Bill Bateman's Bistro Celebrates Silver Anniversary
By Peter Crispino
When the first Bill Batemans Bistro opened in 1987, the tiny restaurant on Harford Road in Baltimore County held just 44 seats and featured a 400-square-foot kitchen. Now, 25 years later, the once tiny bar and grill has evolved into an 18-store franchise and has become one of the trademark restaurants in the region.
We never had a business plan, said Marc Loundas, co-founder of the franchise. We never sat down and said, Okay, were going to do A, B and C. It was an organic growth over time and we were just as hands-on as possible along the way.
Over the past two and a half decades, the size and number of restaurants have changed dramatically, but that hands-on approach has not. Marc Loundas and Bill Bateman still control the day-to-day operations, with Loundas handling administrative duties and Bateman overseeing everything in the kitchens.
The two have controlled virtually every aspect of the franchise from store expansion to sauce recipes and have remained remarkably effective business partners over the last 25 years.
Its like a good marriage. Youve got to work at it. It doesnt come easy, Loundas noted. We all have our idiosyncrasies, but were fortunate to have success and it makes it a lot easier when things are going well, just like a marriage. In return, Bateman joked, Whatever Marc says, I say yes.
Their chemistry has carried the franchise into a new era of the restaurant industry, one dominated by cutthroat competition unforeseen two decades ago.
When we started, there werent a lot of people doing what we did. There were no Five Guys or Buffalo Wild Wings. If you wanted a burger, you would have to go to Wendys or some other fast food place. If you wanted wings, you would have to go to a bar, which didnt always work for teenagers or families. Now you look around and everywhere you go has wings, and there are plenty of places out there with good burgers, explained Loundas.
When we started, wings cost 19 cents a pound, said Bateman, noting that the price has increased by tenfold over the years for their trademark product. On average, the Batemans franchise sells 80,000 wings each month.
To overcome the increased costs and market-saturation, the partners have stayed ahead of the curve by opening express locations, adding new menu items, and bottling their famous wing sauce and selling it on supermarket shelves. They also decided to drastically cut back on their mass media advertising, with the exception of their partnership with the Baltimore Ravens.
We could go out and buy cheaper quality food and have better profit and sometimes its hard (not to) when we look at the numbers but we have the best wings in town, so we decided to keep our standards the same and cut back on the advertising. People appreciate that, and we have a lot of customer loyalty, said Loundas.
One reason behind that loyalty is the emphasis on customer service Bateman imparts on his staff. Since the restaurant opened 25 years ago, the goal has been to leave each customer feeling completely satisfied.
We look to treat our customer as a friend or a next-door neighbor, said Bateman. Weve got to work harder today to keep that customer because theres so much competition. Were not cookie-cutter. We have to stand out with our customer service and our food.
No location has attracted a wait staff to meet those goals as consistently and successfully as Severna Park, according to the restaurants owners.
The Severna Park location has been really good. The best thing is the help we get its way better than the other stores, explained Loundas. We get a lot of kids from Severna Park High and thats just the easiest store to staff with quality people.
As a way of thanking the customers for their support over the past 25 years, wings will cost just 25 cents a piece on August 25.
We cant thank our customers enough for the past 25 years, said Bateman. We love our customers. If they walk out happy, were happy.