As with many young people fresh out of college, I could have stayed in school beyond graduation. Let’s face it, you get to live in an environment in which you are learning and having fun. The challenge becomes: where do I go from here?
Actually, it turned out to be fairly simple. Luckily my academic interests in engineering and keeping an eye out for costs found a home. After a brief stay at Price Waterhouse, clearly, I needed something more creative. So I sought and found an opportunity working with one of the more creative minds in foodservice: PJ Gavin, who I am blessed to call Dad. I have seen how hard he and his team at RPI and even his competitors work to bring solutions to the nation’s equipment dealers and consultants and ultimately their end-user operator customers.
But more importantly, foodservice has always seemed to be slightly behind the rest of the world in terms of embracing technology. I saw my joining RPI as an opportunity to merge what I do best: an opportunity to keep an eye on costs and create solutions with what I look at as reverse engineering. I think of that as seeing the solution first and then figuring out how to create and build it.
So, several months into my stay at PWC, my Dad and I were involved in a conversation about the potential of what was being called a food locker. It’s a unit that enables a restaurant operator to take and prepare orders and then safety store the meal in a hot or cold locker. With the meal paid for online, it becomes a simple as the take-out customer or third-party delivery firm coming and picking up the food without any contact. That turned into giving my feedback on energy efficiency and a question about the potential of the heat being thrown off by the compressor to evaporate any condensation.
It’s amazing that early on, I’ve learned that in many cases great tech ideas are either launched or killed based on dumb luck and circumstance. We had no idea that COVID would come along and move Takeout & Delivery to new heights. Our Ondo line of food lockers certainly has found its groove much quicker than any of us anticipated as a result of the Pandemic.
As many of you know the food and equipment industry’s big show is the NAFEM Show held every couple of years. It’s typically where the latest tech advances make their debut. We brought Ondo to NAFEM 2019 in Orlando. You would hardly recognize what the product has morphed into less than two years later. In many ways, I’m hoping to take this space and help the industry spot some of the key tech trends early on and then follow them as they evolve and come to market.
At that show, what guests to our booth saw was a big bulky white cabinet. We knew how to make a compartment convertible from hot to cold. I inherited a relationship that my Dad had built with Panasonic to create a kiosk with a lock and key mechanism. There was interest and I began writing code for it, and the conversation continued with Panasonic. It was my job to pull it all together. Little did we know what would lie ahead with COVID.
I think the lesson for all of us with Ondo is that the greater good and real advancement requires the cross blending of technology and foodservice manufacturing expertise. From a purely financial standpoint, it would cost millions to go at this alone to build something out from the bottom up that will ultimately be used by millions of people. What we’ve learned is you build a team to leverage companies that have expertise in malware and server farms, etc. So for us with Ondo, it began with partnering with Panasonic who has the size and power to make this a reality.
What has been really interesting has been the impact that the Pandemic has had on the restaurant and foodservice equipment business. With that has come a new dependence of food operators on takeout & delivery. From a case manufacturing standpoint that has meant the ability to facilitate contactless transactions between restaurants and their customers.
Although, there are those who look at the foodservice equipment manufacturing industry’s approach to technology as archaic, I see a glass half full of opportunity. We live in a world beyond food service that is utilizing automation and robotics, so it’s just a matter of time. Ultimately like healthcare and finance, our industry will embrace new technology to optimize efficiency. For foodservice, it is going to become essential to battle the challenges of finding labor and optimizing the customer experience in the restaurant.
What I have found most fascinating is the type of entrepreneur that is emerging with their vision of how to maximize takeout and delivery profits while we slug our way through as an industry the second half of the pandemic and then onto the future.
Among the leaders of operators that have vision for the power of technology is Stratis Morfogen. His Brooklyn Dumpling Shop concept is one of the industry’s first collaboration of technology and computers. Foodservice has technology and plenty of computers, but the next step will be to add concepts including AI (Artificial Intelligence) to launch a new generation of efficiency. In simple terms that will enable the cost-efficient cloning of code being used to operate in New York to multiple dining units within a brand across the country.
Technology is on the verge of finding its real niche in foodservice. What COVID created is a scenario in which people didn’t want to interact with other people and they didn’t want to leave their homes. Technology and this new collaboration with computers have enabled visionary operators to create a contactless solution with countless others on the horizon to change our industry.