Landscape is important. It tells us where we’ve been, where we are, and where we are going. Recognizing the familiar slant of tiled roof, knowing there’s a pothole at this exact spot on Fifth Avenue, not having to really think when driving home after work—physical signposts give us an emotional sense of place, a “this is my world” center of gravity.
For many in Columbus, Lindey’s is one of those touchstones.
Driving, biking, or walking around the uneven brick streets of German Village, everyone knows Lindey’s, spreading its warmth from the corner of Mohawk and Beck streets. Opened in 1981, the improbable d
ream of Sue Doody is still going strong and lives not only through the success of the beloved restaurant, but also through the lives of her sons.
Changing the national restaurant landscape, the eldest son Rick oversees 100 Bravo and Brio eateries across the country, while younger brother Chris blankets the Midwest with fast-casual hit Piada.
On this Friday after Thanksgiving, however, all three are together in a more intimate location—the Doody household in Upper Arlington.
“I remember my parents going to buy a TV that had UHF so that you could watch Julia Child on the OSU channel,” Rick said to his mom, who nodded. “And I remember shortly thereafter, running through the kitchen and being told “DON’T RUN” because there were soufflés in the oven and they were afraid they would fall.”
“Oh my gosh, I’d forgotten all about that,” laughed Sue. “We loved to do soufflés, crabmeat, cheese…”
“I was probably 5 or 6. My earliest memories are like that,” Rick said. “We also had lobster races in the front yard,” added Chris.
Today, grandchildren and a gargantuan Saint Bernard slip in and out of rooms.
“I’d come home from school for lunch every day because I’d have eggs benedict for lunch; it was just all the types of food that we got to eat…artichokes, lobster…things that weren’t readily available,” Chris recalled.
It was in this home that the idea for Lindey’s was born. “Columbus was not a food mecca when I moved here—it was meat and potatoes when we moved from the Dayton and Cincinnati area. They have great restaurants, and friends knew I liked to cook, so they took us to ‘the best restaurant in Columbus, and
they served canned green beans,” Sue said with a look of horror. “And I thought those were probably the worst things I’d ever eaten because they don’t even taste like green beans and the color is so yuck…it’s gray!”
Sue was very much into Child at the time, and in some ways, her life has paralleled that of the American icon. After absorbing recipes and tips from Child’s PBS show and books, Sue started teaching gourmet cooking classes from her home. After delighting in that endeavor, she decided to open her own restaurant, one like the bistros she and the family were used to seeing during their many travels. “An adult TGI Fridays,” Rick said.
“We didn’t want to be intimidating…there was a place called L’Armagnac—the waiters were so intimidating. I mean, if you pronounced the name of a French wine wrong, they’d look at you askance and were not real friendly,” Sue said. “I wanted my waiters to all be friendly and not say no to anything the guests wanted, if it was possible.”
Sue’s dream site had been a revolving door of restaurant concepts: “It was four different restaurants in the 10 years before I bought it, and it looked like a bordello—red flecked wallpaper, red carpeting, red-backed velvet chairs. It was the boys helping me and the friends they knew from Ohio State. We went to a lot of liquidating sales.”
The banks just laughed at me when I said we needed money, so their dad sort of bankrolled us, and the banks wouldn’t give us money unless they had his signature. And I didn’t necessarily want that, but then finally I bought all this stuff at sales, and they gave me a loan on the stuff that I bought.”
It’s hard to think of Lindey’s without the bar front and center, but Rick remembers when this wasn’t the case. “When we first got the building, the bar was upstairs and I think the best thing we ever did was move the bar downstairs—we’re just going to try to do an upscale bistro.”
“There was a wall that went from the front to the stairway, with a door in it…” Sue said.
“It was the worst design ever,” Rick added.
“Columbus was not a food mecca
when I moved here—it was meat and
potatoes … they took us to ‘the best restaurant in Columbus’ and they served canned green beans.”
“You want to walk in the door and you want to see who’s here and what’s going on…those three tables in the front are called the power tables, 10, 20, and 30 across the windows, and that’s where people want to sit. People like to be seen…” Sue said
“Not everybody—Mary Lazarus liked to sit in the back,” Rick clarified.
“Well, yeah, but certain people like to be seen—everybody likes to be seen. One time, this couple came in, a wife and a husband married to other people, and he said, ‘We’re having an affair,’ and I said, ‘This should be the last place you would come,” laughed Sue.
Looking back, it’s hard to imagine how one determined woman, with no restaurant experience whatsoever, had the gumption to open a restaurant.
“All these people telling me I couldn’t gave me strength!” Sue said. “We opened with all my recipes, and it was kind of a brazen thing to do. I didn’t have a repertoire and I was not a trained cook or chef; they were all Julia Child’s recipes—coq au vin, beef bourganain—and Columbus was not ready for that.”
What is now Columbus’s favorite restaurant was not welcomed with open arms. “The Dispatch said, ‘How does this Upper Arlington den mother think she can make a go of this white elephant in German Village?’ That was the headline when I opened, so I told John Wolfe, who was a very good friend of mine, I would like that retracted, and he laughed,” Sue said.
“We barely thought we were going to make it,” admitted Rick. “We did $900,000 the first year and now the restaurant makes 6 million.”
“And I didn’t know what I was doing, it was really a ‘fool’s rush in’ kinda thing because I wasn’t trained in anything. I sent Rick off to Cornell to get a graduate degree and find out what I was supposed to do,” Sue said. “Later on, Mike Harden wrote this great article in this area of The Dispatch called ‘Accent’ and it was on the front page. It said, ‘Lindey’s: Simply the Place To Be.’
“He worked there for three days,” Rick said. “As a busboy.”
“That article put us on the map,” Sue added.
“Remember my cappuccino machine?” Sue asked.
“It never worked,” Rick said.
“It was this Italian monstrosity, and the servers hated it because it had all these arms going out in all different ways. And it was like a Fiat—you know, fix it again Tony. There was this little man in German Village who used to come fix it all the time, but it was pretty…” Sue said.
“It was a piece of art,” Chris said.
“Someone came into Lindey’s and said, ‘Oh, I have your old cappuccino machine,’ and I said, ‘Lotsa luck!’” Sue said.
As Lindey’s grew into the city’s go-to restaurant, Sue’s sons started to cast about for ways to branch out.
“Rick started [Lindey’s] with mom and his passion, and mine too, was not to go work for a large company, I think that, when I graduated from business school, I didn’t know what to do and came back, I was just really was thrown to the wolves. It wasn’t easy—but I started cooking in the back, and that gives you a lot of experience to later hopefully run a restaurant business,” said Chris, who launched the Bravo/Brio brand with Rick and now oversees the growing Piada chain.
“You both, from traveling as much as we did, you both had a feel for what a good restaurant was,” Sue said.
“I think most people who end up in the restaurant business don’t plan to be in the restaurant business,” Rick said. “It sort of grabs them…”
“It’s theater,” Sue said.
“I didn’t have a repertoire and I was
not a trained cook or chef; they were
all Julia Child’s recipes—coq au vin,
beef bourganain—and Columbus was not ready for that.”
“They start off as a waiter, as a cook in the kitchen, and the next thing you know, it’s a career,” said Rick. “But for us, we’ve always sort of plodded along, we’ve had difficult years and good years, but if you look at the progress of the business over 34 years, it’s consistently up. It’s an institution; they did $42,000 yesterday for Thanksgiving…”
“One day—1,000 reservations,” Sue added.
“The Columbus restaurant institution has become a Thanksgiving institution,” Rick said.
“I think this business is one we’ve tried to perfect first before we grew them, and Bravo and Brio, when we started that, were going up against these chain restaurants, Olive Garden and Macaroni Grill. These companies are growing and opening 25 restaurants a year, and we didn’t understand that; we just understood how to make better food. We figured sooner or later people will appreciate that and the tide did turn,” Rick explained. “So we’ve always taken the position that the restaurant business is a business of 10,000 details—how you manage the details is how you manage the business, and we try to perfect every detail a little bit better everyday.”
As for Piada, Chris mentions the talent for observation each possesses with regard to trends. “Lindey’s filled a void in Columbus. Bravo and Brio filled a niche—better food, better design, a reasonable price point—and now this trend of fast-casual has come and it’s powerful.”
Chris speaks of people having less time but wanting better food. “[Piada] is certainly different from full-service, but it’s challenging in its own way.”
In addition to Chris and Rick, Sue has two daughters, both successful but outside the world of restaurants. “One time we were in Key West,” Sue said. “And the food came and the boys and I were just ripping it apart, and the girls always got so mad when we would talk about food—well, they got up and left!” Sue finishes her story and looks around the living room—her boys are there, grandchildren walk up and down the stairs, and her brother’s art hangs on the wall. This is the location of all things family, a sense that also permeates Lindey’s—it feels like a community living room.
“I am humbled by this business,” she said. “It’s a never-ending quest to be better. I mean, we’re not saving lives, we’re just trying to provide a better dining experience.”
And that’s what put Lindey’s and the Doodys on the map.