Prime 47 is one of downtown Indy’s top upscale steakhouses. With a second location in Carmel, and a third recently opened in Cincinnati, we spoke with Prime’s Regional Executive Chef, Jake Burgess, about expansion, the state of his industry and trends.
The investment group plans to expand the Prime 47 name. It had the same feel and vibe of the [first] restaurant – huge windows… you’re looking outside the whole time.
Pictured Above & Below Right: A long table view from Prime’s mezzanine and historic preserved windows.
How many restaurants are you looking to open in the future?
We’ll stay in the Midwest for now for the next 5 years, then, further west/southwest –southwest is where it’s at.
What first attracted you to the culinary field?
I grew up on the east side of Indy in Fortville and started washing dishes at a pizza joint at 15 in 2001. The oven guy called in one night and I got to work the ovens, and that’s when it changed. I majored in Food & Hospitality [at Ball State], but then didn’t think I’d like to take the corporate G.M. route, so I went to work for the best restaurant I could. I did a stint in Georgia, came back, worked for Mo’s, [former Prime owner group] then at Capital Grille, Sensu and on to my dream job with Prime 47.
When did you fall in love with making food?
At 17, when I was managing the pizza place. I came up with some new pizza and styles of pizza. Some of my ideas were put on the menu, and I was really excited about it. But, I started really learning culinary when I went upscale. The best words of advice given to me were, ‘You just have to engulf yourself.’
Pictured Right: Chef Burgess carefully drains bacon grease to reserve for making future stock. Cooking bacon on parchment keeps the bacon in place for easier draining, a kitchen tip he says home cooks can use too.
What do you see as your biggest challenges now?
As most of the restaurants felt with the weather in the Midwest last winter, it was hard to get people out of their houses while prices on protein and fish were going through the roof. We’re heavily convention based downtown; the convention base is down 30% for the year in Indy. Some of the annual conventions have also stopped returning due to cutbacks.
How do you manage prices?
We get steaks in whole and fish in whole and come up with 3 or 4 dishes out of it. We can make fish stock out of bones, etc., for soups and specials. In the past, we wouldn’t have a use for it.
It’s all about “Nose to Tail” now, isn’t it?
Yes. We take stuff that 10-15 years ago was deemed unusable, or nobody wanted.
How easy or hard do you think it’s been for customers to accept that?
Social media is a double-edged sword – but people are now intrigued by it. When people “like” on social media it helps others to want to try new things. You can have some fun with it too.
Are you an advocate of social media?
I think social is huge – we rely on it a lot – it’s helped a lot of people to change their minds. 15 years ago, there were no phones allowed at work, now we encourage the staff to check in on their accounts and let people know they’re at work. It’s free advertising! It’s changed the way we do business.
Pictured Above & Below Right: Plated Tuna & Wagyu. Prime’s table side fresh meat presentation.
How’s ownership dealing with transparency?
They’re getting used to it – you don’t want to be behind or too far ahead. You don’t want to be New York in Indy right now – they say we’re 5 years behind Chicago and 10 from New York – but some things today, wouldn’t have flown then, and can now.
What do you see as the next big trend?
Farm to Table –there are a lot of places where that’s all they do …if we can just get corporate into that. There’s a lot of product I’m buying from farmers 15-20 miles away from me now.
What’s the difference between Farm to Table vs. Buying Local?
We intertwine both. We buy the freshest and the best we can buy. So, if my beef prices go up, I have to raise menu price, because I’m not going to sacrifice for grade.
That brings up another good point; how do you feel about the way many restaurants misuse the word, “prime” on their menus?
Prime marketing… Prime Steakhouse has just one prime steak on their menu –a lot of their stuff is choice. Anytime I get a deal; my customers do. I have a great deal on Wagyu right now, better than some of the others, and we pass that on.
Which steaks are really prime? If there are several same steaks on the menu, ask; research before you go in to compare prices.
Our 8 oz. filet is the top seller and Ribeye, which is handcut in-house and a little cheaper, if you’re into marbling. The 14 oz. bone in filet is hot right now too. We also have a 30 oz. Wagyu Tomahawk –it’s known as, “Indy’s most expensive steak”, people split it 30% of the time.
Do you see a difference in the amount of food consumed by customers?
I see carbs going down, lots of steamed vegetables and fresh produce going up… and fish going up. I also had a customer in here recently who ordered the 30 oz. Wagyu, with sides and had dessert too.
Do you think the Steakhouse trend will change?
I hope not. Indy is really booming; there are more coming in. I don’t see any change in the near future, but over time trends happen.
What would you do if steakhouses went out of vogue?
We are a big bourbon steak feel – we’d have to do some quick market research to see where you can take it. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.
Our steakhouse has the best services in the state; we are very interactive –we like to put on a show. We’re “fine dining”, but we like to say, ‘fun dining.’ The martinis are shaken at the table every time, we have the meat presentation and we wish our customers “happy birthday” with a personalized piano rendition played especially for them.