“It just kind of blossomed from there,” he says. “I didn’t go to culinary school, but I’ve been in the kitchen of just about every place I’ve worked.” Next McGrath was a part-owner of Dakotas, a Southwestern-themed restaurant/club in Innsbrook. At 12,000 square feet, it was the largest nightclub in the city at the time, he says. “It was a huge undertaking — almost too big. Trying to maintain a club that size seven nights a week is just tough in Richmond.” The club lasted for three years, and today its claim to fame is that the country band Lone Star used to play there once a month (when they went by Texasee).
After briefly starting a catering business, McGrath was called back to restaurants in 1998 when he opened Hondos steakhouse in Manakin-Sabot with partner, Steve Lewis. He named the place after the old Boston Celtic basketball player. “Hondo” had also been McGrath’s nickname since his days on his fifth-grade basketball team. After three years, the people behind Innsbrook lured McGrath to their strip dining spot, and he says the decision was a good one. Today, Lewis runs the steakhouse and McGrath has become a partner at Enzos Restaurant and Tavern on Route 250 in Manakin-Sabot.
After being in business for seven years, Enzos owner Doug Elliot called McGrath when he wanted to expand the menu at his Italian restaurant. In the last two years, they’ve added a tavern area where they offer big-screen TVs, a stage and live music. “It’s a nice mix because you can come in and have a quiet dinner,” McGrath says. “Then if you want to party you can watch the ball game or listen to a band in the tavern.” McGrath tweaked the menu to include prime steaks from Chicago, fresh seafood, ribs and barbecue. Today he says it’s probably the biggest menu in the city with close to 50 items.
McGrath estimates he spends about 70 hours a week at Enzos. During the day he works on the line in the kitchen, and at night he’s on the floor, interacting with customers and keeping an eye on the staff and the general flow.
“There’s probably not a harder business to be involved in because you’ve just got to be there all the time,” he says. But, he adds, “it’s never dull.”
McGrath believes that consistency and service are the keys to a successful restaurant — “even if you’re consistently mediocre,” he says, laughing. But he’s quick to point out that his restaurants are not, referring to Enzos recent “A” in a Richmond Times-Dispatch review. “Every restaurant is going to have an off night, but if the service is on the customer is going to come back,” he says. “That’s my philosophy anyway. If I’m treated right I’m going to give it another shot.” — Carrie NiemanMore cover stories