Meet Lana Wright, the female half of the dynamic powerhouse, Queen City Hospitality, a brand best-known for its restaurants: Senate OTR, Senate Blue Ash, Abigail Street and Pontiac BBQ.
I sat down with Lana at one of their restaurants, Pontiac, to hear their story, to share advice for other females looking to go break out on their own and to hear what’s next for Queen City Hospitality. How about we do a little "how it started, how it’s going," shall we?
HOW IT STARTED:
Picture the hustle of the Chicago restaurant scene. Lana was the manager, handling all things “front of house” and her now-husband Dan was the Chef. After five years of working together, not only were they in love, but they had the passion to go out on their own. In their many visits to Cincinnati to see Lana’s family, Dan as a Chicago native saw a huge potential in Over the Rhine and its historic architecture vibe well before most people could see it coming.
One might think the transition from running a restaurant in big time Chicago to starting a business in Cincinnati would be easy, but it was 2008. The market was horrible, banks weren’t lending and investors were skittish. Even though they were told "no" countless times, their passion for their vision was relentless and the Senate was born.
Lana shares that she really thought it would be small mom and pop restaurant with 10 customers at a time and she really didn’t care. They were never in it to make money. She hit the nail on the head when she said, “Money cannot be your motivation because it will steal your joy.” These are words every start-up needs to hear. They knew Dan’s vision, Lana’s operational experience and their shared passion would translate.
HOW ITS GOING?
So much for 10 customers at a time, Lana! Since 2008, Queen City Hospitality has opened Senate Over The Rhine, Pontiac, Abigail Street, Senate Blue Ash, Holiday Liquor Bar and Forty Thieves. That’s six restaurants in 13 years, each with new concepts because that’s true to who they are.
As for Lana, she shares, “My passion was always to be a mom. That was always in my life goal. The last couple of years, I’ve been more of a mom and I've supported Dan in the business.” Did all those working moms out there hear that? You are not alone! So many of us are balancing families and businesses, priorities and time.
Having more time at home has given Lana fresh perspective. “I can walk in and scan the whole restaurant, I know what table needs what and I can see the bigger picture.” Now four out of five of their restaurants are run by females who are, “beautiful kind people. That’s what I want, the kindness and service is still there when I’m not. I want them to feel empowered to represent us. Our staff does a tremendous job. We owe a lot to them.”
But let’s not forget Covid 19. Lana said, “The shutdown was very shocking to us. To work so hard for 10 years and to have to shutter all of them. We just felt like 'wow, this is not our story and we’re not going to allow it to be.'” She shared that they chose to sit the pandemic out as a restaurant group and to focus on family. “We make our own rules. We always have. We looked at it as an opportunity to take a step back and fine tune.” And that’s exactly what happened. They're stronger, their restaurants are full and there’s a new restaurant is in the works!
NEW RESTAURANT, YOU SAY?
To Dan and Lana, it’s that feeling of 2008 again. It’s the time to strike. Everything is so transitional, which makes most feel uncomfortable. For Dan and Lana, though, the risk is so worth it.
Next stop, Terrace Park! Lana and Dan feel that people are going back to neighborhood roots and support. They want neighborhood places where they can take their kids to eat but don’t have to sacrifice quality and creativity of the experience.
They have purchased the old Bucks BBQ Space and are concepting a Southern California taco vibe. It’s going to play off the old gas station space, honoring elements of the buildings past but the food will be crunchy tacos, lots of salad, wine, beer, margaritas and ice cream. If that isn’t enough, did I mention that there will be a large year-round outdoor space? Where do I sign up!!? The target open date is by the end of the year.
Lana and I talked for over an hour and I have so much great content to share! So much so, that I’ll be writing a second part to this article, “Five Lessons To Building A Business” where we dive deep into her experiences as a female business leader, her partnership with her husband Dan, how to manifest your dream, making your own rules and more. If you have a dream in your heart, you most definitely won’t want to miss what Lana had to share.
Betsy Leonidas is a 15 year marketing strategist turned stationery designer & online gift shop owner, mother of four, who is obsessed with empowering women and inspiring them to be kinder to one another. She is the ultimate girls girl who uses her platform to inspire women on any and all topics we’d chat about over a glass of wine. To learn more follow @elizabeth_in_kind on Instagram or @elizabethinkind on Twitter.