Branding an Empire

Quality and innovation for over 75 years

Dennis Riese is the one person in the world who can stand up in front of a microphone on the pitcher’s mound at a sold out Yankee Stadium and announce: “You don’t know me, but every single person in this stadium has eaten a burger or a donut or had a cup of coffee thanks to my family.” But the point is, Dennis Riese hasn’t ever said it. He hasn’t had to. Business has been doing just fine, thank you very much.

For more than 75 years, the Manhattan-based Riese Organization — by far, a very unique privately owned restaurant operation in New York — has been happy to remain on the sidelines, quietly feeding generations of New Yorkers at the more than 1,000 restaurants they’ve owned and operated over the years. Riese currently owns and operates a remarkable collection of familiar Manhattan eateries — including T.G.I. Friday’s, Pizza Hut, KFC, Nathan’s, Tim Hortons Cafe & Bake Shops, Taco Bell, Tad’s Broiled Steaks and Lindy’s. And that just scratches the surface. The list of the hundreds of Manhattan restaurants they have controlled has included Toots Shor, Schrafft’s, Charley O’s, Longchamps and Luchow’s — some of the most venerable names in New York dining history. Riese even owned the first Howard Johnson restaurant on the island of Manhattan.

The Uniqueness of Manhattan Restaurants

The reason is not vanity. Riese is too smart of a businessman for that. The answer is the unique restaurant climate in Manhattan, which is like no other restaurant market in the country. In Manhattan, the restaurant business is filled with independent operations, where the owner is usually hovering around the tables. Suburban, chain-style operations have never thrived here. To truly leverage the power of his holdings, Riese felt he had to let the world know that all of his restaurants — from El Torito in the Empire State Building to The Java Shopsm¬†on Broadway and 49th — were operated by the same parent company, and that meant a quality standard no other independent operation could match. Hence the Riese emblem now virtually on every door of every Riese restaurant.

There were compelling reasons to make the Riese name known,” explains Dennis Riese, The Riese Organization’s CEO. “Just twenty years ago, all you had to do was open the doors and people flocked to your restaurants. That is just no longer the case today. By creating a recognizable brand — Riese Restaurants — we can market the entire corporation and the individual elements within it at one time, with a single budget. The idea is to create value with the single name. Promoting individual brands under ‘Brand Riese’ gives us the power no other restaurant group in New York City can match.”

The campaign also signals the willingness of Dennis Riese, who inherited the Riese empire from his publicity-shy father and uncle, to forge his own path. Young Riese had been raised to shun publicity, and to hide the fact that the family’s diverse restaurant holdings were linked in any way. “I broke the two Cardinal rules of my father and uncle,” Riese explained, taking a moment to reflect on his decision from his office at 5th Avenue across from Rockefeller Center. “Cardinal Rule Number One was never let anyone know that the same guy that owns the deli down the street also owns Luchow’s, which we did for many years. Cardinal Rule Number Two was never focus on the family name. By pooling the purchasing power of all of our holdings, and creating the brand name Riese Restaurants, I’ve broken both those rules.”