Howells & Hood goes upscale on a large scale

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"The life span of beer can be anywhere between three to five weeks, even longer if it's a higher-alcohol-content beer. But the quality starts to become compromised after about three, four weeks once you tap that barrel. So when you look at it and say, 'OK, I've got 45 pints of beer that I need to sell in three, four weeks,' you're talking about two a day."

Even selling two beers per variety per day probably is contingent on the restaurant drumming up a high, sustainable volume of business. Howells & Hood needs to cover a sizable overhead that includes a staff of about 250, among them 85 in the mammoth kitchen (which often will have two full lines running simultaneously), about 65 servers, about 20 bartenders, a dozen hosts, 10 runners and more.

Bisaillon and Henricks said they couldn't pinpoint how many guests would be needed to keep Howells & Hood thriving, especially given that they're still trying to figure out product and labor costs. But Henricks said the formula will come down to what percentage those product/labor numbers represent of the restaurant's gross sales.

Bisaillon said the restaurant should be able to drum up enough business in a highly trafficked area where food options tend toward office building cafeterias and food courts, Corner Bakery, Popeye's and pricey hotel fare such as Michael Jordan's Steak House in the InterContinental — all while tourists are often averse to stray from Michigan Avenue.

"It's the entrance to the Mag Mile, so the amount of people has never been in question," Bisaillon said. "We know there are hundreds of thousands of people that go by here every single year, and you could really stretch that into the millions."

Lucas Stoioff, partner in the DineAmic Group that recently opened the instantly bustling Siena Tavern in River North, noted that although Bottleneck has spent "big dollars" on Howells & Hood, it has positioned itself well.

"It's a big undertaking, but they've set themselves up to succeed in as many ways as possible," Stoioff said. "It's a mainstream, timeless concept. It's a quality buildout. They've got the room to do the dollars to get it back, and they've got the people in the area to fill the large space."

Asked a couple of days before opening whether they were nervous, Bisaillon said that after some large-scale test dinners, he felt good. "I don't think anybody in our entire organization has been more calm about an opening than this one," he said.

"I'm optimistically aware of the challenges that we potentially are going to face," Henricks said, "but I'm very confident in our team and our ability to recognize those challenges and certainly steer the ship in whatever direction we need to steer it in."

"I'll say it: I'm nervous," Walton admitted, drawing laughs from the others. "Nervously confident, though. It's just the sheer volume and size. But I think we've figured out a formula that we can do this and effectively do this."

Twitter @MarkCaro

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