Google Peterson’s Restaurant and you’ll see a first page return of four and five star reviews.The Indianapolis steak and seafood hotspot is well known for their ambiance, premium service and “superb” food.
Peterson’s Executive Chef, Ricky Hatfield, credits part of their success to the strong team they have in place. Hatfield is a young looking 35 year old pro who did his first cook at the ripe old age of 8.
How did you get your start?
I started off with a small independent, working on the line and going to school while I got my degree.
I worked at Bone Fish, worked under Tony Hanslits, (now Culinary Director at the Chef’s Academy in Indy), for McCormick & Schmick’s and then had the opportunity to be part of an open for a Weber Grill as Sous-chef.
When I finished school, I went to Pennsylvania and worked at Sullivan’s Steakhouse. At that time, the plans were to move my family there, but we couldn’t sell our home. Just as the distance was becoming too hard on my family, the opportunity with Peterson’s came about. I came here for the Sous-chef position about two and half years ago and then was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to become their Executive Chef.
We are in the top 25 restaurants in the City now. My day starts at 10, and I take Sundays off – except for inventory once a month. I think it’s really important for families to understand the time involved, but you also have to manage your time to be with them too.
When did you know you wanted to be a chef?
I started in industrial sales after high school, but I always had a part-time restaurant job on the side – always had my foot in it. I didn’t want to sell nuts and bolts the rest of my life.
We lived far outside of the metropolitan area when I was growing up. We always had a garden and family meals at home. We didn’t go out for dinner. After school, I’d watch shows like, The Galloping Gourmet, Frugal Chefs, Great Chefs of the World. I never watched cartoons.
What was the first thing you remember cooking as a kid?
I was in the second grade when I first started making food for other people– it was potato leek soup. That’s still my go to favorite soup today.
What do you like most about being an Executive Chef?
Having the respect – finally, after 15 years of being in the business – and the ability to create food for people to enjoy and be remembered for it. Along with that, it’s always about the food and camaraderie in the kitchen.
I built a team around myself that I love to work with, so it’s not stressful. It takes time [to build a team]. Sometimes you get lucky with the first hire. You have to test people out, find the right personality. We’re at a level where you have to have the skill level to be accepted.
You’ve worked both sides of the fence, what are the differences between corporate and independent kitchens?
Kitchens are more regimented in the corporate environment. You have less creative influence, unless you’re developing for the company. You’re also always putting fires out. There are Chef/General Managers – I’m lucky to work with a general manager.
The owner of the restaurant, Joe Peterson, is a highly successful businessman outside of the hospitality industry. Your website says it was his dream to build this restaurant.
Yes, it was his dream. His company, Crown Technology, is right across the street. We take care of the restaurant for him. I have gardens over there too. I’d love to help keep this restaurant going for the next 15 years…
What type of community work is Peterson’s involved in?
We are currently putting together a Peterson’s team to work for Habitat for Humanity in Hamilton County, and we do event fund raisers every year for organizations like Cystic Fibrosis, and others. I’ve always been actively involved with Second Helpings too – they serve over 3,000 meals daily [to those in need].
How does the Indianapolis market compare to a market like Chicago or New York?
Indy is a really changing market. A lot of independents had been pushed out because they didn’t have the marketing to compete with large chains. That attitude is changing now, and there’s a new independent trend emerging here.
Across the street is Indianapolis, we are Fishers, on this side. We’ve grown from a population of 7,000 to 78,000 in the last twelve years. It can be tough with a lot of openings popping up around you; we’re lucky to be on the north side of Indy.
What other challenges do you face?
People don’t have the expense accounts they used to; now it’s more like, “I’ll pay for it IF it’s done well”. It’s a hurdle for independents to remain competitive with pricing because they don’t have the buying power. We are only open for dinner and closed on Sundays.
How valuable are reservations to your business?
It used to be more consistent, we could expect more reservations coming in on a certain day. We average, 75 % reserved and 25% walk-ins. We also do special occasions. There are usually no kids at night, except when we do Easter and Mother’s Day brunch.
That brings to mind a recent issue in the news; what do think about the “Alinea Baby Scandal”?
The question of justifying price relates to the demographic you’re going for. You have to have guidelines for carrying it out. You have to learn where to pick the battle, but if it were me, I think I would have eaten the no cancel policy.
Has Peterson’s ever had a crying baby problem?
We opened up for Sunday brunch last Spring and never had a problem with kids. Everyone knew that kids were going to be there, you kind of take that into consideration because you know they’ll act up. Brunch is not a higher level experience – very different than the Alinea situation and spending that much.
What happened with brunch?
It didn’t work out for us. On a weekly basis, there was too much cost involved putting that out – 1,000’s of dollars just to open up – you need at least 150 people to break even. We’ll stick with special occasions, fund raising events and Monday/Thursday specials.
Right now, is a bad time for most restaurants. People don’t want to go out in the cold weather. We work with Order In, a restaurant service website that delivers meals. It’s a good alternative for times like this.
What’s it like there over the 500 weekend?
There’s a big spike then – it also depends on how good of a relationship you have with the hotels. The volume has definitely gone down in recent years and spread out across a bigger area.
If you could change anything at Peterson’s, what would it be?
There are always new things in the industry that you may want to add to improve upon. There are little nuances we are always working on but, if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.