Image Credit: Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market
Mendocino Farms opened its first cloud kitchen in Long Beach, California in November 2020. We caught up with Gene Davis, CRFP, Senior Director of Facilities, to talk facility management technology, cloud kitchens and how the brand fared during the pandemic.
Mendocino Farms recently implemented Ecotrak Facility Management Software. Why did you go with Ecotrak?
We were with ServiceChannel, and we switched to Ecotrak. I've spent a lot of time with ServiceChannel. I rolled out ServiceChannel in my last two companies, and Mendocino Farms already had ServiceChannel. I knew about Ecotrak, and after seeing their demos, I decided to switch. ServiceChannel served us well, but Ecotrak is more intuitive, easier to use, has more analytical tools, and for our younger managers, it's mobile-based and just a cooler technology. The other reason is the price. ServiceChannel and Ecotrak offer similar features, but ServiceChannel tacks them onto the price. Everything was a la carte. With Ecotrak, we get one price and all the features, and that was appealing to us.
How has your customer experience been with Ecotrak?
I've received great service during the transition. With ServiceChannel, if you have a problem, there's a help desk. You submit an email and it goes back and forth. Ecotrak has amazing support. They have somebody manning the phone 24/7. If I have a question, I like to pick up the phone and talk to somebody versus typing a message like a service request and then waiting for an email response. I’m in California; my stores are in California, and Ecotrak is based in California. I'm excited about having a better support system. That was a big factor.
How is the transition going?
It’s good. We have a client success person, Michael, who is great. It was easier than I thought it would be. The salesperson said, "This is going to be really easy." And I said, “Okay, great,” but I was skeptical. Nothing is easy, especially in facilities. Anything that can go wrong will go wrong. But we've had weekly calls. They've done a lion's share of the dirty work: the loading of assets and PMs. We're about to start the final phase: training. They have a great trainer and training program.
How have your restaurants fared during the pandemic?
Our brand is delivery heavy. That’s one of the reasons we've done so well during the pandemic. The brands that had drive-through and delivery in place made it through.
The company opened its first ghost kitchen. Why don’t you call it a ghost kitchen?
People call them ghost kitchens or virtual kitchens, but we say cloud kitchens. “Ghost” sounds like there's nobody there, but there are lots of people at our cloud kitchen.
Did Mendocino have a cloud kitchen before the pandemic?
No, we opened one in the middle of the pandemic. At the time, opening restaurants was difficult. It was easier to open a cloud kitchen. It shares a facility with 12 or 13 other concepts.
What challenges did you face with opening the cloud kitchen?
Two ways. They can use popular food-delivery apps, such as Grub Hub, Uber Eats, Postmates or Door Dash – we partner with all of them – or use the Mendocino Farms app. Customers can also pick up their orders. The facility has food lockers. A staff member tells them their locker number. It’s contactless since they paid on the app. On our website, it's promoted as “Long Beach Kitchen – Delivery and Pickup Only” to make that clear for guests so they don't get dressed up and show up for dinner at that location.
Does the cloud kitchen support catering?
Yes. Pre-pandemic, catering was an enormous part of Mendocino Farms’ business. We were known for our catering. So, we hope, as people go back to the office, and things slowly go back to whatever the new normal is, that we will be catering a lot more out of Long Beach.
Are there more cloud kitchens in Mendocino Farms’ future?
We've had great success with the first one. Sales are great. The Operation is great. So, we're looking at a couple of different sites – one by Berkeley and one in San Francisco. The small footprint makes it easier to add more to our portfolio. We're convinced that adding more kitchens will strengthen our brand.
What trends have you noticed?
Consumer behaviors have transitioned to online ordering. People like having their groceries delivered because of the convenience. This translates to cloud kitchens well. People will continue ordering food online for delivery or pickup. People get into a routine and it becomes the norm. People are used to it. They're comfortable with it, and they like the new way better in some cases.
Gene Davis , CRFP, is the Senior Director of Facilities at Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market.