Meat Expectations

by Victor Chen
Photos courtesy of Wolfgang's Steakhouse
31 Oct 2017

In his desire to share his family’s legacy, Mr. Peter Zwiener ensures he has a hand in growing the family business he started with his father

 “I like to eat different steaks on different occasions; however, if I had to choose, I’d say porterhouse. A porterhouse gives you the best of both worlds—it has the sirloin, which is fattier, packed full of flavour and has more texture, as well as the filet mignon, which is more tender,” Mr. Peter Zwiener reveals a couple of days prior to the opening of Wolfgang’s Steakhouse in the new InterContinental Singapore Robertson Quay. And if there is anything that Mr. Zwiener knows well, it is his meat. 

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“My personal preference is to eat steak rare,” he continues. “I feel it best showcases the flavor profile. This is especially true with top quality USDA Prime beef, which really shows off the value of the dry aging process.”

Mr. Zwiener took the long route to helm Wolfgang’s Steakhouse. He attended the US Air Force Academy before entering Columbia University, where he obtained his Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering. He then went to the University of Chicago for his MBA in Finance and Econometrics. After graduation he spent 16 years working as an investment banker, eventually leaving finance to open a family-run restaurant that he then turned into a global chain. 

An American tradition more than a mere dining establishment, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse is expanding overseas with its chosen strategy: partner with other business entities in each local market. “Majority of our partners are local F&B players; we find that the partnerships genuinely work better when they have F&B, or at least hospitality, experience,” says Peter Zwiener, CEO and . “What we mostly look for, though, is passion. Our partners must love the Wolfgang’s Steakhouse brand as much as we do to enable us to replicate it globally.” The company has never launched a search for business partners, Mr. Zwiener revels. “They’ve always come to us, which is testament to how invested they all are in Wolfgang’s Steakhouse, and how much they believe in its values.”

Instead of franchise agreements, Wolfgang’s Steakhouse prefers joint ventures. “I am always open to new ideas,” Mr. Zwiener claims, “but our operating philosophy is that we like to be heavily involved in each individual restaurant for brand guardianship, and will never take less than a 50 per cent share.

The final prompt was my Father’s pending retirement – I realized it was my last chance to go into business with him, so I convinced him not to retire, and to open Wolfgang’s Steakhouse instead.

Wolfgang’s Stakhouse is currently exploring several opportunities in Asia, as part of expanding its existing footprint in China, Japan and the Philippines. It has signed joint venture agreements in Taiwan and Indonesia. Elsewhere, it has joint venture agreements in Cyprus and London, as well as ongoing discussion with potential partners in Greece, Spain, the UAE, Mexico, Panama, Brazil and Australia. “We carefully select the cities we operate in – we really target major international hubs with discerning diners who appreciate great quality steak.”

The company’s lone revenue stream is F&B, which could further be divided into food and beverage, the breakdown of which comes down to each individual city and restaurant.

Mr. Zwiener says that their business model is very scalable and transferrable because they are very product driven. “This makes the business easy to grow, and open up Wolfgang’s Steakhouse restaurants abroad as the initial concept can be replicated.

The original team from New York visits all new locations to ensure that the quality is consistent across the board. “We know how to choose the meat, dry age the meat, successfully run a restaurant, and take care of the customer, so it comes down to training staff to do the same. We have impeccable attention to detail, which ensures a seamless experience across all of our restaurants.”

“My experience and background in banking and finance have proven to be extremely helpful in entering the restaurant business. It provided me with the tools and laid the foundation of running a successful, sustainable profitable business,” says Mr. Zwiener.

Running a multi-unit, global restaurant group like Wolfgang's Steakhouse requires focus on the customer and hospitality, which translates to providing customers with an incredible dining experience that entails top quality, value-driven food and beverage, impeccable service in an enjoyable, fun and comfortable atmosphere. 

“Behind the scenes, however, it is equally important that the business is run flawlessly as well. As an M&A banker, I advised many companies in their strategic and operational direction, learned the art of negotiation, raised capital, formed joint ventures and partnerships, constructed and analyzed financial statements and operating budgets as well as understand the legal and labor issues that commonly arise in managing and operating businesses,” Mr. Zwiener elaborates.  “All these tools and experiences that were acquired helped me form a corporation that could operate profitably while expanding rapidly and globally.”

Mr. Zwiener had always wanted to open a restaurant with his father. They have in fact spoken about it many times over the years prior to taking action. “The final prompt was my Father’s pending retirement – I realized it was my last chance to go into business with him, so I convinced him not to retire, and to open Wolfgang’s Steakhouse instead.” Undoubtedly his best decision so far.