Cover Story

Peter Rosskothen Steps to the Plate — Again

An Appetite for Entrepreneurship

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen has compiled a quarter-century-long track record of entrepreneurial energy and daring — all of it in the broad realms of food and hospitality. He says it exists partly out of necessity in this highly competitive market, but also because he’s always looking for ways to do things differently — and better. His latest venture, which he describes as the cutting edge of food retail, is no exception.

Peter Rosskothen was at a loss for words. Well, sort of, and not for very long, actually.

He was asked to explain, if he could, the origins of, and inspiration for, his very healthy appetite for entrepreneurial ventures — all of them in the broad realms of food and hospitality, ranging from several franchises of a national chain of eateries, to a banquet facility; from coffee shops to an ambitious catering operation.

And, like many who have made the choice to work for themselves instead of someone else, he struggled with that question.

“I’m not really sure how to explain it; it’s always been there, though,” he said of his entrepreneurial drive after pausing for a few moments of reflection, adding that, in many respects, it exists out of necessity in a highly competitive and always-changing marketplace.

“I think we share this belief that you have to always do something a little different, or find a way to do something a little better, to stay in business today, and I’d like to think that this is what drives us,” he said, referring specifically to business partner Michael Corduff and other members of the team that operates his businesses.

He did much better when it came to putting into plain words why he and his partners over the years have been not only so prolific, but so successful.

“Lots of people have ideas,” he explained. “And they’ll talk about these ideas, and talk about them some more. Taking the idea and doing something about it is what makes us entrepreneurs, and that’s what happened last September, when we decided to stop talking about this and do it.”

It’s a scenario that has played itself out several times over the past quarter-century or so, as Rosskothen — by himself or with different partners — has launched Boston Chicken (later Boston Market) franchises; undertaken a massive renovation of the landmark Log Cabin restaurant in Holyoke into a banquet facility; completed several subsequent expansions of that facility, purchased the Delaney House restaurant in Holyoke and, later, the hotel erected adjacent to it; created a catering operation known as Log Rolling; and opened two coffee-and-sandwich shops called Mt. Joe to Go.

And it is playing itself out again with yet another new venture, this one called Delaney’s Market, which is set to open its doors in the Longmeadow Shops in early August. Rosskothen described this as a “retail store for food,” where patrons can grab a container of chicken marsala and accompanying veggies, a fresh loaf of bread, a bottle of wine or a few microbrews, and dessert, and take it all home to enjoy there.

Which means that, like many of the ventures Rosskothen has launched over the years, this one is somewhat unique and cutting-edge when it comes to understanding what the dining public wants and needs.

“There is nothing else like this in our market — nothing,” he explained, adding that various types of operations offer some of the above, to one extent or another, but certainly not all of the above.

BusinessWest as the magazine’s Top Entrepreneurs

Peter Rosskothen and former business partner Larry Perreault were honored by BusinessWest as the magazine’s Top Entrepreneurs for 1997 for their efforts at the Log Cabin.

He said the concept was born from acknowledgment that today’s consumers — and especially the younger generations — want, by and large, food that is fresh, local, healthy, and of high quality. Meanwhile, they also want convenience and help with cramming all that life throws at them into the 24 hours in a day.

Various business operations address some or many of those needs in various ways, said Rosskothen, noting that supermarkets now offer many prepared foods, some ventures will deliver meals to your door (while others will drop off the ingredients and let you cook them), and restaurants, most of which offer takeout, have put a heavy focus on local and healthy.

But extensive research — another common denominator with all of his previous ventures — told Rosskothen there was a desire for, and room for, another — and, in many ways, better — alternative.

“This concept allows people to take it easy and spend more time with their family,” he explained, adding that it represents the best of many worlds — convenience, affordability, variety, and quality.

For this issue, BusinessWest talked with Rosskothen about his latest venture, but also about entrepreneurship in general and his desire to remain on the cutting edge of innovation within the world of hospitality.

Another Bite at the Apple

As he talked with BusinessWest at a small table outside the Starbucks just a few doors down from his new storefront, Rosskothen gestured with his hand toward the scene in front and on both sides of him.

“This if the perfect location for this — if we don’t make it here, we’re not going to make it anywhere,” he said. He was referring, in large part, to the packed parking lot at the Longmeadow Shops, a heavily trafficked lifestyle center (now being expanded) featuring an eclectic mix of high-end tenants including Ann Taylor and Chico’s, but also several popular anchors such as a CVS and a few bank branches. But he was also referencing the facility’s spot on the map, in Longmeadow, but only a half-mile or so from East Longmeadow and the Connecticut border and the affluent communities there.

Rosskothen said his research told him that, while there are many attractive geographic options for launching this kind of venture — the Amherst-Northampton area, Westfield, and East Longmeadow itself were also considered — his instincts told him that this was the place to start.

And his instincts have rarely, if ever, been wrong.

They weren’t when he opened a few Boston Chicken franchises in the region in the early ’90s, deciding that area residents had, or would develop, an appetite for the emerging product known as ‘fast casual.’

They were on target again when, in 1996, he and partner Larry Perreault decided to resurrect the Log Cabin as a banquet facility, guessing that, despite a market flooded with competitors, there was room for, well, a room with a view. And they were right; ‘the Cabin,’ as it’s known colloquially, at least in some circles, remains one of the region’s most popular venues for events, because of those views, as well as a location roughly halfway between Springfield and Northampton.

Those instincts were on the money — in all kinds of ways — with subsequent ventures such as the Delaney House restaurant and its more casual, on-site counterpart, the Mick; the D. Hotel on the Delaney House property; Mt. Joe; and Log Rolling.

That last venture is the catering arm that brings ‘rolling kitchens,’ as Rosskothen calls them (hence the name), to venues across Western Mass. and Northern Conn. The venture has done well during the 17-day Big E, for example, as groups look to stage their own functions in a large tent on the grounds, and he’s anticipating big things this fall as the institution celebrates its 100th birthday.

“Log Rolling has become a nice business division for us — it’s for people who are looking for our services, but at a unique site,” he said, adding that these have ranged from Wickham Park in Manchester, Conn. (which also has a log cabin) to Black Birch Vineyard in Southampton, and a wide array of spots in between and beyond.

Mt. Joe to Go

Mt. Joe to Go, with locations at the Log Cabin and downtown Holyoke, is one of a series of entrepreneurial endeavors launched by Peter Rosskothen and various partners.

And Rosskothen believes his instincts (and those of his team) are again sound with a venture that in some ways encapsulates all the ventures that came before it, to one degree or another. In a nutshell, it brings food to customers in a convenient manner and creates another, and potentially solid, revenue stream.

“This is really exciting because it’s a way to utilize a lot of our brainpower and ability and apply it to a new business,” he explained. “And it’s not conflicting with what we do on weekends.”

That last remark was a reference mostly to the events, and especially weddings, at the Log Cabin and also the Delaney House. Not all events come on weekends, but most of them do, he explained, adding quickly that while this business is quite solid, there is a time of the year — January through March — that is sometimes problematically slow.

Some of the other recent entrepreneurial undertakings have been launched in an effort to overcome those slow months — Log Rolling was also created to counter a marked slowdown that followed the onset of the Greater Recession in 2008 — and Delaney’s Market is no exception.

Full Menu of Options

As he offered BusinessWest a quick tour of the storefront in progress, Rosskothen explained the concept in more detail.

He started by pointing to a long row of coolers along one wall, and then grabbing a sturdy, microwavable plastic container, one of several sizes that would be available. The former would be filled with the latter, he said, adding that food prepared at the Log Cabin would be trucked to the Longmeadow Shops in refrigerated trucks daily.

To fully explain the concept, though, he referred back to still another of his team’s entrepreneurial undertakings — the Mt. Joe facilities, located in the lower parking lot of the Log Cabin and at the transit facility in downtown Holyoke.

It specializes in coffee — hence the name — but also sells meals to go, enough of them to prompt thoughts, talk, and then action to take that business to a different, much higher level.

“We’ve always had this dream about what we could do with meals to go,” he told BusinessWest. “For a while, we studied the home-delivery-of-meals (or ingredients) concept, but the problem with them is you have to be disciplined — the food shows up, and you have to cook it, or you waste it. And it’s not cheap.

“It’s a good concept, but I really like what we’re doing here,” he went on. “I’m on my way home … I don’t really know what I want for dinner … I do know that I really don’t want to prep my meal … I stop in Delaney’s Market, I walk around, see what I feel like, pick it up, grab a bottle of wine or a beer, and take it home.”

TV celebrity Ed McMahon

Peter Rosskothen, then operator of Boston Chicken franchises, is seen with TV celebrity Ed McMahon at a promotion at one of the stores.

Rosskothen and his team are betting that this thought process is common enough to create enormous business potential, and he believes it’s a pretty safe bet.

As for what will be in those plastic containers on the store shelves, Rosskothen said there would be a host of entrees, but also salads, desserts, breads, and beverage options made possible by a surprisingly available liquor license.

The menu is still somewhat of a work in progress, he went on, and would always be something flexible and a reflection of what customers wanted. But when pressed for examples of what patrons might expect, he listed items like chicken francaise, beef bourguignon, salmon salad, and stuffed mushroom caps. This will be a restaurant, but in a retail format.

In keeping with current dietary trends and a broader focus on health, each container will let the customer know how many calories they’ll consume per serving, said Rosskothen, adding that there will be low-calorie, vegetarian, and gluten-free offerings, among other things.

“Everyone I’ve talked to about this — and that’s a lot of people — says, ‘I hope you’re going to have healthy items; I’m trying to lose some weight,’ or ‘I’m trying to be good,’” he noted. “I tell them, ‘absolutely — that’s a big part of our thinking.’

“We have a good idea of what we want to bring here, but we’ll adapt to what our guests want,” he explained. “The best way to explain it is that we’ll have the variety of a restaurant, but with a focus that will make us a regular stop for people.”

Salad Days

As he talked about the timing of his latest venture, Rosskothen believes it’s ideal given the way societal trends are changing and the retail sector is trending.

As for the Aug. 3 scheduled soft opening, he said this date is ideal as well. Not because business will be brisk, but because it will likely be rather slow — although there’s a good deal of buzz about this operation — given the large number of families that will be on vacation.

“We’re opening in August on purpose — I like to start in a slow month,” he said, adding that this strategic decision was made with an eye toward getting whatever kinks there might be out, a staff up to speed, and perhaps an even better feeling for what the buying public wants — and doesn’t want.

This thinking is not exactly straight out of most business-success textbooks, but it’s yet another example of how Rosskothen and his team are thinking outside the box, or food container, as the case may be, and expressing their appetite for entrepreneurship in a way that is both scientific and, as history shows, successful.

George O’Brien can be reached at [email protected]