a restaurant where chefs generally rely on finding a deep-pocketed investor to bankroll their dream project. In contrast, ChefStable aims to "put chefs operators into ownership positions right off the bat."

As a result, partnering chefs with ChefStable generally own a 50 percent stake in their restaurant project. The restaurant group then lends support to the owners in terms of designing and developing the restaurant, human resources management, and payroll.

In developing his Midwest branch, Huffman is carefully vetting Simkoff, Wludyka, and Sumrell. He recently had the group help organize and run a two-day restaurant pop-up event in Portland. "We have to have very high energy, very confident people on the ground to will support the restaurants and the chefs that we're going to get behind," Huffman says of his potential business partners.

ChefStable, which currently operates 20 restaurants, aims for efficiency when opening projects. Chefs usually approach the company with their ideas, he says. From there, the company begins seeking outside investors.

"We move very fast," Huffman says. "Our typical time from lease signing to opening is only 12 weeks. The first one in a new regulatory environment we have to figure out [but] we're very hands-on. We project manage the construction ourselves. I permit everything. Typically my team and I do the entire layout — all the kitchen design and everything like that with the chef."

If things go well, Huffman foresees ChefStable moving forward with new projects in Detroit and beyond within the next year (enough time to identify a chef and a site they’d like to develop). Stay tuned.

• Lowcountry Dinner Marks Major Expansion for Portland Restaurant Group[OregonLive]

• ChefStable Website [Official]

• All Coverage of ChefStable [EPDX]