Portfolio of Kimberly Johans

A collection of articles created during my stint as a journalist at The Macau Daily Times

Beefing up the menu the Morton’s way

Posted by Kimberly on September 5, 2007

By Kimberly Johans
Published in The Macau Daily Times
September 5, 2007, page 2 (1,123 words)

Don’t eat lunch. That’s probably the first piece of advice the staff at Morton’s Macau will offer to potential guests. Looking at the size of their portions of beef, it’s easy to see why.
The menu serves up several options, including a 24-ounce Porterhouse and a 20-ounce New York Sirloin.
And yes, all the beef is flown over from the United States, flying first class via Northwest Airlines.
“We fly our beef, lobster and oyster from the US fresh. The beef arrives here quicker in Macau than in San Francisco because it goes by truck,” said Klaus Fritsch, Morton’s co-founder and vice chairman.
But the beef isn’t the only topic of conversation at the restaurant, located at the newly opened Venetian.
One’s eye naturally gravitates to the centre of the room, where a wine cellar worth boasting about stands.
“It’s a temperature-controlled wine room with a couple of thousand bottles, said Thomas Baldwin, Morton’s Chairman, CEO and President of the company that bought out Mr Fritsch when the concept was only nine restaurants strong.
Today, Macau sees that total go to 75.
“The depth of the wine list is very broad and we can go from relatively inexpensive wines to very expensive wines. It’s a big feature and a focal point in the restaurant,” he added.
And the most expensive, one had to ask, happens to sell at a princely sum of MOP24,000.
“The funny thing is we sell those things!” added Mr Fritsch.
Alcohol represents 29 percent of the restaurants revenue, where two thirds of that is typically wine consumed by the bottle at the table.
Currently the restaurant holds about 250 varieties of wine but as Mr Baldwin added, “our goal is to move that up as availability becomes better here.”
And it’s not only the standard-sized bottles that are available for consumption. Bottle sizes can go up to six litres with the cost of those being MOP11,000 each.
Then there are the 32 special wine vaults reserved for special guests who choose to have their own wines kept on site, and a few long time guests from Hong Kong and Singapore have already chosen theirs.
These concepts are uniquely Morton’s and have been a tradition since the opening of the first site in Chicago.
“We’re basically an old fashioned steakhouse. My father and I opened Morton’s 29 years ago,” said Mr Fritsch.
“The landlord came to us with an empty basement place.
“So we looked around and despite Chicago being this city of meat and steaks and everything else, there were only two or three steakhouses so we decided to make the best steakhouse using the best steak money can buy within a very simple, fun way.
“The baked potato is like a football and has to weigh at least 18 ounces,” he said, adding that “there’s nothing small, including me!”
According to Mr Fritsch, people claimed they were “crazy”, that they were “never going to make it.”
Yet the key to their success lay in simplicity. There is no such thing as a butter or paring knife. Simply a steak knife.
“We don’t need a butter knife. This is a steakhouse!” said Mr Fritsch, adding that it’s “nothing fancy. Even the china, we don’t buy Villeroy and Boch.”
And the menu hasn’t changed either. In fact, stressed Mr Fritsch, “we actually never toy with out menus.
“We are what we are, otherwise you lose your identity,” he added.
And its that consistency that the chain is well known for. That means if a guest goes to a Morton’s in Cincinnati, Singapore or Macau, they will get the same experience.
That consistency was recently recognised earlier this year by the fact that all of Morton’s restaurants across the world were honoured with the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence yet again.
“We work hard to enhance the wine listing and have the depth and the breadth of the wine list so we’re really pleased and honoured to receive the award for every one of our restaurants for so many years running,” said Mr Baldwin.
And it’s their presence in Asia over the past ten years that has prompted the Macau opening.
“The markets have been extraordinarily strong, the economies have grown and the guest, extraordinarily sophisticated. So we think this opportunity is really appropriate,” said Mr Baldwin.
He added that as the company looks forward, their vision is to open several more Morton’s across Asia.
Currently Shanghai and Beijing have caught their eye but there is also the possibility of Morton’s in the Middle East, Taipei ad Kuala Lumpur.
Europe isn’t currently on that list simply due to the embargo the European Union has placed on US beef, but, said Mr Fritsch, “if they lifted the embargo we would go to Europe.”
As for Australia, “we looked at Australia and they’re very proud of their own beef,” he said.
One would have thought that these numerous projects would have taken up what free time was had by Mr Fritsch. Yet, after a period of three years, a Morton’s “bible” was born recently.
“A lot of people called or wrote in for recipes. Then we started to give some away and finally we thought, give them the whole thing,” said Mr Fritsch.
“Because if you’re a smart cook, then somehow you’ll figure it out anyway. The competition will figure it out,” he said, adding that what they never figured out was that “we buy the better beef. We only have two suppliers for 29 years for meat.”
Mr Baldwin added that “over the years we’ve received so many enquiries from the press that we finally decided to respond.”
And the possibility of a second cookbook does exist.
“We’re playing with that idea right now,” said Mr Fritsch adding that it would perhaps focus on the regions of some of the restaurants including South America, Asia and California.
So with a restaurant chain that is so popular, it’s listed on the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE:MRT) there’s no danger of the chain turning into a franchise.
“We have no plans to ever franchise,” said Mr Baldwin, adding that “we’ve had many enquiries and opportunities to do so but we take pride in the fact that we have absolute control of our operations.”
That means, according to Mr Baldwin, that if a change is made, it can be implemented across the board overnight.
“We believe that the risk [of franchise] to the brand and the guest experience is too great,” he added.
It’s comforting words, for those who have perhaps been frequenting a Morton’s over the nearly three decades gone by.
It means that the next three will, quite possibly, bring little change. Surely worth breaking open a bottle of wine for.

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