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Having words with Edie Ames, chief operating officer, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group

For Edie Ames, a 30-year foodservice veteran and incoming chief operating officer for Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group, the secret to success is simple: It’s the people.

Ames, who will assume her new post July 14, will oversee the 2,500 employees of the 20-unit Sullivan’s and the eight-unit Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse brands, which had annual net sales of $76 million and $84 million, respectively. She takes over the position from chief executive Mark S. Mednansky, who was serving in both roles. Ames most recently was president of Morton’s The Steakhouse in Chicago and will relocate to Dallas for the position.

In her new role, Ames plans to apply her people-first philosophy, which includes frequent face-to-face chats with employees and hands-on training in the restaurants.

The upscale steakhouse segment has taken a hit in recent years as both consumers and corporations cut back on high-end dining, but Ames says the mood is slowly lifting. Her goal now, she said, is to help poise Del Frisco’s and Sullivan’s for future growth.

Education: College of DuPage in Glen Ellyn, Ill.

Birth place: Chicago

Personal: married, with two dogs

Hobbies: traveling, running, reading, spending time with the dogs, cooking

What drew you to this position at Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group?

[It] was how they define their culture. It’s employee-first. That completely defines my philosophy as well. [Del Frisco’s and Sullivan’s] are in the growth stage and are looking for someone to grow the brands and put some structure behind what they already have.

What will be your first order of business when you step into the role next month?

First, I’ll spend the majority of my time getting to know the people, getting to know the two concepts. I’m looking forward to training in the kitchen and really getting to know what makes Del Frisco’s and Sullivan’s work. I’ve always taken the approach of spending the majority of my time in the restaurants. Where I truly come alive is in the restaurants.

How do you put your employee-first philosophy into action?

I do what I call “quality circles,” where I sit down with hourly employees and talk to them about what they love about coming to work, how to make it better and what they hear from guests. At the beginning people thought, “What is she doing? Is she looking for dirt?” But I don’t have an agenda. If there’s something that should change and could change, we’ll make that decision. If you hear something once, you may not make a change. But if you hear it 30 times, you’d be an idiot not to make a change. It makes your life so easy because they tell you what to focus on. And [managers] see how excited the staff is when they feel they’re part of the solution. 

High-end steakhouse chains have taken a hit as luxury meals and corporate dining waned. What’s the state of the 
segment now?

The good news is that things are moving in the right direction, slowly but surely. I don’t want to overuse the phrase “cautiously optimistic,” but that’s really accurate. We saw an upward trend [beginning at Morton’s], and I believe Del Frisco’s is seeing the same thing. 

What’s next for Del Frisco’s and Sullivan’s?

We’re in growth mode, but that doesn’t mean we’re opening 10 restaurants a year. We have to do it slowly. We’re [in the process of] opening the Seattle Sullivan’s. We’ll pick the right locations, we’ll hire the right people. That’s going to be the most difficult challenge for the future: attracting talent. If you hire the best, care for them and hold them accountable, you’re going to have a great team.

Contact Christi Raveneberg at [email protected].

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