Alumnus/Restaurateur Is Long on Business Savvy and Drive
October 06, 2016
Unexpected challenges and mistakes happen. What’s critical is how you deal with them, emphasized restaurateur Chris Blumlo ’99 in an Isenberg Hospitality & Tourism Management (HTM) class. An Isenberg HTM graduate himself, Chris is best known as Managing Partner and cofounder of Restaurant Marc Forgione (formerly Forge) in Manhattan. He is also Partner of Khe-Yo, a Laotian restaurant in Manhattan, and owner of Butler’s Flat, a New England-style clam shack on Long Island.
“Who was expecting a recession in 2008?” Chris asked the students in recalling Forge’s then evaporating revenues as a three month-old start-up. During the Great Recession, scores of Manhattan restaurants—nascent and established—went under. The disappearance of customers underscored the restaurant trade’s deep dependence on cash flow.
“We hung on for dear life for a year or so,” Blumlo told the students. “We were going to sell, but then we got a call from Michelin.” Forge had received a coveted Michelin star. “For [cofounder, chef, and fellow UMass alumnus] Marc Forgione, it was like winning an Oscar,” Chris continued. The partners held on and eventually paid back their creditors and investors. “Slowly, every day, we got a little busier. Then, a year later, Marc won the Iron Chef competition on the Food Network and the restaurant exploded.”
It’s not just about food; it’s about the entire experience.
Control what you can control was an implicit message in Blumlo’s talk. While Restaurant Marc Forgione couldn’t preempt a recession or Hurricane Sandy’s 2012 assault on Lower Manhattan businesses, it could always, he said, provide superior customer experience. “At the end of the day, the customer/client is your job,” he told the students. “Every point during the customer’s stay must be positive,” he continued. “It’s not just about food; it’s about the entire experience. The Forgione experience, he added, has always emphasized quality service coupled with an unstuffy, energetic ambience—rock and hip hop sonics included.
A Winning Combination
In his remarks, Chris described earlier career challenges that also called for attentiveness to customers, business diligence, and improvisation in response to unforeseen challenges. For the Isenberg HTM grad, that diverse skill set has been a differentiator in both the corporate and small business worlds. In the former, Chris held executive positions with Restaurant Associates and ARAMARK, where he focused on New York Mets stadium food and other hospitality services. In his fifth season with ARAMARK, he became Director of Operations at the Met’s former home, Shea Stadium. As an entrepreneur, he remains a key player at three restaurants and was cofounder a decade ago of two New York-based wireless phone companies.
A native of Bedford, Chris credits Isenberg’s HTM program and UMass for contributing to the drive, work ethic, and business skills that have brought him success. “And you should also make the most of your Isenberg and UMass network as you move forward in your business careers,” he told the students. “For me, that network includes Marc Forgione, many of our original investors, and business advisors who are parents of some of our UMass friends.”