Chris Nightingale, Dickinson Cameron’s restaurant executive, is known for his candor, dry humor, and ability to stay focused. Alanna Veach, his protégé and Project Manager describes Chris as intense. “Really?” Chris responds somewhat surprised. “Maybe it’s because of my military background.”
Chris spent eight years in the US Army before working his way through the ranks on the owner representative side for various restaurant groups, namely Island’s Fine Burgers and Drinks, a 60-unit casual dining chain. In 2007, Chris partnered with DCC on 2 successful projects from the client side, and definitely clicked with the team. DCC offered Chris a Project Manager position, with the hopes that he could better establish the company with restaurant clientele in the future. And that he did.
The start of Chris’s career at DCC came with some challenges, including the task to complete six Apple stores in just two years.
“For me, it was a huge learning experience. Because retail and restaurants were completely different. And going to the retail side was definitely different people, different requirements, and different expectations… just a different experience. We were doing Apple’s and other smaller projects – and then we finally did our first restaurant, which was the Yard House in Santana Row.”
Yard House Santana Row would be one of Chris’s most impressive achievements. The multi-level project came with very complex mechanical and plumbing logistics. The structure spanned seven floors and seven different tenants, in which Chris and his team had to navigate exhaust piping through. The restaurant had multiple dining levels, and a below-ground equipment and control unit space. Still, the end result was an on schedule restaurant with minimal change orders, and an “A plus” rating by the clients, something that Chris takes great pride in.
Over the years, through Chris’ dedication and relationship nurturing, restaurant work began to increase. And from 2016 – 2018, restaurant work doubled in volume. In January of 2019, the team expanded to include another project manager and project engineer.
“Right now our goal is to develop our team internally. This is the first time I’ve had the opportunity to have more than just me… Now we have more people that can run the work, so we want to focus on developing a strong team and take on more projects.”
So why is DCC building up such a great record of success with restaurants?
An important element to success with restaurants is competent and talented superintendents with restaurant experience. This may be one of the most important factors when servicing clients. Chris notes that it is critical that the superintendent can field calls from the client, as restaurant owners tend to be more involved with the process than on the retail side.
Another key factor Chris mentions is the schedule. Restaurants have thousands of dollars of assets coming in on the day of turnover. It is critical that the team is out of the way completely on that designated day and delivers the entire space ready for fixtures, supplies, and ready for training to begin.
When speaking about DCC’s key advantages, Chris is resolute in his response, “We are more flexible; how we do things, and how we structure things. We can make adjustments on the fly. Bend not break. We are more forgiving with owner contracts, fewer markups. More accountability. I’m always available and it comes down to me. I’m the bottom line. With other contractors, there are so many different people involved. So many different layers. Here we have minimal layers of communication.”
Chris has a unique advantage coming from the owner’s side. He knows what the internal pressures are for his clients and can anticipate weeks ahead what they will need to be done and what they will be looking for, especially in the critical turnover period.
As the restaurant industry begins to slowly open back up to full capacity, the Restaurant team anticipates a lot of steady opportunity and growth. Lifestyle centers are replacing malls and niche neighborhood live-work centers are replacing sprawling retail centers. More and more, people are yearning for unique experiences, to get back to normal and that especially includes the dining side. For DCC, this kind of work is our focus – full service in line projects with high-end touches are what DCC does best. A crucial aspect to the continued success of the restaurant team is fostering strong relationships with our restaurant clients – as almost all new opportunities come from referrals.
When asked what key lessons he has learned over the years, Chris responded “Relax. Rely on your team members. Everyone has the same goal. It will all work out”.