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Seaside harmony that leaves the ego at the door - Brophy Bros. secrets to restaurant success

With picturesque harbor locations in both Santa Barbara and Ventura, Brophy Bros. is the epitome of locally owned. Run by the Bennett family since 1986, each seaside location offers an idyllic harbor backdrop and literally gives off a non-pretentious, place-to-be-seen vibe.

As Brophy Bros. prepares to celebrate its 30th anniversary, Co-Owner and Director of Operations, John Bennett, says the energy of these restaurants began with a passion for the food, culture and people of the region.

“This is an experience. The food is good, but we are not a culinary mecca. For us, what stands out is the relationship with our customers – both locals and visitors alike,” says Bennett, who juggles ownership of sister restaurants, Benchmark Eatery, Farmer Boy, Arch Rock, and On The Alley in Santa Barbara – other tastes of local culture and simple food blended together to form a distinct dining experience.

According to John, a massive piece to their success is their loyal, hard-working staff. “They remember our customer’s names,” he says. “And they remember what regular customers drink. The consistency is in the value and the service, and that all began 30 years ago.” Thankfully, John and his management team don’t have to worry about training new servers very often due to the fun, family-like atmosphere they’ve created and work hard to maintain. Bennett estimates that 25 percent of his staff have worked there for more than 12 years.

Seafood done right
When it comes to fresh fish, Brophy Bros.’ proximity to the harbor not only gives patrons amazing views but also a sense that they are dining on fresh-from-the-ocean catches. And, for the most part, they are.

Their award-winning clam chowder – literally made from the same recipe since their inception – has been made by the exact same chef, Sergio Ramirez, who created it almost 30 years ago. In fact, Brophy’s is so low-key, John even says they’ve been known to give out the recipe. “You can always divulge the recipe. We just leave a few things out. The real secret is in the thickening – we use a roux, not a cornstarch.”

Not every seafood menu item is fresh from the harbor, though. They purchase their succulent jumbo shrimp for their extremely popular shrimp scampi from Jordano’s Foodservice and sauté it with white wine, lemon, garlic and a dash of tomato. Delicious!

The experience
“I am proud to say that when you come to Brophy’s, you’ll encounter a unique dining experience. Our landmark proximity to the coast means the views are second to none. I consider our atmosphere ‘forced interaction.’ Because the restaurant footprint is small, it forces you to interact with everyone,” he says, suggesting that even their double-sided bars coax the conversation on between strangers. “Sure we serve homemade, New England-style seafood with over 1,000 customers a day, but it’s more about feeling special and that you are part of this experience. We’re all in it together.”

Bennett says they strive to consider and understand the interconnectedness between themselves, the community and their vendors, calling it an extremely interactive partnership.

“Culturally, Jordano’s is a perfect fit for us. We’ve had a relationship with our Account Executive, Jeff Vinion, for over 25 years. Everything is more seamless when you work with someone local. Our corporate structures are very much alike, too – creating jobs is very much a part of both the Brophy Bros. and Jordano’s cultures,” Bennett says.

Since the very beginning, Brophy Bros. has been a family-oriented atmosphere. The Brophy name has survived not because they follow industry trends, but because they are humble.

“We stay current and relevant, of course, but we’re not ‘trending’ - because trending is not timeless,” Bennett confesses. “To stay current, you have to meet the customer where they are and you do that with uniform changes, small menu layouts and shifting the music every decade. But, you don’t change who you are. You don’t chase what’s hot...because that always cools.”

A ‘green’ system of belief, Bennett says Brophy’s follows a more sustainable means of business. They take part in Santa Barbara’s Sustainable Seafood Program, and were the first business to utilize the Food Scraps composting program. Though their restaurants’ space and blueprint is small, they deliver high volumes to these programs. To Bennett, that speaks volumes for what others could be doing to implement similar programs suggesting that if Brophy’s can make an impact with the high level of table and food turns, any restaurant can do it.

The building of a brand
A very noticeable part of any brand isn’t what is visible, but what is felt. For Bennett it is a pride in serving.

“You have to love people; you have to love to serve them. If you are in it for your ego or to be served by your clientele then you are in it for all the wrong reasons,” says Bennett who believes he serves his management who, in turn, serve the 400 employees who work for them. Branching into a handful of other aforementioned business initiatives, Bennett seeks out new opportunities that give the people who have his same passion and humility a chance to shine. What he says keeps him up at night is sustaining the businesses so that his employees have jobs. With a very genuine heart, Bennett is always intentional with his new endeavors.

“When I see that someone who works for us has a good heart and integrity, I’m excited to put them in front of new opportunities. This business is about taking a risk with people. Sometimes you don’t always win, but when you do it feels good.”

He’ll admit that taking a risk with people may have started with his own pathway. A success story with recovery, the journey takes discipline and getting humbled.

“I always bring on people who are smarter than me. When I take on new opportunities, I don’t build them to be about me. In fact, I try to organize my way out of a job,” Bennett admits. “If I am doing it right, then I am putting the people, the brand and the culture in a position that over time makes me irrelevant.” A genuine commitment to service is what Bennett strives for and achieves day to day.

For more information about Brophy Bros., visit www.brophybros.com or find them on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

By Micholyn Fajen, PCG Marketing & Kiersta Halseth, Jordano’s Foodservice