Knowing how to attract diners—and keep them coming back—is the restaurant industry’s million dollar question. It’s something Stephen Hightower has mulled extensively over the course of his 25-year career. The secret, he says, is knowing your audience.
“Honestly, I’d put the Baton Rouge palate up against any other in America,” says Hightower, 47, managing partner of City Group Hospitality. “People here understand what they like. They’re great home cooks. They know flavor, and they travel.”
Hightower has spent the last six years shaping and expanding City Group Hospitality’s impressive lineup of restaurants, which includes City Pork Bar and Brasserie, City Slice, Rouj Creole and the recently acquired Beausoleil Restaurant and Bar, now rebranded as Beausoleil Coastal Cuisine. The group also holds City Pork at LSU, and thriving catering and food services divisions capable of delivering everything from weddings to school lunches.
Hightower’s seasoned perspective in the business is informed by a mashup of diverse experiences that began in the kitchen of the former Murphy’s Bar and Grill, where he learned to make homemade stock and not take culinary shortcuts, even in a watering hole. That was followed by several years on the road with Ruth’s Chris Steak House, and later, in a stint at Bocage Racquet Club, where he revamped the food and beverage program. Hightower opened Frankie’s Dawg House and the now-closed LeRoy’s, and in 2014, he bought a majority share in City Pork and became managing partner of its restaurant group.
From artisan barbecue to pizza to Creole fare that honors south Louisiana’s diverse foodways, City Group Hospitality’s restaurants continue to influence Baton Rouge’s dining landscape, and show no sign of slowing down.
Last year, when restaurants were asked to pivot beyond their wildest expectations, Hightower led the purchase of the popular eatery Beausoleil, refreshing its hip-Southern ethos, and creating a coastal theme girded by a modern raw bar.
There’s more to come from the restaurant group in the coming months, promises Hightower.