With state and local governments continually changing the rules around on-premises dining and consumer comfort with this activity fluctuating, restaurant owners have had to get creative in their search for new revenue streams.
Such is the case with One Off Hospitality. During the throes of the pandemic, the Chicago-based multiconcept operator began shipping a carefully curated menu of some of its dishes to customers across the country through its One Off at Home program, which ships cooking kits to customers throughout the country.
“It was very apparent with the restrictions nationally and the intensified restrictions in Illinois, we were going to need to develop new streams of revenue,” says Karen Browne, CEO of One Off Hospitality. “We knew early on, when the country was going through this health crisis, it would be important to attach experiences to our food. So, we curated a series of items and told the story of those menu items. We had a very talented team that was well positioned to do that.”
avec and The Publican restaurants. Examples of menu items include avec’s chorizo-stuffed dates to the Publican Farm Chicken Dinner. As part of the production process, the chefs at One Off Hospitality remain very hands-on throughout this entire process. “What’s important is when you get a meal from one of our restaurants, it comes under the supervision of our chefs,” Browne says. “Plus, this pandemic has reinvigorated Executive Chef/Partner Paul Kahan, and he’s working even more closely with the chefs.”One Off at Home’s options range from starters to steaks and include items from the company’s
To maintain control of the process, One Off Hospitality assembles and ships all orders from its restaurants. That allows the company to deal with any challenges as they come, Browne says. “We’ve toyed with it a couple ways. Some restaurants are big, and it works there. Some are more boutiquey, like avec, so we have to be more thoughtful about how we do it there,” she adds. “We do have a lot of rigor and operating procedures about the boxes and how they get built. Our industry is very good at precision and executing to a recipe. The biggest issue we discuss all the time is when do we cut off the orders because the chefs need time to prepare. Our passion centers on our brand, service and excellence. We wanted to control that experience ourselves.”
One key to the success of this initiative is clearly defined roles for all involved, according to Browne. “Our back-of-the-house professionals are creating the food and our front-of-the-house professionals are packaging the food and even playing a part in the experience when people come to pick up their food.”
While One Off Hospitality was able to leverage most of the existing infrastructure in its restaurants to prepare these kits, some strategic investments were necessary. “Freezers: You need a lot of expertise around freezers,” Browne says. “I’ve learned that freezing ice packs is a lot more difficult than you would think.”
In addition, One Off Hospitality strives to make the entire experience seamless and transparent for the customer. “I baked the shipping costs into the price. That way there’s no surprises for the customer,” Browne says. “And that influenced some of what we are doing. For Thanksgiving, we decided not to ship turkeys because they weigh so much, but we are shipping everything else.”
Implementing an initiative like this does not happen by accident. It requires plenty of preparation and testing. “Anything we do ahead of the time we do a lot of testing,” Browne says. Take, for example, the PQM Breakfast. “These breakfast boxes contain a lot of special items, including eggs. So, we had to test to make sure we packaged it the right way. And we listen to our customers. They will always tell you what they want.”
This transition to shipping menu items across the country is part of a bigger vision that Browne and company leadership have for One Off Hospitality. “We had a very strong growth plan for One Off Hospitality, and you need an operating structure that can leverage scalability,” she says. “We did some things back in 2019 that set us up for success in this pandemic. We had moved FTEs into creative positions. That set us up well because it allowed us to look at what across the platform would work well nationally. We have a very strong bench.”
Browne, it seems, was uniquely qualified to lead this type of evolution. She became One Off Hospitality’s CEO two years ago, after working as a change management executive from outside the restaurant industry. “That’s an advantage because you have fresh eyes on how to mobilize the brand,” she says. “And I’ve always been impressed with the vigor of our brand. We have a very strong central operating team so all we had to do is define the roles and the procedures.”
Overall, navigating the pandemic and implementing new initiatives during a time like this has been a learning opportunity for Browne and the One Off Hospitality team. What can’t change is that commitment to quality and consistency. “We have to have a certain technical diligence around the food we are delivering because when we do that, we will be able to take care of our people,” Browne says.
Another constant: the company’s customer focus. “At a time like this we are going to make mistakes and it’s ok to make mistakes, Browne notes. “We just have to course correct when it happens and keep moving. We’ve tried some things that did not work. But we listen to our customers and they told us what they want.”