Here’s how Chad Mackay grew his father’s restaurant into a hospitality company
This interview from Puget Sound business Journal is part of a The Middle Market Fast 50 honorees program, which was created in 2019 to recognize the leaders of companies that may fly under the radar but are often economic powerhouses for the region. To be considered, awardees had to have led a company — public or private — that brings in total revenue between $25 million and $1 billion.
Chad Mackay, age 52, joined his father Paul’s El Gaucho business in 2003. Ten years later, he took the reins, as the elder Mackay retired.
Under Chad’s leadership, El Gaucho has evolved into Fire + Vine Hospitality, which owns El Gaucho locations in Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma, Portland and Vancouver, Washington, as well as Aerlume and Aqua by El Gaucho.
Meanwhile, the company’s Revelers Club is partnering with other restaurants and lodges to build a growing marketing arm and rewards network, including Walla Walla Steak Co., Crossbuck Brewing and Yellowhawk Resort.
The goal, Mackay told the Business Journal, is to build a full-scale hospitality company, with clusters of complementary businesses in cities across the region.
Do you share the optimism that a lot of folks have for this summer, and the expected demand for restaurants in the city? I’m optimistic but also, the mayor and the government portion needs to do its job. Any city you go to, and Seattle I think is relearning this, you can have a vibrant element, then something disrupts it. And the people don’t necessarily just come back. We had a lot of disruption the last couple of years. The city was not right. (Government) needs to manage the day-to-day tasks of the city. That’s just paramount. Get rid of the politics, this is an administrative management of a really complex environment that needs to be well maintained to keep people and assets.
You’re opening next in Vancouver, Washington. How has the prospect of expansion evolved since Covid? Five years ago, we were getting offers to come look at the Vancouver waterfront. I think because I was born here, I have kind of a bias against it. I was like, “Yeah, whatever. It’s Vancouver.” But what’s happened is Vancouver has just blossomed. Portland stubbed its toe bad, and other areas benefited quite well from that. We’ll do more in Vancouver. We won’t necessarily do any major stuff in Portland.
What other areas may be the right fit? There are the satellite cities and secondary markets that have enough activity around them. Let’s take Boise. You have enough wealth around there. You’ve got a capital, you have sports, outdoors. There’s a lot going on there. So that’s a pretty compelling environment to go into. It’s a young population. You could spend a lot of time building up a base that will last a long time, and can continue to grow.
What’s next for Fire + Vine? I think we have an opportunity to do another Aqua on another piece of waterfront property outside of this area. So hopefully that will come to fruition here in the next year or so. These deals take a long time.
About Chad Mackay:
CEO | Fire + Vine Hospitality
- Hometown and current residence: Seattle
- Boards: Visit Seattle, Third Door Coalition (also co-founder)
- Hobbies: Flying his Bush Hawk plane around the Northwest, entertaining at home with his wife, Jennifer, and their two sons