Talking With: Randall Goldman, CEO of Charleston’s Patrick Properties Hospitality Group

Randall Goldman oversees daily operations and community outreach for four revitalized historic properties, including Fish restaurant and an historic plantation. Together these four properties host over 500 special events a year. Goldman, who has more than 15 years leadership experience and a staff that has grown during this tenure from 11 to 140 full-time employees under his direction, is currently serving as board chair of the 2016 Charleston Wine + Food festival and on The James Beard Foundation National Advisory Board.

What are some of the ways you try to maintain strong properties, while also growing and expanding?

Patrick Properties Hospitality Group manages four revitalized historic properties in Charleston – Fish Restaurant, William Aiken House, Lowndes Grove Plantation and American Theater. For over two decades, I’ve worked to restore these distressed heirlooms into national monuments of preservation. They currently serve as highly-sought-after backdrops to premier Charleston events, including more than 500 weddings per year. The transformation of these properties has proven instrumental in revitalizing a wave of new business and development in the city.

Randall Goldman
Randall Goldman

We’ve certainly grown and expanded in my time at PPHG. To do this while maintaining these properties, I’ve grown my staff from 11 to over 100 full-time employees. We have a team of sales and events managers who do an excellent job of not only running day-to-day operations, but running bigger, prominent events benefitting the Charleston community. In 2013, we hosted the James Beard Awards nominee announcement and the Master Chef of France (MCF) and French Culinary Academy (ACF) North American conference and in 2014 Charleston’s first Trash Fish dinner in collaboration with Chefs Collaborative.

To maintain our properties and host events on this level, it takes teamwork and a focus on building relationships with national culinary and local tourism organizations and other local chefs/restaurants and venues in town on ways we can mutually benefit each other and the city of Charleston.

Do you have tips/techniques you have found useful when hiring and working to retain staff? 

My main job is to take care of my team so that they can take care of our clients. To retain our tenured staff – especially with so many that make up the millennial generation – that means cultivating a team culture that makes them feel valued and a relevant and a personalized benefit package that goes beyond a 401k and health care.

One perk I am able to offer is unique career paths that I can offer in an independently owned/operated restaurant that aren’t available in a chain. For instance, someone may start out at Fish in the front of the house, but decide that they really like special events and then we can explore an opportunity in this area of our company.

The opportunity for professional development and continuing education is also so important in keeping staff motivated and challenged, so we invest in industry conferences, training programs and culinary certifications.

In the interview process I look for “red flags” that alert me that this person may not have employment longevity. Have they done some research and know our organization as a whole, or do they just want a job, any job? I ask about the unique strengths they will bring to our team. What do they see will be their biggest challenge if they work for us and how will they address it?  I ask for some words or phrases work colleagues would use to describe them.

What would you say have been your biggest challenges in the industry?

One of my biggest challenges is staying relevant, particularly in a top tourist and wedding destination like Charleston where new restaurants and venues are popping up on a continual basis. The needs of diners are changing and people are always looking for what’s new.

We continually find ways to make ourselves stand out in the crowd. We just introduced a new brunch menu at Fish and make sure to host special dinners and events on a regular basis. Our fabulous events team also stays on top of wedding trends and amenities we can offer our brides and grooms. We are lucky to have a unique niche – although the city has many Southern restaurants, Fish can offers visitors an appealing change from biscuits and gravy and shrimp and grits.

What are the advantages/disadvantages for a restaurant being involved in the community where it is located?

Serving as board chair for the Charleston Wine + Food festival, and on other boards/committees is a big time commitment but making connections and giving back should be top of list for all business leaders. However, I have to watch that I don’t say “yes” to too many community activities. You get asked to do so many things with great organizations, but there is only so much time to give fully to each commitment. I decide where my focus and efforts will be and then stick with those. I also feel it’s important to pick areas you and your company have strong ties in where you provide the most benefit.

On the advantage side of the equation, I have always felt that it was extremely important to invest in the community that supports your restaurant and establishments. Giving back makes a statement that you want a strong, vibrant, caring city and are willing to do your part to make it happen.

What is your typical day like? 

Again, I’m fortunate to have found the right people to be the drivers so that I can delegate and let them navigate the daily operations while I focus on caring for the company and serving our neighbors. I believe it’s important to give back to the community that gives us so much, so my role is to be that go-to person for anything from the neighborhood association fundraiser to city ordinance hearings on mobility and transportation. I’m very proud to be past chair of both the Local Development Corporation – a privately funded micro-lending agency that provides gap loans to small local businesses – and the board of directors for the Hospitality & Tourism Management School at the College of Charleston.

In your view, what are critical issues facing the restaurant industry in 2016? 

I think the pros and cons of Danny Meyer’s “no tipping” philosophy will definitely be discussed by restaurant owners and staff across the country. In 2016 there will still be the challenge of finding good, highly trained individuals for restaurant kitchens. Competition for the best people will continue to be fierce. Restaurants need to find the best ways to consistently train their teams to deliver exceptional customer service. The best food in the country can’t overcome poor service.

Finally, every restaurant needs to be able to regularly offer something new to keep people coming in, whether this is special events, holiday offerings, or new dishes and cocktails. But at the same time these need to be a “fit” with the restaurant and not be something new just for the sake of newness. And they need to work with the teams in the front and back of the house, so that overall food and service is not compromised.