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One on One: Bob and David Kinkead

Co-owners, Sibling Rivalry

Bob and David Kinkead
By Fiona Robinson
February 01, 2006

Hordes of industry professionals will descend upon Boston next month for the annual International Boston Seafood Show. Seasoned visitors who are in the habit of making dinner reservations prior to the big week will want to book a table at Sibling Rivalry in the city’s South End. Reviews from the Boston Globe preview what newcomers can expect: “With food this inspired, what is there to fight about?” and “Sibling Rivalry is a place to return to again and again.”

The eatery, co-owned by noted seafood chef Bob Kinkead, celebrated its first anniversary last October. The unique restaurant concept pairs Kinkead, of the eponymous Kinkead’s in Washington, D.C., and Colvin Run Tavern of Vienna, Va., with his younger brother, David, who has worked in several well-known restaurants including Park Avenue Café in New York, Everest in Chicago and Kingfish Hall in Boston.

The Kinkeads develop the menu together. David handles the day-to-day restaurant execution onsite, while Bob manages the financial and legal end of the business from his office in Washington, D.C.

Sibling Rivalry’s menu is not your run-of-the-mill upscale menu touting the fish’s origin and harvest method. The menu is all about the chefs working together and their different culinary creations using the same ingredients. The menu is divided into three “columns” with the shared ingredient listed down the middle of the menu. Chef David’s menu is on the left and Bob’s on the right. For example, the sample menu on the restaurant’s Web site, www.siblingrivalryboston.com, lists under the ingredient “ginger” David’s dish of Duxbury Mussels in Thai Red Curry with Ginger, Kaffir Lime Leaves and Coconut Milk, and Bob’s recipe for Vietnamese Crisp Fried Squid with Green Papaya Salad, Cilantro and Ginger Dipping Sauce.

I caught up with Bob in early January while he was in the middle of strategizing growth for all three restaurants, and with David as he prepared for service on a Thursday afternoon at the restaurant.

Robinson: How has Sibling Rivalry’s first year gone?

Bob Kinkead: Very well; we’re pleased with the performance so far. Dinner business has been phenomenal. We’re trying to build the weekend lunch business — that may increase over the next few years.
David Kinkead: It’s exceeded our expectations. It’s a great compliment that there aren’t any restaurants like it around. We’re in a neat neighborhood with a good feel to it.

Do customers understand the chef-brother theme?

Bob: When we first opened, customers said the concept was confusing. Once people come and get the concept explained to them, they like it a lot, and when they bring friends in, they get to explain it. It’s worked out better than we anticipated. It’s a word-of-mouth thing.

What was the biggest hurdle in opening SR?

David: With any new restaurant it’s getting all of your employees to believe in what you’re doing and working toward a common goal. When a place is new, you have lots of people who have never worked with each other, and you have to blend and know their personalities. All of my key kitchen people came from other jobs [that I’d worked at].

What are the most popular menu items at Sibling Rivalry?

Bob: Anything that has crab or lobster involved has done well. There’s a pepper-seared tuna with a Pinot Noir sauce that’s been a signature at Kinkead’s [and has also done well at SR]. Eventually we run into the same repertoire [as Kinkead’s or Colvin Run], but a lot of things are original to Sibling Rivalry. [David] tends to buy flaky white fish: cod and halibut sell well. The menu is divided 50/50 between seafood and other proteins.
David put on a crispy duck, which is a boneless half duck that’s roasted and removed from the bone and cooked between two cast iron pans — sort of like a pressed chicken. It’s delicious, it’s one of the best-selling dishes so far. It’s kind of unusual to have duck be one of the best sellers. My best seller is Yucatan tuna soup with tomatillos, chiles and cilantro. It has a very Mexicany flavor.

Where do you buy your seafood?

David: Most of it is from Captain Marden’s, and some from Foley Fish. I use different companies for different items.

Which of your three restaurants is the most profitable?

Bob: Sibling Rivalry is the most profitable [per capita] now. The new ones tend to be more profitable because salaries aren’t maxed out like in an old restaurant. There are older, higher-paid employees in an older restaurant. In new a restaurant, benefit plans are just getting started.
Things also break down in older restaurants. [Sibling] is smaller, it’s easy to keep an eye on. I used to think it was just as much work operating 250 and 150-seat restaurants, but 250 [mean] more things to watch. It is potentially more profitable, but not necessarily per dollar.

What are you working on now?

Bob: All of the restaurants have their own particular issues that need improving. That’s my job, to make things better. I’m writing a list of objectives with a detailed list for the management team for all three restaurants. We’ve done other objectives papers, but not as comprehensive as this one now.

Each restaurant has a different issue. For Colvin Run it’s is getting the name out. We’ve had a good year. We opened after 9/11, but that area is still reeling from the dotcom fallout. Getting the name out and customers in the door and knowing we exist
is big.

Kinkead’s is 12 years old now. We have got to be consistently good and remind people we’re here and set a standard that other people can’t match. We have good cover counts, but we have to continue that and make more profit from our current business. In D.C., there’s been an explosion of restaurants in our price bracket.

For Sibling Rivalry, it’s continuing what we’re doing, expanding on the slow nights. We want to make a solid management team and bring the quality of the food up even more. Sundays are by far the slowest there. It’s not in any way different from any other restaurant in Boston.

David: We want to cultivate an interesting lunch alternative. We’re coming up with a menu of small plates where people can order lots of things, like an American dim sum.

Will you open another restaurant?

Bob: I’m not looking per se, but if something comes my way I’d do it. David’s there every day. I come in and make everyone’s life miserable, but he does all the work. You can’t open a restaurant unless you get really good help. The only reason I opened Colvin Run is because I had a good team of good people who were going to leave [Kinkead’s].

The single biggest issue is manpower. Labor is the only issue anymore. If you can’t get good help, then your whole day is a nightmare. Either the staff is grumbling or your customers. Take your pick, someone’s yelling at you. If I do open another restaurant, it’s because we have the people who can run another restaurant.

Could you extend the Sibling Rivalry concept to a second location?

Bob: I don’t have any interest in cookie-cutting [the concept]. Maybe we could do another restaurant in Boston, but not a Sibling Rivalry. It’s a very chef- and creativity-driven menu that’s hard to do. It could be done, but I wouldn’t be looking to do it.

Editor Fiona Robinson can be e-mailed at frobinson@divcom.com 


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