Volume 2 | Issue 2 | Year 2006

Hoss’s Steak and Sea House is an established, company-owned and operated chain of eateries. The privately owned company runs 43 restaurants. Forty are in Pennsylvania, with two in West Virginia and one in Virginia. Hoss’s specializes in cooked-to-order steaks, chicken, and seafood, offering a varied menu and catering to the family trade.
The long-standing brand has been a surprising leader and innovator in the restaurant business, blazing a new trail to establish a fast-casual concept long before anyone even knew what that meant. Seeking to fill the gap between fast food and full-service, sit-down restaurants, founder and CEO Willard E. Campbell introduced the idea for the restaurant in DuBois, Pa. in 1983.

“Back in the 1980s there wasn’t as much competition and casual dining really was not as plentiful as it is today,” observes Bridget Bingham, director of sales.

Campbell and a management team made up the name Hoss’s, which seems to express the notion of a Western-style steak house. “The name has some loose ties to the notion of Midwest, ranch, hearty and strong ideas,” Bingham says.

Over the years, Campbell made some forward-thinking moves that were risky but paid off. “Ten years ago Hoss’s made the decision, company-wide to go smoke free,” Bingham says. “It was a gamble for our company because at that time they were just starting to talk about public buildings being smoke free. The decision lined up with the company’s core philosophy of fresh quality food and a fresh environment. Being a family-style restaurant we were hearing from families with children. There was just no good way to create a smoke-free section in our building because they are big and open with high ceilings. We decided to do it and do it right and that means smoke free.”

The smoke-free decision shows the company’s priority of taking care of employees. The company lost a little business initially but quickly recovered. (Smoking areas are provided outside of the restaurants.)

Another forward-thinking move was to create a light menu years before it was fashionable. “We took our mainstream entr‚e offerings and created lighter portions at lighter prices. We did this in the mid-1990s when more was better,” Bingham reflects. “That was another decision at the time that was well received and grew in momentum over the years.”

More recently, the chain has diversified its menu by repackaging offerings, and combining its famous salad bar with inexpensive sandwiches to compete in today’s value arena. Hoss’s continues to pioneer new menu items like the flat iron steak. Also on the product side, the company is now testing sizzling steak and chicken toppers. “It’s an effort to marry traditional entrees with enhanced flavor profiles. So if you like your steak but want a little bit of a different twist, you can try one of these delicious sizzling toppers,” Bingham says. “Variety is so important to regular guests.”

Up With People

Campbell attributes Hoss’s phenomenal success to the selection of its employees as well as a focus on guest satisfaction and a great menu.

“Hiring and retaining quality employees is a huge challenge in the restaurant industry. Hoss’s company culture attracts people. Current employees bring other people in. Retaining employees has to do with how you treat, train, and pay them. We put a lot of time and effort into the human resources side of our company to make sure we are very competitive,” Bingham says.

Quality in the menu

Looking at the menu, it is easy to see the quality focus. Hoss’s prepares each meal to order using only the freshest ingredients available. Purchasing Western grain-fed beef that meets strict standards, steaks are cut fresh and never frozen. The company is vertically integrated and runs its own beef processing and distribution operation. Hoss’s Fresh Express has a U.S.D.A. inspector on site. “We can react to product issues and trends quickly because those decisions are made, controlled and executed by our team,” Bingham says. “With bar coding and order technologies we can decrease our on-hand inventory, which is huge because that’s money sitting on shelves.”

Hoss’s Steak and Sea House is out in front in the food safety area with resources devoted to programs, training, and measurement efforts. “Hoss’s is a leader in food safety, we take that very seriously and we find ourselves doing more than what’s expected. We have quality assurance on all levels and have employees devoted to those issues. So we go above and beyond to make sure we’re doing what’s required,” Bingham says. “We are our own toughest customer. The central [beef] processing plant has to please Hoss’s.”

The chain also serves a variety of seafood perfectly seasoned, delicately broiled, or lightly breaded and lightly fried in cholesterol-free vegetable shortening. “We have many seafood suppliers and our staff of buyers are always looking for the best quality, along with new products and trends.”

Hoss’s Steak and Sea House also offers a variety of boneless breast of chicken entrees. Skinless filets are served in a variety of styles from grilled, lightly fried, or buffalo-style to marinated with barbecue or Italian seasonings.

Perhaps most famously, Hoss’s Steak and Sea House showcases an impressive soup and salad bar featuring over 100 quality items. All entrees include the salad bar, which features made-from-scratch, hearty soups, special recipe salads, crispy vegetables, and delicious sauces. Products are made in the restaurants’ own kitchens to ensure the freshest quality.

The soup and salad bar also features various fresh-baked, warm breads, delicious fruits and desserts, and soft-serve ice cream.

“We are trying to respond to a national initiative to keep our young people healthier and giving them healthier alternatives. We are trying to contribute to teaching our society to eat healthier. We have to do our part and have those offerings on the menu and the salad bar,” Bingham says. The company will also soon release detailed nutritional information on its menu and salad bar offerings.

Lifting the Community

Hoss’s decor is warm and friendly with the buildings constructed of brick and natural wood. Interiors are decorated with early American antiques and paintings using wagon wheel light fixtures as well as plants and memorabilia native to each restaurant’s locale. Hoss’s builds each free-standing restaurant from the ground up. Many locations feature a focal, four-sided hearth.

Central branding, incorporating local community artifacts, is yet another hot trend today that Hoss’s has been doing for years. The company is now positioning itself for future growth with plans to remodel and revamp existing sites. “Over the last few years we have not had many new building projects. We have committed a significant amount of resources toward existing stores so that, as we move forward on new buildings, everyone is on the same footing.” Future growth plans include 10 new locations within the next four years.

As for growth, the company has held its own in the last few years and business is up somewhat lately. “We are pleased with that in this economic environment,” Bingham reports.

Campbell built the chain one community at a time and still treats business that way. “It’s very refreshing in this day and age,” Bingham says. “We live in a fast-paced, dog-eat-dog world and Hoss’s is different. We are community partners–that’s a big part of our culture. We are committed to making a positive difference in every community. We encourage our people to be active in their communities and we recognize and reward employees for doing such things.” In addition to employee recognition, the company gives significantly to local causes, particularly children’s charities and programs, such as 4-H and FFA, including scholarships.

“We make it a point to be a part of the community we are in,” Bingham says.