Restaurant owner Cameron Mitchell of Columbus (photo by Chris Casella)
Food + Drink

Cameron Mitchell and the Moment that Changed Everything

As he readied to open his 100th restaurant, we talked with the Columbus dining-scene giant about the pivotal moment that set him on his career path.

Cameron Mitchell opened Cameron’s of Worthington on the north side of Columbus in 1993. Since that time, he’s grown his restaurant empire throughout the city and far beyond.

Given the success Mitchell has had, it is surprising to learn that his earliest days in restaurants were just a job rather than what he saw as the first steps on a career path. But a pivotal realization during one of his restaurant shifts set in motion what Cameron Mitchell Restaurants has become today. In addition to Mitchell’s more than 20 Columbus restaurants, he’s adding a steakhouse downtown, the Northern Italian-focused Valentina’s at Dublin’s Bridge Park and a fine-dining Mediterranean concept at Easton Town Center.

This month brings the premiere of Cento in German Village. Italian for “100,” Cento marks the opening of Mitchell’s 100th restaurant. We talked with him about the restaurant business, his go-to meal and the moment that changed everything.

You’re on the verge of opening your 100th restaurant, Cento. How did that come about?
My wife and I say we’re fake Italians. We love Italian food. Pasta is her No. 1 thing. We always wanted to do an Old World, fine-dining Italian restaurant, so it’s really a passion project for us. Naming a restaurant is very, very difficult. We were working on the name and separately our marketing team starts counting up and says, “We’re getting close to opening our 100th restaurant,” and lo and behold, Cento came up  [from one of the corporate chefs].

When you’re headed to dinner somewhere for the first time, what’s your go-to meal?Overall, I love all good food and am always taking recommendations when I try somewhere new. My absolute go-to is a steak dinner with all the fixings. You can never go wrong.

So, what was the moment when you decided to get into the restaurant business?
In high school, I was “can do but won’t do.” I was working for beer money, living at home with my mom. I wasn’t thinking about the restaurant business as a career. … I graduated summer school in 1981. Fast forward to February 1982, I’m still working in restaurants, working two jobs, living at home. I was suspended from Max & Erma’s for three days for being late, and when I came back to work, I was under probation. I was the laziest guy in the kitchen, working for the man, and I had this epiphany at 4 p.m. shift change. I said, “You know, I love this business.” I went home, wrote out my goals, said I’d go to the Culinary Institute of America, be an executive chef by 24. I woke my mom up that morning and said, ‘This is what I want to do.’ I never looked back.

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