Craig Bernstein knew he wanted to be a restaurateur as early as the sixth grade, and in the summer of 2013, he transformed those childhood ambitions into a reality with the debut of Doc B’s Fresh Kitchen.
Named in honor of Bernstein’s father, Dr. Robert Bernstein, the Chicago-based eatery is a quick-service operation by day and full-service by night to accomodate a wide variety of diners. The menu features scratch-made entrées, ready-to-go salads and sandwiches, and a full-service bar peddling signature cocktails and craft beers.
Bernstein discusses the creation and challenges of his hybrid concept, as well as his hopes for the rising brand.
How did Doc B’s come to be?
The idea came from my days with [the upscale full-service restaurant brand] Houston’s and the fact that so many people wanted Houston’s food in a to-go environment, something the stores couldn’t accommodate. I started wondering about a restaurant that would feel as natural for the to-go customer as the dine-in guest, which I w thought could be accomplished through heightened service, environment, and food quality.
How has the concept evolved since its debut?
When we first opened, we were 100 percent order at the counter. Our lunchtime customers loved that speed, but the majority of our dinner customers wanted to sit down and be waited on. That made dinner our Achilles’ heel. That’s when we created the hybrid concept that allowed us to be quick service during lunch and full service at night. We worked at it, hit a nice stride, and are now nearing a 50/50 split between lunch and dinner business.
What are the challenges of executing the hybrid concept?
Some of it’s easy, such as dimming the dining room lights, changing the music playlist, and toning down the brightness of the digital menuboards come dinner. The biggest challenge, though, is the people, the caliber of cooks and servers we need. When you’re trying to elevate everything you do, then there’s a tremendous investment in hiring, training, and retaining high-caliber employees.
What are your hopes for Doc B’s moving forward?
We just opened our second restaurant [in Chicago’s River North neighborhood] in June … and we’re actively looking for new real estate, but it’s about choosing the right next market, whether that’s suburban Chicago or elsewhere. Ultimately, we’d like to set a footprint for a national restaurant brand.
Above all, we hope Doc B’s becomes an everyday go-to place. When you continue to strive for excellence, people will trust you, and we’re trying to attract consistent, loyal guests who want to bring their friends along.