The easiest thing about Chris Russell’s job? The commute between the three businesses he owns.
Russell, full name Benjamin Christopher Russell, owns the upscale restaurant B. Christopher’s as well as B’s Bistro and Benjamin’s Seafood. All three are located next to each other in the same plaza on Church Street in Burlington.
Russell moved to Elon College, N.C., in 1984 from Mississippi when he was in the eighth grade.
After working in several local restaurants in high school, Russell decided he wanted to pursue a career in the restaurant industry.
Russell attended Elon College from 1990-93 and got his start in the restaurant industry during that time.
After graduating from Elon, he worked and managed several locations.
“I knew it was something I’d always been interested in,” he said. “I thought it would be time to start something myself.”
After working and taking culinary classes in Washington, D.C., for more than 10 years, Russell decided he wanted to come back to Elon to open his own restaurants.
“I moved here partially out of the comfort level,” he said. “It was a good thing to come back. It’s a nice place to raise a family, too.”
B. Christopher’s opened more than 10 years ago, B’s Bistro four years ago and Benjamin’s three years ago. Benjamin’s is a seafood restaurant that specializes in fried seafood, something Russell said was different from his culinary style.
“There was a void in the (restaurant) marketplace,” Russell said. “I thought fresh seafood would be the niche.”
Russell’s day typically begins at 9 a.m., prepping for meals, cooking and managing the business aspect of the three locations. All of his recipes are original and He usually takes a break in the middle of the afternoon to spend time with his 6-year-old and 8-year-old kids, he said.
The only challenge Russell has is employing and managing 60 people to ensure they all get what they need.
“There are a lot of control issues you have to let go of,” he said.
Russell said he also enjoys the occasional surprises he finds in his freezer. As a hunting club member, Russell’s friends have left him a full deer and once 300 lbs. of halibut in hopes of having him use it for a catered event.
Russell continues to partner with Elon, as well. This past year, B. Christopher’s worked with the athletic department in advertising at football games and providing a source for off-campus catering.
Russell said his newest endeavor will be opening an all-new restaurant this spring on Williamson Avenue near Acorn Coffee Shop. While he couldn’t specify details yet, he said it is going to be what he calls a “gastro pub,” similar to a bistro and driven by a chef.
Russell thought Elon needed a more nightlife-type restaurant and has had a mutual discussion with the university.
“Elon is such a cool school,” he said. “That’s the one area that might be lacking.”
Gerald Whittington, vice president for business, finance and technology, said the university has been talking to several people about developing more retail shops and restaurants in the Town of Elon. Whittington said the university cannot comment on the details until all of the contracts are signed.
Russell said he thinks by having more upscale and unique restaurants like the one coming in the spring, students will not find as much of a need to venture to Greensboro or Chapel Hill, N.C.
A “love of hospitality” is the reason Russell said he continues to do his work.
“I feel like hospitality is in my blood,” he said. “It’s a natural fit for me.”