The Suits Behind The Chefs: Who’s Funding Atlanta’s Restaurants?

Investors enjoy ‘helping grow opportunities for others’

Investors enjoy ‘helping grow opportunities for others’

There’s a scene in “Goodfellas” where Henry Hill, portrayed by Ray Liotta, struts like royalty through a local restaurant. A server directs him and his girlfriend to the best seat in the house. Everybody knows him. There’s handshakes, smiles and complimentary drinks.

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That’s more or less how Jon Winsett feels when he sets foot inside Le Bilboquet.

“It’s kind of like my country club,” said Jon Winsett, who is a silent partner for the French bistro and bar at Shops Buckhead Atlanta. “I go in there. Everyone knows me. I get the best table. I don’t need reservations.”

As an investor, of course, there’s the fun stuff like this — the icing on the cake. But, what drives him to invest in restaurants — arguably one of the riskier ventures out there?

Well, for one, he believes in this restaurant.

Lunch at Le Bilboquet.
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Lunch at Le Bilboquet.

Jim Kelly, another silent partner for several prominent Atlanta eateries, said it takes many elements coming together in order for a restaurant to initially get off the ground and become successful.

It’s “a recipe mixed with appealing concept, proper location and atmosphere conducive to the concept, a great chef and superb service from a team that works together from the opening day,” said Kelly, who is CEO of KFT Innovations, LLC, Marine Proximity Co.

Winsett, CEO of NPI Financial — which provides sourcing advisory services for IT, telecom and supply chain transportation — would agree.

“It takes a passionate and experienced proprietor,” Winsett said. “The proprietor of (Le Bilboquet) knew what he was doing.”

Added Winsett: “(The proprietor of a good restaurant) knows to hire the right people … and be focused on the details. Right down to the paint used for picture frames hanging on the walls. It takes such rigor and discipline. Every detail is important. It takes obsession.”

Kelly said it’s very much a matter of “letting good management do their thing and not getting in the way.”

When Winsett was first approached to be a silent partner for the restaurant, he consulted with friends in the business.

“They were like: ‘Run! Do not do this,’” Winsett said. “Because it’s such a high risk, most restaurants never make it past the first couple of years.”

But Atlanta restaurants, he said, are “some of the best in the country.”

“I travel a lot, and I’m constantly eating out,” Winsett said. “I think the level of quality in chefs and concepts here is hard to beat … Atlanta people like to eat out, and we’re rewarded with great restaurants. It’s a great culture of restaurateurs.”

While Kelly declined to name the Atlanta restaurants he’s involved with, he said he enjoys doing what he does and “participating in a fun business and helping grow the opportunities for others.”

Kelly said the actual investment often “depends on the location and venue,” and can be anything “from a low investment storefront to a stand-alone multi-million dollar extravagant venue.”

He said that while he considers lots of attributes for a potential investment, much of his decision-making process involves a gut feeling at the onset.

“I think it comes down to being able to envision the concept working,” Kelly said. “Perhaps some market research and data but also ‘tasting’ (pardon the pun) whether it would seem to work in the locale against other concepts.”

Another factor can be name recognition.

“Out of the box and word of mouth reviews are important,” Kelly said. “If the reviews that make their way to What Now Atlanta, AJC and social media are good and fast, the place will succeed. On the other hand, poor service/food at a “celebrity” or renowned chef place will fail.”

For Winsett’s part, being a silent partner (perhaps paradoxically) often feels like its own kind of celebrity status.

“It’s fun to be able to add that to your resume: ‘Restaurant Investor.’”

Jon Winsett | Atlanta Restaurants | Silent Investor
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Jon Winsett

At his day job as NPI’s CEO, Winsett is responsible for managing and leading the company’s performance and business strategies, while driving growth of NPI’s multiple spend management practices.

He’s also an avid helicopter pilot and participant in Atlanta’s philanthropic community.

Being a silent partner, he said, is something that he very much enjoys.

“If someone comes into town, I’m like, ‘let me take you to the restaurant I’m involved with.’ I think I just got lucky because personally I think Le Bilboquet is the best restaurant in Atlanta, and whether I was involved with it or not, I would probably be going there a lot.”

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But wait
3 years ago

or just be like Ford Fry and marry into money then you can open a new restaurant every month…. quality be damned.

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