New Worcester Restaurant Group President Wants To Fill Restaurants Again

Telegram & Gazette
April 2021

The new president of The Sole Proprietor, One Eleven Chop House and VIA Italian Table plans to map a future for the three restaurants but first wants to maintain financial strength by reaching full capacity by the end of the summer.

Caitlyn Carolan, the daughter of the owners of Worcester Restaurant Group, was named to her new role last week. She said the group does not currently have plans for major changes at the restaurants beyond re-establishing business as usual as the state continues to ease COVID-19 restrictions.

“My own personal goal is to take everything day-by-day,” Carolan said. “It’s hard for me to think of plans a year or two years down the road. I think even if we weren’t in the COVID situation it would still be my same goal, because there are so many things that come up in a day. Of course we have hopes and dreams, so it’s our goal to keep the restaurants financially healthy and be able to continue to keep the employees we’ve had for so long and to bring on new employees.”

She said the restaurant group wants to “keep the work environment happy and healthy” and continue to provide its best food and best service.

“If we just do that each day, I think that the next few years will carve their own path,” Carolan said. “It’s definitely a very changing and volatile industry right now. We’ve done a lot but we definitely have a lot to learn. It’s just a part of going through this whole process, and time will teach, so we have very short-term goals right now.”

Worcester Restaurant Group owners Robb and Madeleine Ahlquist passed the torch to their daughter, Carolan. The Ahlquists said they will “continue to be involved in the strategic planning and ongoing development of the culture of customer care and hospitality excellence” while handing more responsibility for the group to Carolan.

The Ahlquists have operated the family business for more than 40 years. They opened The Sole Proprietor, on Highland Street, in 1979, followed by One Eleven Chop House, on Shrewsbury Street, in 1999 and VIA Italian Table next door in 2007.

Robb Ahlquist said he and his wife always intended to pass their business to the next generation. At 70 years old, the couple is now letting their daughter Caitlyn and her husband, Keith, take the reins.

The pandemic interrupted plans for the restaurants, Ahlquist said, but also presented new options for operations. He said the team rearranged the layout of the restaurants, installing the plexiglass shields that became standard over the past year, and restructured kitchen operations to accommodate for the significant increase in takeout orders.

Ahlquist said these changes will most likely remain in place for the foreseeable future.

“Dealing with something like COVID is not in the Business 101 playbook,” he said. “Everybody has to figure out what they were doing and how they were going to do it, and Madeleine and I felt it would be best if we just decided to stay on and work out problems together. We had Caitlyn, Keith and our senior management taking care of daily operations.”

“I think at this point with vaccinations growing rapidly, it’s clear there’s light at the end of the tunnel now,” Ahlquist said. “I think we’ve learned a lot in the last year. We’ve developed a lot of new processes and ways of operating, but we certainly lost a percentage of our employees. It gave Caitlyn and Keith a way to move people around and have a new team, and I think now is a really good time to do the handoff.”

“We’ve done this a long time and it’s something that we knew one day we would have to walk away from,” Ahlquist said about passing down control of the family business. “We were never sure what the exact circumstances would be, though it was our long hope that we would be able to pass it on to the next generation. There was never a hard deadline of when it was going to be, and I think in all honesty this would’ve happened a little sooner.”

Ahlquist said the pandemic slowed the process, but now the reins are being passed to his daughter and her husband.

“We were ready to do it,” he said. “Caitlyn and Keith have both worked at the restaurants now for 15 years so it’s not like they just came in a little while ago and had to get up to speed. They have been a significant part of the operation for a long time.”

As president, Carolan will be responsible for directing and overseeing the operations, marketing and financial aspects of the three restaurants. She served as the chief operating officer of Worcester Restaurant Group before being named president, though she said titles are not important in the group.

“It’s a little bittersweet,” Carolan said about stepping into her new role. “It’s sweet because I’m honored and excited for my husband and I to continue the family business, and my parents have built such a great foundation for us. But it’s also bitter because although my parents aren’t going anywhere, it’s something they’ve done forever and I can empathize with how different and hard it can be to move into a different way of life.”

Ahlquist said he mostly worked on the financial side of the business as well as working with vendors. Carolan said her responsibilities on the team will not change drastically, but she has already started taking over her father’s work over the past year.

“I’m pretty much doing what I’ve been doing, which is overseeing operations of all the restaurants, holding menu meetings, fine-tuning things and keeping a pulse on the industry, and now working on financial things, which is a part I’m eager to learn most about at this point,” she said. “There’s still so much to learn.”

Carolan joined Worcester Restaurant Group in 2007 with Keith and the two have worked several managerial roles at the group’s three restaurants. Keith Carolan is the general manager of VIA Italian Table as well as the beverage director of Worcester Restaurant Group.

Carolan said she and her husband learned from her parents over the years working alongside them.

“My parents have always appreciated people and quality and kindness,” she said. “They’re fair and they do the right thing all the time, and they’re like that in every facet of their life. That has been the biggest thing that I look up to them for. It makes everything else we do pretty easy when you’re always trying to do the right thing.”

She said her parents have always been supportive of her and involved in every aspect of their business.

“They’ve got big shoes that we need to fill, but we’ll do our best,” she said.