By JD Malone
The Columbus Dispatch
Posted Jun 27, 2017 at 2:30 PMUpdated Jun 27, 2017 at 3:18 PM
The new Cap City Fine Diner in Dublin’s Bridge Park has beautiful, dark wood tables, a handsome central bar with a white granite counter, big, soft globe lights and lots of booths with red upholstery.
There’s a bakery by the front door, a jukebox that plays customer selections over the restaurant’s speakers, and a mammoth dispenser filled with a rainbow of giant gumballs.
The third Cap City location — and owner Cameron Mitchell’s first return to the concept since closing an ill-conceived Cap City in Pittsburgh in 2002 — is something of a rebirth for the brand.
“We had a lot of fun designing it,” said David Miller, president of Cameron Mitchell Restaurants. “It’s been 20 years in the making.”
The long lull between Cap City openings let the company take a new look at the concept and tweak a few things. Much of the look and feel could be repeated in the renovations planned for the Gahanna and original Grandview Heights area locations.
“We hadn’t done one in so long. This let us do Cap City 2.0.” Mitchell said. “It’s not quite as down and dirty (a) diner.”
Some things were too iconic to change, though. There are still the original chicken wings, and liver and onions on Wednesdays. And while the menu includes a lighter item or two, Cap City remains rooted in American comfort food or as Mitchell puts it, “it sure makes you feel damn good.”
“And the Seriously Big Chocolate Cake,” he said, “is still seriously big.”
The Dublin location opens July 11 in Bridge Park, a huge development along Riverside Drive in Dublin that features hundreds of apartments, a fitness center, other restaurants, offices and retail space.
The new development made a Dublin location for Cap City possible, as other locations he has scouted never worked out or were not available over the years, Mitchell said.
“We’ve wanted a Cap City in Dublin for about 15 years.”
As for additional Cap City locations, it is possible, yet unlikely.
Cap City, even after two decades, remains Mitchell’s busiest restaurant. It is also one of the hardest to pull off, he said.
“Everything is made from scratch,” he said. “It is a lot of work and attention to detail to run a Cap City.”
That makes Cap City less profitable than some other concepts in Mitchell’s wheelhouse. The brand also might not translate to other cities, because Columbus is the capital of Ohio.
“In Pittsburgh, no one understood what it was,” Mitchell said of the name. In Columbus that’s not an issue.
“It has an iconic reputation,” said Dennis Lombardi, principal of Insight Dynamics, a restaurant consultancy. “If you think about what makes a restaurant work — concept, location, consistency and you hit on all three, which Cap City does — you have a very successful restaurant.”
Dublin is a good fit for the brand, with its proximity to other northwestern suburbs, traffic density and more affluent population, thus a logical spot for any of Mitchell’s concepts, Lombardi said. In fact, there will be another Mitchell restaurant in the Bridge Park development — The Avenue.
Mitchell’s company, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, will have 29 locations after the new Cap City opens. Its sister outfit, Rusty Bucket, has 24. Mitchell now employs about 4,000 people.
Growth continues to be the company’s hallmark. Since opening the first restaurant — Cameron’s — in 1993, Mitchell has gone just one year without opening a restaurant. That was 2010. Even if there are no more Cap City locations, there will be more Cameron Mitchell concepts. The company will open three additional Ocean Prime locations in 2018 and two new concepts will open in the Short North as well.
Some companies stick to one concept, like Bob Evans Farms or Wendy’s. Then there is Mitchell, who fields a multitude of brands, including Marcella’s, the Pearl, Guild House, Hudson 29, M, Molly Woos. He admits it would be a lot easier and cheaper to stick to one or two concepts, but added that it wouldn’t be as much fun.
“We can’t not grow,” Mitchell said. “I love the action.
“I’ve said, my favorite restaurant is the next one.”