As the foodservice industry continues to shift toward off-premise dining, chefs and restauranteurs are having to alter the way they once thought about food. Off-premise is most often used when referring to catering and delivery, but take-out, drive-thru, meal kits and ready-to-eat meals are included too. In years past, many people used to dream about opening their own restaurant open, but many of today’s investors and foodservice professionals are altering those dreams. That is exactly what happened to Chef Josh Charles. Although he’d love to own a restaurant, current foodservice trends made him rethink his business plan.
“Over the 12 years that I have been cooking professionally, [foodservice] has changed dramatically and the landscape is extremely difficult to have a successful business. You’re dealing with food that goes bad, tons of overhead and to do what I would love to do, which is cover every single detail in a restaurant setting, would most likely be operating at a loss. For me, [Honey and Thyme] is kind of a first step of building out the food and beverage company that I want,” said Charles, chef and owner of Honey and Thyme.
Designed as ready-to-eat meal delivery service, Honey and Thyme creates fresh, healthy food for people in the St. Louis, MO. Charles got the idea almost organically.
“I was working as a personal chef…I had already been struggling to enjoy the restaurant world and when my son was born, I [became a private chef] and I had about six families that I would cook for weekly. Basically, it just kind of evolved to the point where I kept getting inquiries with new families and I knew I couldn’t be in two places at once,” said Charles.
One of the reasons off-premise dining has increased so much in recent years is because most people are busy, so busy that they decidedly don’t have time to shop for groceries, cook for themselves or even pick-up food that’s already been cooked. Where people used to go to restaurants when they were too tired to cook, now they’d rather bring or receive food at home.
“Comfort, convenience and accessibility are three major things for the way that we’re going towards,” said Charles. “Convenience is definitely the way forward and now that we have the technology and we’re figuring it out a little bit more I think that generally that’s why the trend is going that way, because the technology is meeting up with the old school view and way of eating.”
Having such a progressive business doesn’t come without its challenges.
“Not only are we a food company, we’re kind of a logistics and I.T. company. Getting the logistics down as far as when to deliver, how to deliver, ‘What’s the best way to transport these things?’, ‘How do we keep organized whenever we’re cooking all these things?’,” said Charles. “In the more traditional setting, you’re building and you’re cooking items and you’re finishing off one to ten at a time, whereas we are cooking everything, cooling everything, packaging everything, labeling everything.”
Something that helps Charles and his staff keep everything under control is the way they organize their kitchen.
“[Cambro] has always been an integral part of mise en place [a French culinary phrase meaning “everything in its place”] in the kitchen. I’ve just always been taught to keep everything organized in containers and the Cambro containers—there’s literally something for every size. [We use] 22 qts. for soups and stocks, 8 qts. for our dry goods, and then 2qts., 4 qts., all that for leftover product. That’s what we use predominantly, but we also use [Cambro] food pans to stage our mise en place in,” said Charles.
With any operation that offers delivery, operators have to be careful that the costs don’t outweigh the benefits. This is often what prevents operators from handling their own delivery or offering it at all. Charles created a simple solution to offset that problem.
“We have our own delivery drivers…we charge a $10 shipping fee if we’re going to your house or office or somewhere specific, but we have multiple free locations that you can get your food dropped off at throughout the city so that it makes it a little more convenient for most of our customers,” said Charles. “I would say, right now, 90 percent of our customers get it dropped off to a free pickup location.”
Those locations vary from a specialty goods store to gyms. Not only do his customers save money, but Charles saves time and labor costs.
Although millennials are often blamed for the shift in the foodservice industry, Charles says his customers range from busy professionals to families aged 25 to 45-years-old.
“Over the last couple of years, I have been projecting and moving towards this goal of having a kitchen that has the ability to cook healthy, lean meals for people that are too busy to be able to do that themselves, but still want local, healthy food that tastes good,” said Charles.
It looks like that goal has become a reality. To learn more about Honey and Thyme, visit www.honeyandthymeus.com.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ADRIANA DESIDERIO IS THE DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER AT CAMBRO.
Photos: Sandy Gutierrez-Ebers