Working Lunch with Christopher Artinian

Back Article Jul 1, 2010 By Douglas Curley

It was the end of 2008 when the economic dominoes began to fall: Lehman Brothers was upside-down, housing crashed, the stock market swooned, banks faltered and the domestic car industry all but went belly up. It wasn’t the best of times to be a high-end American steakhouse.

“For most businesses, the first thing to be lopped from the internal budget was [travel and entertainment],” says Christopher Artinian, president and CEO of Morton’s Restaurant Group Inc. “So there we [were] in 2009 with very little revenue flowing in from our Monday through Thursday T&Es. That’s pretty much our bread and butter.”

Because of the economy, high-end restaurants throughout the country have either closed or moved toward less expensive comfort food menus. But as an institution that prides itself on quality products, impeccable service and memorable ambience, Morton’s was not about to compromise.

“Don’t get me wrong, 2009 was a brutal year for all of us in the industry. But as a company, we stayed true to who we are. Not one move we made affected the guest or had a negative impact on the Morton’s experience,” he says. “We spent 31 years building this world-class brand. We did not want to do anything that might jeopardize it.”

According to Artinian, that corporate attitude is beginning to pay dividends. In December, more clients expensing lunch were reported at Morton’s throughout the country. First quarter 2010 slowly began to outpace 2009: January up 1 percent, February up 4 percent, March up 4.6 percent. As the second quarter came to a close, he says, the upward trend is holding.

While steadfast in its menu and branding, the Morton’s Sacramento presence has changed dramatically. In November 2008 it moved from its original Downtown Plaza speak-easy location to the ground floor of the US Bank Tower on Capitol Mall. The new locale features a large open bar, big windows and a patio.

“The new look seems to be attracting more female clientele,” Artinian says. “All our indicators say the economy is turning. We’re seeing people get back in front of their clients again. After all, you can only get so far with emails.”



Side Dish

Occupation: Artinian was named president and CEO of Morton’s Restaurant Group Inc. in February. Prior to this appointment, he served as vice president of East Coast operations. The restaurant group has 76 restaurants and more than 4,100 employees.

Personal: Artinian, 40, has been residing in Glen Head, N.Y., with his wife, Mary, and their five children, who will all be moving to Chicago this summer. He began his restaurant career 15 years ago as a Morton’s pantry cook. His wife operates her own baking business, and his mother, Marianne, recently introduced her personal recipe for carrot cake to the Morton’s menu.

Diet: “Eating at Morton’s is as healthy as you get, with our smaller portion offerings, fresh produce and seafood. I’m living proof. Over the past three years, I’ve lost 160 pounds eating at Morton’s four days a week.”

Dinner: Signature cut New York strip steak served with a center-cut iceberg salad and blue cheese dressing, baked potato and sautéed fresh spinach with button mushrooms. The meal was accompanied by a bottle of 2007 Sonoma Huckleberry Snodgrass Cherry Pie Pinot Noir.

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