In recent years, long before the pandemic started, younger customers have been interacting differently with steakhouses than their elders. Rather than order a single steak with some sides, a table of millennials, and now members of Gen Z, are likely to order several cuts of meat and share them, making for a more communal, sociable and interactive experience, and one in which they get to try different cuts of meat.
That’s what Brad Wise expects of his customers at Rare Society, a five-unit steakhouse chain founded in San Diego in November of 2019 that was profitable from day 1.
“It became popular very quickly,” the chef said. With minimal advertising, that first location was already a hit when the pandemic caused it to close for nearly a year.
The concept is based on sharing, with more than half of the restaurants’ customers ordering either the Associate board for around $128 or the Executive board for around $198. Each has three cuts of beef, with the Associate offering 22 ounces total, often of American or Australian wagyu, and the 52-ounce Executive focusing on dry-aged product. Each board also always has a filet to make sure there’s something for everyone. The steaks are curated with assorted accoutrements selected by Wise and his team, and although they’re not intended to be customized, obviously customers can switch things up if they want — “We’re ‘yes’ people,” Wise said — but most guests take them as they’re presented.
“There’s a large portion of people who are like, ‘You just take care of it,’” Wise said.
The boards are placed on a lazy Susan in the middle of the table and guests share them, as well as sides such as wood-fired broccolini with sumac yogurt, za’atar, and lemon zest, or roasted carrots with miso, peanuts, and crispy garlic. Classic steakhouse sides are available too, including thick-cut bacon, mashed potatoes, and shells and cheese, plus ricotta ravioli with wagyu beef Bolognese, and fettuccine Alfredo.
That last pasta dish is particularly popular at the new San Clemente, Calif., location.
“There’s one on nearly every table there,” Wise said.
The style of the spaces are a hybrid of the Rat Pack-era Southern California steakhouse of the 1950s and ’60s; the broad-shouldered steakhouses where Wise, a native of southern New Jersey, ate in Philadelphia and New York City; and the more casual grilled meat concepts of central California, where Wise’s wife is from. Rare Society is upscale but casual, and guests can enjoy a full meal for $80 or less or spend $200 a person.
The lowest priced steak is $31, and wine sells for as little as $11 per glass. There are $6 desserts as well as a $16 butter cake. Average per-person checks vary from one location to the next.
Wise and his team opened their second location, in Solana Beach, Calif., also in San Diego County, during the pandemic, and the remaining three — in Santa Barbara, Calif.; Seattle; and, most recently, in San Clemente — in the past year.
Wise himself started working in South Jersey pizzerias and cheesesteak shops at the age of 12. By 15 he was a commis at a fine-dining restaurant. He worked as a line cook during culinary school and then at the age of 21 moved to San Diego, where he started as a commis for Eat.Drink.Sleep Hospitality, working his way up to corporate executive chef by the time he left eight or nine years later.
He opened his first restaurant, Trust, in 2016, offering contemporary American food and, like Rare Society, in a format that focuses on food that’s meant to be shared. Now he also operates an Italian restaurant called Cardellino, a larger and more upscale contemporary American restaurant called Fort Oak, two butcher shops, and an ice cream brand called Wild Child, as well as the five Rare Society restaurants.
The steakhouse is Wise’s growth vehicle, and plans are underway to open in Las Vegas off of the Strip, as well as in Scottsdale, Ariz., and Dallas.
Wise intends the growth to be deliberative and not too fast.
“These rings around my eyes are from this last year when we opened three restaurants,” he said. “It was a lot. We won’t do that again.”
Franchising is a possibility down the road, Wise said, but for now the restaurants will be company owned. He said he does expect to bring in some investors as the company scales.
“We’re still kind of in the infancy stage,” he said. “But surprisingly enough, after you open your fifth restaurant, [investors] already come banging on your door.”
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Hear from Brad Wise and other Hot Concept founders at CREATE: The Experience, Oct. 1-3 in Palm Springs, in a panel sponsored by The Coca-Cola Company.