With New CEO and Investment Partners, Mendocino Farms Prepares For Expansion

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Soon we’ll start seeing a whole lot more of Mendocino Farms as the brand gears up for expansion.

Foodable first visited the brand back in 2014 when Judy Han was still Mendo’s executive chef. In an episode for our show Fast Casual Nation, we discussed the restaurant’s approach to gourmet sandwiches, its sourcing practices and the relationships this small chain develops with local farmers in each community it serves.

The Southern California-based, fast casual restaurant chain can be found in 16 locations across Los Angeles, Orange County and San Diego. Now, it plans to open more eateries across California and beyond.

The news come as it was announced that a growth equity firm called TPG Growth has acquired a majority stake in Mendocino Farms. Details of the transaction were not disclosed, but what’s for sure is that co-founders Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen are still the largest individual shareholders of Mendocino Farms.

To support the new expansion efforts the brand is joined by industry veteran Harald Herrmann as Mendocino’s New CEO. In the past, Herrmann served as president of Darden’s Specialty Restaurant Group and co-founder of The Yard House.

“Mario and I have been looking for the right partners to help achieve our mission of growing Mendo, while staying true to the brand’s culture and values. We are thrilled to have Harald and TPG Growth as our new partners,” said Co-Founder Ellen Chen, in a press release.

Learn more at “Business Wire”

How These Female Innovators are Forever Changing the Food Industry

How These Female Innovators are Forever Changing the Food Industry

Similar to our Chef Alliance list, we have compiled the Innovator 50, a list featuring the most inspiring individuals in the industry. 

This list isn't only designated for chefs or restaurateurs either. There are five categories within this special selection of individuals, each celebrating innovators in a different area of expertise.

Even though male chefs earn an average of 28.1% more than female chefs according to Glassdoor, the food industry is no longer a man’s world.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than half of the restaurants in the U.S. are owned or are co-owned by women. 45% of restaurant managers are women, compared to the 38% of female managers found in other industries.

These numbers prove that women are leading the way. While Carin Stutz of Red Robin and Kat Cole of Cinnabon are reigning in the corporate restaurant world, our Innovators list features some of the other women changing the way America is eating.

Let’s take a closer look at the leading ladies who have helped to create some of the most successful food businesses in the country.

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Sandwich Shakeup: Leading Ladies in this Emerging Sector Tell Us How their Concepts Stand Out From the Rest

Sandwich Shakeup: Leading Ladies in this Emerging Sector Tell Us How their Concepts Stand Out From the Rest

By Kerri Adams, Editor-at-Large 

The fast casual sandwich sector has come a long way from restaurants serving the same old turkey club and roast beef sandwich.

Creative concepts have emerged and are offering diners a unique twist on many sandwich favorites, while also serving menu items guests have never seen before. 

Although Jersey Mikes and the quick-serve Arby’s are chains on the rise, many other sandwich chains are having difficulty competing with these emerging concepts. 

Former sandwich kings, like Subway have been forced to close hundreds of stores this year. The pressure from the fast casual segment, especially with the new array of innovative options for customers to choose from, has had a negative impact on major chains. 

These elevated sandwich concepts are disrupting the segment as they continue to gain traction in the market. 

Two restaurants uppin’ the ante in this sector are Matt & Marie’s and Mendocino Farms. Both of these concepts have leading ladies as co-founders and we decided to sit down with each off them to see how their concepts are standing out from the rest. 

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On Foodable Insight Series: Premium Fast Casuals Pulling From Casual Dining

Fast casual has already made its mark on the industry as a game-changing segment — and the fastest-growing one the industry has ever seen — as the all-in-one answer to the consumer need for speed and better-for-you ingredients. In a previous episode of "On Foodable Insight Series," Foodable discussed the innovation of fast casual phenoms, but how does fast casual continue to evolve? Is it becoming higher class? Moving from a simple step above quick-service restaurants to upscale fast casuals, to now chef-inspired fast casuals, there's no denying that this segment continues to defy the odds.

Paul Barron sits down with Oath Craft Pizza President and COO Rick Wolf, and co-founders of Mendocino Farms, company CEO Mario Del Pero and company President Ellen Chen, to see how their own philosophy of connecting the best farmers and artisan food to their industry is something that is being seen across all of fast casual. How does the consumer psyche play a role into this? 

Elevating the Fast Casual Dining Experience

According to Del Pero, fast casual was initially a QSR environment, but with better food. The dining room, the ordering process, and all those other elements were identifiable with quick service, but he and Chen wanted to pull more from casual dining.

"That was one of the things that we kind of wanted to blur the lines, and this was even from 12 years ago...mimicking that of casual dining, where if you come into our restaurant, you're not going straight to a counter," Chen said, adding that a host instead guides the guest through the ordering process and the menu. "It is chef-driven, so we want to make sure they are able to highlight the ingredients, highlight the farmers. And so from there, you're really going through this process of where once you pay, it's literally like you're in casual dining."

At Mendocino Farms, the staff runs the food to the guest and busses tables, elevating the fast casual dining experience. Why are consumers willing to take the leap up in price point for this service?

"If I actually think I'm getting a $16 sandwich, and I actually understand that the quality of ingredients are of a $16 or a $14 sandwich at $10 [the Mendocino Farms price point], and now you're giving me this incredible environment, now it's a fantastic value proposition," Del Pero said.

Consumer Expectation

"I think overall consumers have very high expectations of brands these days, not only from the type of quality of products you serve, but they're really looking for unique flavor profiles. They want to experiment, try things different," Wolf said. "One thing we always talk about is create a cravable product. Something that when people eat it, they say, 'I'm amazed.'"

These trends actually describe how Oath itself came about, the company founder determined to elevate the pizza experience by inventing a new crust: grilling it on one side and searing it with olive oil on the other. It is a personification of chef-driven pizza.

Want to learn how these premium fast casual players are opening up the discussion of sustainability, craft pizza, craft beverage, and more in the industry? Watch the full episode.