06 Oct Restaurant CEO Finds Fresh Opportunities in Pandemic
George Tenedios, CEO and co-founder of fresh&co, doesn’t sleep well. The insomnia started in March, when the pandemic forced him to shutter all 19 of his fast-casual, locally sourced fresh-food restaurants.
“The thought of losing the brand entirely continuously runs through my head,” said Tenedios, who tried to stay open but hemorrhaged to less than one percent of sales in a matter of days. With his team of 950 employees reduced to a skeletal crew of five, it took him 60 days before reopening, slowly.
“I keep imagining what the landscape will look like if all independent operators can’t afford to re-open in the next six months and stay alive,” he said.
Yet Tenedios has found some jewels in the gloom that have quelled his anxiety, at least a bit.
“One major opportunity we’ve found is to streamline the menu,” he said. “We were forced to dive into our purchasing and sales data and determine what the popular items were, and what were not so popular — and reduced our menu by 15 percent, which will be permanent.”
Tenedios’ methodology translates to most businesses: Identify your labor intensive items, low volume items, and high cost items, take one or all of three of these categories and pull your product mix, or purchasing data and compile a list. “These are the items that you should be removing ASAP, even if it’s just a five percent reduction,” he said.
His company’s marketing underwent a facelift too. “There are no guerilla tactics anymore with marketing,” he said, “no one wants to touch anything — now it’s all digital.”
So Tenedios stopped producing print flyers and promos and has poured resources into his email list — he’s cleaned and segmented it by zip code so he can send location-specific announcements. He’s also upgraded the restaurants’ smartphone app. By drilling down into data and identifying multiple customer tiers, he’s increased the loyalty rewards program, while also implementing point of sale technology that’ll make it easier for app users to get their meals more efficiently.
With hindsight, Tenedios says he would have done things differently, or course. “In May when we began reopening our locations, I probably should have opened fewer stores,” he said. “We could have focused more on a few strategic locations around Manhattan, and honed in on the existing population of the city.”
He’s had to permanently shutter five locations, and expects that another four will fail. He’s still only at 10 percent of pre-COVID sales, with about 25 percent of team members back on payroll.
But he’s banking on New York’s resilience. “We’ve gone through it all before, 9/11, the recession — everything goes into shambles for a time and then we bounce back,” he said. “Once the political season and the flu season is over, New York City will be back.”
He’s still anxious, of course, if only because he can’t stomach the idea of the city devoid of a fast casual, fresh food option. “NYC’s fast casual scene filled with only the big commercial and fast food chains?,” he asked with comic effect, “it makes me sick!”
Schneps Insights loves featuring local NYC business owners. Want to share how you’ve reshaped your marketing strategy to better navigate through uncertain times brought on by the pandemic? Need some help?