The Chefs Table

Metaphoric Computing – examining the growth of entrepreneurial initiatives.

Posted in Entrepreneur by ftiess on the March 15th, 2009

This interview, concerning the Kauffman organization, really brings out a great topic of discussion. Because I grew up in “IBM country”, the Hudson Valley of New York, I have observed the growth of many entrepreneurial startups in the Poughkeepsie area since the massive job cuts of 1993. This was due in part to a disenfranchisement with the consumers needs. In the 1980s companies like Microsoft and Apple where producing larger quantities of smaller capacity computers and software, meanwhile IBM was producing smaller numbers of massive capacity computers. As history has proven the sale of the smaller capacity computers and greater capacity software exponentially grew while the sale of the larger capacity computers continued to decrease. IBM missed a fundamental paradigm shift—that the value added in computer sales was shifting from hardware to software. The aggregate value of intellectual capital in software was on the rise while hardware was becoming a commodity product whose prices experienced diminished returns.

In my research I have found over a hundred startups in the East Fishkill New York area, as a result of the IBM job cuts. One of the things that I had assumed as a lad was that IBM would continue to grow, many of my friend’s parents had worked for IBM and our family business, retail pharmacy, relied upon the continued growth of IBM. So you can imagine we were concerned in the 1990s when the structure of our microcosm of high tech industry based jobs changed. What was really amazing was the rather quick growth of these smaller yet nimble computer design firms. Prior IBM employees had learned that their future success was really in their own hands. They could no longer rely on a single entity to support their career choice.

As we see the similar restructuring of companies and displacement of North Carolina jobs today, Bank of America, NASCAR Teams and Freightliner to name a few, what will the future hold? Those innovators who have the ability to accept the change, overcome and adapt to the market shift will be the leaders of tomorrow’s entrepreneurial growth.

Marginalized Cuisine- When finance gets in the way of quality.

Posted in Entrepreneur, Hospitality by ftiess on the March 2nd, 2009

Unmet Expectations
How many times have you visited a restaurant only to end up with a sour feeling in the pit of you stomach? You just realized that warming up the leftovers from last nights dinner would have been a better choice then spending fifty bucks for your family to dine on packaged pre-prepared microwaved dishes from a chain restaurant.

In my book The Culinary Reference Guide, I discuss this concept in the preface entitled, Mental Mise en Place. “Have you ever been to a restaurant where you ordered the same thing on twp separate occasions? When you went back to the restaurant was that meal just as good as the first time? If your answer is no then perhaps, your second experience was an improper execution of the formula. …. This is where the consistency of preparation is critical; you ordered the dish the second time because you liked it the first. Most guests will not reorder a dish that they did not like the first time….”

Drs. Joann and Jim Carland put it another way in their Catching the Dream Series of course materials, to quote and paraphrase from chapter seven of New Venture Growth 3rd edition- Production management. To paraphrase managers are in charge of achieving production goals without sacrificing quality, “if inferior raw materials are purchased inferior products will result. If poorly trained or incompetent people are used on the production line, inferior products will result.”

Quality is the consistent delivery of a predetermined standard. Without recognized standards and customer-validated expectations, the growth of a brand will not succeed. Why has McDonalds done so well over these past 53 years? Think about it…. the consistent delivery of a predetermined standard. McDonalds became popular as Americans took to the road in the 1950’s, and with any road trip, the necessity, for families to find a safe, quick, and inexpensive place to eat. The reason why there are so many chain restaurants today is directly linked to the success of this business model.

Recent Experience
Recently my family and I went out for lunch to a chain restaurant that we had visited last year. Our first time was on Mothers Day, of all days, the service was ok the food was good. It seemed as if someone had finally found the formula to produce this ethnic cuisine in a sustainable efficient manner. I am a big fan of this particular ethnic cuisine, (by the way I am not trying to indict this restaurant chain in any way and therefore will only give the particulars that are relevant), and since moving to Charlotte several years ago have only found one restaurant, of this cuisine, that has been consistent and of good quality. This recent visit left us walking away, and, as mentioned earlier questioning why we did not have leftover instead. The food was hot and apparently safe, but there was something missing, oh yeah, the flavor we had enjoyed in the past. The key to prepare and serve this particular cuisine is in the freshness and quality of ingredients, and since the time of our last visit something had changed, the quality of food. Our meal tasted like it had been prepared from a box of prescribed ingredients as opposed to being made from fresh product.

The Taste of Industrialized Cooking.
Upon investigation of this restaurants parent company Brinker International some quality issues are rather apparent. Brinker International is one of the world’s leading casual dining restaurant companies. With more than 1,900 restaurants and over 120,000 team members in 25 countries, we welcome more than 1.2 million guests into our restaurants every day. (Source Doug Brooks, Brinker International President was quoted in the The Dallas Morning News on October 30, 2008 by Karen Robinson-Jacobs stating their restaurant are experiencing a “difficult operating environment as our country works through these economic challenges,” It is for that reason the Brinker is seeking to expand its brands in markets outside of the U.S. by opening 41 new operations. Going global brings with it a different standard of customer expectations. One of the largest growth areas is the Middle East, yes the land of milk and honey and crude oil is going to be introduced to Salsa, Guacamole and Fajitas. Actually, the cuisines are quite similar- meat grilled and served on a flatbread with a raw vegetable sauce. Brinker International advertised in the August 2008 Food Safety and Quality Website for a Quality Assurance / Food Safety Manager listing the job requirement: “Design, implement and manage the product assessment process for assigned products to ensure that all products are routinely assessed for the physical, chemical, organoleptic and/or microbiological analyses per specified parameters and frequencies Ensure that all suppliers and distributors have annual third party sanitation facility audits, recall programs and all relevant food safety and product quality programs”

So you are probably asking yourself, so what does this have to do with the change in quality control issue from the last visit. Simply, in my opinion, when a food company goes global the distribution of ingredients, consistency of product availability and above all prime costs are factors that may have precedence over the quality of the product. Looking over several quarterly reports issued by Brinker cost of sales increased from 27.9 percent in the prior year to 28.6 percent in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2008, August 05. By the end of the Second Quarter Fiscal 2009 on January 22 Brinker reported “Cost of sales, as a percent of revenues, decreased from 28.3 percent in the prior year to 28.2 percent in the second quarter of fiscal 2009. During the quarter, favorable menu price changes more than offset the negative impact on cost of sales of unfavorable commodity prices primarily related to chicken, produce and oils and sauces.”

Yes, we can have the same entrée in Charlotte and Dubai, but that does not mean that the entrée will please both Ricky Bobby’s and the Sheiks taste buds.
In summary something had changed in this ethnic restaurant’s recipe of quality assured preparations, it was not the cook in the restaurant, the server, our even the menu. It was the marginalization of the mass produced sauces, and preparations. Shaving pennies from the cost of food budget has probably caused this company to reformulate their base recipes, which of course could affect the final product. A company can only succeed if it exceeds its guests expectations, altering the production standards may help for a few financial periods, but in the long run marginalization of production ruins the brand.

1.Tiess, Frederick. The Culinary Reference Guide. 2nd. Matthews: Le Guild Culinaire, 2006.
2.JoAnn & Jim Carland (2005) Catching the American Dream: New Venture Growth, Whitney Press.
5. Robinson-Jacobs , Karen . Brinker counts on international restaurant growth as U.S. economy sags.” The Dallas Morning News October 30, 2008 , ‘natl. ed
6. Arabian Food Supplies Launches Popular Mexican Restaurant Locations In The Middle East.” UAE NEWS. 2 Mar 2009 .
7. “QA / Food Safety Manager – Dallas, TX.” The Comprehensive Food Safety Website. Aug 2008. 2 Mar 2009 8.