bald man in a suit holding flaming skillet in front of diners. restaurant equipmentHow ‘What If Syndicate’ is Cooking Up Growth in the Restaurant Industry

If you ask North Star Leasing’s Scott Goodwin about his dining experience at Maple & Ash steakhouse in Chicago, be prepared to carve out a good portion of your schedule to hear him wax poetic about his recent meal there while visiting this venue.

“The best dining experience I’ve ever had,” Goodwin will say before launching into even more.

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That’s music to Matt Winn’s ears. Winn is one of five partners in What If Syndicate, a  restaurant group that set out on an aggressive growth plan just as the COVID pandemic hit and, remarkably, has continued on an astonishing expansion trend ever since. Chicago’s Maple & Ash may be one of the early successes in What If Syndicate’s portfolio, but it’s far from the last. With eight restaurants currently open and 11 more in development, What If Syndicate projects that it will have 19 restaurants and $180 million in annualized revenue by the end of 2022. By next year, there are plans to be opening, on average, a restaurant per month in several major metro areas around the U.S. At each of those locations, they will strive to elicit the exact kind of reaction from diners that Goodwin had while visiting Maple & Ash in Chicago.

“There are three distinct components of a dining experience with us,” Winn said. “It’s the food, obviously, and then there’s service and atmosphere. It’s good to hear we delivered on all three. We are most proud when people walk out of one of our restaurants and say that it was something special.”

What If Syndicate’s remarkable growth in the ultra-competitive high-end restaurant industry is an incredible study of teamwork, drive, and original thinking. It is redefining the hospitality industry, creating powerful and profitable brands in the middle of the most disruptive and transformative era in modern foodservice history.  For those reasons, we feature them as our latest “North Star All-Star.”

A transformative period

A little transparency here: Goodwin, a Business Development Specialist at North Star Leasing, counts What If Syndicate as one of his customers. But, he said, that doesn’t factor into his glowing review of Maple & Ash.

“After eating there, I can tell you this,” Goodwin said. “If they weren’t already a North Star Leasing customer, I would have done whatever was needed to get them on board. Before you even order your pre-dinner cocktail, you can tell that you’re in a place where every detail has been considered and planned out. It’s a highly professional atmosphere.”

That overall feel has been carefully curated by the executive team leading What If Syndicate. With experience in the commercial real estate industry, Winn is the Chief Development Officer working in synchrony with David Pisor and Jim Lasky (managing partners), Chef Danny Grant, and CMO Molly Currey.

“I call David the ‘mad scientist.’ He and Danny together are the magic,” Winn said. “Molly is the creative side, while Jim and I are there to ground it. We have healthy tension in  the partnership that comes from honest and open discussion. No one person dominates partnership and we have open and honest discussions. What we really have to do is share our ideas and trust in our teams.”

That has worked ever since Maple & Ash opened its doors late in 2015 on Chicago’s Gold Coast. From 2016 through early 2020, What If Syndicate pushed forward with expansion plans, opening a Maple & Ash steakhouse in Scottsdale and perfecting five other unique restaurants brands in Texas and Culver City, CA. Each restaurant is distinctively special, too.­

“We had three restaurants open before the pandemic, and we’ve opened four during it with one more about to come online,” Winn said. “We’ve learned a lot. We’ve learned to be more effective. We’ve learned what food travels well and makes for a good take-out option. We learned about our people and our processes.”

meat grilling over open fire restaurant equipmentFrom 1 to 10 and counting

As What If Syndicate continues to grow, Winn said they’re counting on existing connections with outside partners like North Star Leasing to make expansion as seamless as possible. Building on a relationship that started years before with Lasky, North Star Leasing has played a role in financing 10 equipment leasing deals for What If Syndicate’s since 2017. That’s allowed the restaurant group to earmark on-hand cash for services, marketing, and permitting other start-up costs.

“Restaurants are expensive undertakings,” Winn said, “and one of the legacies of the pandemic is that costs are up,  in some cases more than 25 percent. “The ability to work with somebody like North Star Leasing to finance our equipment allows us to use our capital in the restaurant to develop those special things that make folks want to come back.”

Winn said another advantage of a solid relationship with North Star Leasing is that What If Syndicate can make expansion plans knowing in advance have secure financing for equipment already in place.

“I had a mentor who once told me one leads to two and two leads to ten with a good partner in place,” Winn said. “We feel like we have that with North Star Leasing.”

Inspired by Matt’s story? You, too, can become a North Star All-Star by partnering with us to help your business grow. Learn more.


‘What If Syndicate’ Cooks Up Growth