This conversation offered insights on how restaurant dishes can be transformed into retail food products and how to scale up a business into the retail market.
Chef Jared Farrell, the Co-Founder and Executive Chef of Crafty Ramen, who demonstrated how vegetable stock is made in restaurant, compared to the process for their frozen “heat and eat” ramens.
Khalil Khamis, the CEO of Crafty Ramen, shared some of the lessons learned while growing Crafty Ramen from a Guelph noodle shop to three restaurants and a line of retail products available across Canada.
Erin Young from the John F. Wood Centre shared some tips on what businesses should consider before scaling up their operations.
Derek Vella shared how the Guelph Food Innovation Centre helps businesses with product development.
These four incredible individuals shared some of the lessons on what works to help scale a food business from restaurant to retail. Those lessons included:
- Strong relationships are essential to scale from restaurant to retail. You need to work and learn from your team, your customers, and others in similar industries.
All of the speakers emphasized the importance of understanding and connecting with your customers (and potential customers) – not just once, but regularly. The John F. Wood Centre at the University of Guelph helps students and recent alumni to navigate the challenges of starting a new business; they emphasize that the most important element of success for a new business is understanding your customers.
This is essential for the success of restaurants like Crafty Ramen as well, who believe that a deep understanding of and connection with their customer base helps them to develop and iterate products that are in demand. This sense of connection and community also helped them to navigate the particular challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic; they had just opened their second location during this time and needed a quick pivot to manage the challenges of pandemic restrictions. They credit their success to a focus on community over competition – realizing that other restaurants were facing the same challenges and learning together about how they could adapt.
- Treat mistakes as learning opportunities rather than failures.
At Crafty Ramen, there is no such thing as failure – only learning. As they worked to scale up their operations and branch out to the retail market, they went through many iterations to find out what worked for their customers – starting with the development of fresh meal kits for a local market, and branching out to develop frozen meal kits that are now sold in over 400 retail stores across Canada. This took regular meetings across the whole team, a focus on two-way feedback and openness to new ideas, and regular tweaks based on feedback from the team and from customers.
- Be humble; recognize what you do and don’t know.
Derek Vella shared one of his big takeaways from many years of innovating with the Guelph Food Innovation Centre: Ask good questions, understand what you don’t know and check your ego at the door! Your network has a lot of knowledge to share, so don’t hesitate to reach out.
As you think about scaling from restaurant to retail, Erin noted that it is a great way to scale your business – but it’s also a very different business. You can’t keep doing what you were doing and expect it to work!
Jared and Khalil agreed, and noted that part of the scale-up process is being mindful of your capacity as a team. Retail and restaurant are two different businesses, so don’t spread the team too thin!
Finally, be aware and knowledgeable about data and information about your business. Understand your numbers and the drivers that go into those numbers!
When scaling from restaurant to retail, ask yourself:
- Who are your potential other/new customers?
- Are you looking to be a small or large scale retailer?
- What are you going to charge? How will you add value?
- How are you going to make this happen (e.g., suppliers, retailers, taxes, labelling, etc.).
Watch the Deep Dish Dialogues recording to learn more about Crafty Ramen’s process of making meal kits, and how they make their ramen stock.
If you want to try it at home, you’ll need kombu, dried shiitake mushrooms, and grape tomatoes. After you’ve made your stock, you can try upcycling these ingredients to create an umami powder the way Crafty Ramen does!