• Distinctive beverage program
• Funding/ownership change
The name Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern might conjure an image of a dimly lit gin joint, but in reality it belongs to a 15-unit upscale-casual chain with plans to open 50 more locations over the next five years.
Founder and president Gary Callicoat developed Columbus, Ohio-based Rusty Bucket in 2002 while working as a general manager for his mentor, multiconcept operator Cameron Mitchell. The brand was conceived as “a grown-up place to bring the kids,” combining scratch-made comfort foods with an environment that was upscale but still approachable for families and sports fans.
Recent systemwide upgrades include a new prototype, menu additions, and an overhauled beverage program with new cocktails and bartenders put through cicerone training to handle more than 80 available beers, including 24 on tap.
“People are wrapped around the bar, but you could be there with your kids,” Mitchell said.
The 15 locations, which operate in affluent towns and suburbs in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, have average annual volumes of $2.8 million in about 4,500 square feet.
Callicoat runs Rusty Bucket as a company separate from Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, which provides back-office support for a 5-percent management fee. Mitchell and his partners are part owners of Rusty Bucket, and the group would receive 25 percent of the sale price if Rusty Bucket were ever acquired.
Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of Columbus-based WD Partners, said the family-friendly and sports bar elements woven into the upscale-casual tavern positioning would help Rusty Bucket travel well.
“They have positioned their brand to work well against a pretty broad array of use occasions,” Lombardi said. “They’re used heavily at lunch, and during big sporting events, they’re thought of as the place to go. It’s the same with a late dinner with friends.”
Callicoat and Mitchell said Rusty Bucket’s “aggressive but methodical” growth plans over the next five years are realistic thanks to their decision to pull back on expansion during the recession to improve service and the menu.
“In those years of suspended growth, we focused on our four walls, everything from operations to finance,” Callicoat said. “We were fortunate to focus our energy on the right spot at the right time. It was a really big undertaking for us.”
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