Elaina Morris encourages personal development at this booming indie studio


Elaina Morris is CEO, President and Co-Founder of Ascend Hospitality Group, which operates four unique restaurants, a four-unit steakhouse and six Famous Dave’s BBQ locations. It’s a lot of work, but she presents herself as the “cuddling boss”.

“If you ask my kids what mom’s superpower is, they’ll say, ‘That’s what she makes people feel,'” the serial entrepreneur said. “My goal is to make everyone feel important.”

Ascend includes Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi, a fine dining restaurant in Bellevue, Wash.; Stanford Steak, a contemporary steakhouse and lounge in Tacoma, Wash.; Stanford’s, a four-unit classic American steakhouse with locations in Washington and Oregon; Anoche Cantina restaurant and nightlife concept in Tempe, Arizona.; an 8,000 square foot sports bar and nightlife concept called Six40rty in Tempe; as well as Famous Dave’s restaurants in Utah and Washington. In total, it has more than 600 employees.

The founder of The Famous Dave, Dave Anderson, is a big influence on Morris’ approach to his business, which is to serve a guest or serve someone who serves that guest. This means that it devotes a large part of its energy to the service of its employees.

“As a leader, you have to be very focused on what’s best for your employees,” she said, “because if they feel good about coming to work and know that we really care about them and their well-being, they’re going to do a better job at the guest table and making them feel good,” she said. “I think it’s just constant attention to, how can I help people know that I care about their well-being and [then help to] identify their abilities? »

But that doesn’t mean pampering them. Working in restaurants is hard, and making those restaurants great is even harder.

“We believe that if you want us to take you seriously, you have to take yourself seriously,” she said.

Jeffery Frederick, Founder, Developer, and Operating Partner of Ascend Prime Steak & Sushi, calls the work environment they’ve created “aggressively collegial.”

“It’s a challenge for each other to do our best,” he said. “If we surround ourselves withindividuals with diverse backgrounds, talents and skills and we…align with our common goals, we can get the best versions of all of us.

An example of this is the approach Frederick takes to the development of food, cocktails and events at his steak and sushi restaurant.

Anyone who wishes can submit proposals or ideas, but these ideas are then analyzed and critiqued in order to come up with the best menu item or event that the whole team is capable of.

“It can be very difficult,” Frederick said, but it’s an approach that gets the most out of people.

It starts with hiring the right people and understanding what motivates them, he said.

“The restaurant industry needs a lot of passion,” he said. “But we believe that passion is often fleeting. There are many days where it’s difficult and stressful and you have to dig deeper than your passion and figure out what your goal is,” he said.

And then once you’ve hired the right people, you have to keep them. Morris does this by creating a fun but productive work environment, a living wage — she intentionally keeps it within the market median — and health insurance for people who work more than 25 hours a week. For 2023, she’s focused on a new platform called U Ascend, “which is kind of like an internal university,” Morris said. It will train people to achieve their job goals, such as going from server to manager, from fast food restaurant to fine dining, or from line cook to chef.

“I think it’s acknowledging that there has to be a career path internally,” she said.

Overall, Morris tries to create a learning environment, which requires a commitment from her staff, “to yourself more than anything,” she said. “My goal is to teach them, train them and help them achieve their goals and dreams.

“You can’t have an ‘I get it’ climate,” she added. “You can’t penalize people if their decisions don’t work out. What you need to encourage is, “Okay, so that was a bad decision.” So what? I made 200,000. How fast can you rotate? »

Ascend Hospitality Group will be honored as an independent creator at CREATE: The future of restoration in Denver, September 19-21.

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]

Correction: September 13, 2022

This story has been corrected to clarify that Ascend Hospitality Group operates Famous Dave’s locations in Washington as well as Utah.


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