Chris Miller grew up around the restaurant business.
“My family had worked in restaurants before, so I was comfortable in the industry,” said the Webster City native. “My first job out of high school was in an Applebee’s, and I enjoyed that environment so I decided to make it a career.”
Miller completed his degree in restaurant management and culinary arts at Kirkwood and went to work in the industry when one of his former instructors, Lee Belfield, called and asked him to come to work for Belfield at a new restaurant he was developing.
“That was in 2006,” recalls Miller. “Zin’s opened in 2007.”
Running the day to day operation of a busy, successful restaurant is no small feat and Miller wears many hats throughout the course of his typical 10-plus hour work days in his role as general manager.
“Generally, in the mornings I wear my manager hat while writing schedules, talking to clients about catering events, and counting cash drawers to make sure costs are in line,” Miller explained.
“When the dining room is active I try to be in the dining room for lunch and dinner.”
“I try to be where I am needed,” he said. “If that’s in the kitchen, it’s the kitchen, but I have a talented staff that can do things on their own.
“If it’s helping to valet cars—I valet cars, and then I end my day back in the office again.”
November, December and January are the busiest months for the restaurant.
“There is a lot going on downtown at those times, plus the holiday parties,” Miller noted. “A lot of our business is tied to Theatre Cedar Rapids, the new U.S. Cellular Convention Center and the Paramount Theater.”
Miller noted that starting out, it was a struggle to get customers in the door, but noted that, “the economy is definitely getting better.”
To keep the restaurant’s offerings interesting for the clientele, new items are changed out.
“We try and change a few items on our menu every few weeks,” Miller said. “We don’t have a set schedule, but our goal is to turn over our menu one or two items at a time—and seasonally.”
Two items that never leave the menu at Zin’s, however, are the home-style mac’n cheese and the chocolate bread pudding.
“They are two of our biggest sellers. We wouldn’t dare take them off the menu,” he grinned. “We make our own brioche specifically for that bread pudding.”
Miller has sage advice for anyone thinking of entering into the restaurant business.
“I would encourage young people who want to get into culinary arts, or managing or owning their own restaurant, to spend time giving attention to the business side of running a business,” Miller said.
“You see a lot of people who are really talented chefs, or really good at running a dining room, but they can’t keep a business open. It’s not just about cooking food,” he added. “It’s about paying bills as well.”
AT A GLANCE