Category: Food for Thought

The Appeal of Food Halls and Markets

The recent explosion of food halls across the United State is hard to miss. The number of food halls in the US is expected to triple to almost 300 by the end of 2020. Most major cities have a plethora of food halls, almost all of which have been developed in the last five to seven years. Some are focused on one region (such as Eataly or the newly opened Little Spain in NYC) while most offer a broad array of cuisines. Having just come back from two weeks in Spain, we encountered the food hall’s second cousins, the Market (or Mercado) throughout our visit. The Mercado is a unique combination of farmer’s market/specialty grocery/retail operation with uniformly beautiful presentations.

We at JGL keep thinking about putting a food hall or market inspired eatery in one of our museum or performing arts center client locations. We have discussed the concept with a few clients but so far have not found the right fit. The inclusion of a food hall in a museum as an example, could serve to draw traffic, generate local interest, support the local community and generate earned income. Downsides, of course, are plentiful including significant space requirements, a very specific layout that is not easily converted and the need to deal with multiple vendors. Until we find the right client site for a food hall we believe there are some food hall practices that can enhance any retail fast casual.

1. Bountiful display – We see half empty display cases in too many locations. The visual appeal is diminished when the display is not replenished.

2. Color and texture are important.

3. Unique packaging draws interest. Toss the clamshell and look to a bento box.

4. Decrease portion sizes and increase variety. Who doesn’t love sampling a smorgasbord?

We love checking out food halls on our travels so send us a note with your favorite food hall so we can add it to our must visit list. And if you are a museum administrator with ample space and a penchant for experimentation, reach out!


4 Restaurant Concepts in 1 Kitchen = 100% Awesome

By: Colleen Geyer

Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is a small but mighty city that has really stepped up its game in the restaurant industry over the past few years. A shining example of this is the start and expansion of a relatively new restaurant concept; the restaurant incubator. This concept was brought to us by the Galley Group, co-founded by Ben Mantica (a Pittsburgh native) and his partner Tyler Benson. The two opened their first restaurant, Smallman Galley in the bustling Strip District, just blocks from downtown. Smallman opened in December of 2015 and two years later, they opened Federal Galley just across the river on the North Side of Pittsburgh. Cleveland was home to their third location and Detroit their fourth, both opening in 2018. Both Chicago and Minneapolis are slated to open by the end of 2019. Needless to say, things are going well for the Galley Group. But what exactly is a “restaurant incubator” and why does it seem to be so popular? I’m glad you asked! The Galley Group’s four [and counting] locations give chef/owners a low-risk and low-cost opportunity to showcase their concepts, gain business ownership experience and create a following before hopefully opening their own restaurant. As Smallman Galley was the flagship location and the one I am most familiar with, I will use it as the focal point of this piece.

Smallman Galley has four restaurants housed under one roof; each of them having a definitive concept. In writing this blog, I actually learned that the word “Galley” refers to the kitchen in a ship or aircraft. This expertly chosen word is a perfect fit with its origin referring to a space that would need to be built as functional and as versatile as possible. The kitchen at Smallman Galley, in totality, runs long and narrow with little to no separation between the concepts. This unconventional, neighboring-kitchen design doesn’t stop the Smallman chefs from getting creative with their kitchen spaces though. It forces them to be innovative with their equipment and functional space to best support their craft. I have seen the Smallman restaurants produce brilliant and innovative fare from relatively compact kitchens and it impresses me every time.

Smallman Galley also hosts special prix-fixe events where a single restaurant features a seasonal or themed menu beyond the scope of their regular offerings. These are held on Mondays, when the Galley is typically closed, offering pre-paid ticket holders an exciting and exclusive dining experience that will keep them talking for weeks. I most recently attended the five-course mac and cheese dinner prepared by the restaurant, Home. The dinner was complete with either a beer or wine pairing (I chose the beer- yum!), which was included in the ticket price along with tax and gratuity. It was everything you’re thinking and then some… Because who doesn’t need five courses of rich, delicious cheesy pasta?!

While there is naturally a kitchen-heavy focus in all of the Galleys, let’s not forget about the other important part of the dining experience- the bar! Located just up a short ramp from the kitchens sits a long, communal table and a rustic 12-seat bar. There is also a large area of restaurant seating on the far side of the facility beyond the kitchen/ordering area but I typically situate myself in the bar area. It is adjacent to a small espresso bar just inside the second entrance, it has easy access to food and beverage ordering and with a clear view of the kitchens there is simply more happening on the bar side, which is a draw for me. Their drink menu features a mix of standard and local spirits, a small but on-trend wine list and a largely local draft list. Craft cocktails are just that; cocktails made by people who love their craft. They have a monthly charitable donation set up for rotating organizations where $1 from any purchased “Charity Cocktail” listed on the menu will go toward a good cause.

Overall, Smallman Galley- and the entire Galley family, have kind of nailed the restaurant experience. In one visit you have the option to eat at four different restaurants, support a rising restaurateur, perhaps donate to a charity while enjoying a thoughtfully crafted cocktail, choose from a delightful wine or craft beer list, and enjoy the company of friends, old and new in their community-driven atmosphere. If you see a Galley opening in your neighborhood or a destination you are visiting, I strongly suggest checking them out. You won’t be sorry.


Stop…In the Name of Grub!

Over the holidays, my wife, myself and our dog Theo flew into London, then drove up to Western Scotland for two weeks of peace and quiet on the side of a Loch. On our drive up the M6, passing through the County of Cumbria, we pulled off into the “Tebay Services” area, what we would call a rest area, and my wife took Theo to run around while I procured us some coffee. Other than a gas station, the only building was a relatively non-descript structure with a sign on it that said “Farmshop”.

Let me stress, we were in a rest area on the side of the biggest highway in England, most of which feature Burger King and KFC. What I walked into was the Northern English version of Eataly. First, they had a “Quick Kitchen” offering stews, pies, soups and salads plus sandwiches, cakes and drinks to take away. Next, they had their “Kitchen’ restaurant, a cafeteria style concept offering homemade soups, a carving station with lamb and beef from the owner’s nearby farm, a deli and salad counter, home baked cakes and a wide range of hot and cold drinks.

Finally, and most improbably, they had a “Farmshop” offering visitors products that unique to Cumbria and the surrounding area, featuring items from over 70 local producers. I’m not just talking jams and jellies…which they did have. The Farmshop offered a wide selection of wines, liquors and beer, dozens of each. There was a tremendous amount of beautiful local produce. It had a traditional Butchery selling beef and lamb produced on the family farm, deli counters packed with tasty sausage rolls, scotch eggs and pies, a cheese counter, featuring the county’s specialties including Thornby Moor Dairy’s Cumberland Farmhouse and Eden Valley Brie from Appleby Creamery and a Patisserie with delicious salted caramel tarts, eclairs, scrumptious macarons, cakes and more all handmade by Cheltenham based Patisserie Box.

Apparently, when the M6 was built in 1972, it cut through the family farm of John and Barbara Dunning. Not ones to be daunted in the face of adversity and with a spirit of innovation that they credit to their community of Westmoreland, they started as a small 30 seat café serving home cooked, locally sourced food, which has gradually grown into the unbelievable business that it is today.

I eventually bounded out of the Farmshop to the car where my wife was waiting, bemused as to why I was a tad more excited than she was used to seeing me when leaving a rest area food court.

Clients often ask me what is possible for their property. Having been to the Tebay Services off of the M6 in the County of Cumbria, I can now confidently say that literally anything is possible. People’s attitudes toward food is changing. If this small family operation can execute this level of food and service from a rest stop, what should the standards be for our iconic museums and cultural institutions? If you aren’t sure of the answer, give us a call.


Matchmaker, Matchmaker Find Me…. an Operator?

JGL manages 15-20 RFP processes every year and after more than 20 years of doing this I still find it fascinating. It is a lot like match making; sometimes it is all about the fit. Most of the time we are able to accurately predict who is the likely winner early on, but sometimes we are surprised. Many of our clients want our opinion and ask us to participate in the voting while quite a number of others just want our professional input. While some food service partners think we have a strong influence on the process, the truth is a well-run process (like ours!) more often than not results in consensus among the selection committee.

We recently had a client that self-operates tell us they “were just going to go find a management company” to operate their restaurant and catering business. Hearing that made me reflect that the client perhaps did not understand how critical the selection process is to achieving a successful food service operation. I have listed (in no particular order) some of the areas where we see selection processes go awry from both the food service partner side and the client side.

  • Fit – A food service partner might look great on paper but at least 20% of the time they come to meet with the client team and the fit just isn’t there. They don’t listen well, their goals are not aligned with the client, their team is not diverse, the point person on the client team dislikes the food service partner’s key point of contact, and the list goes on.
  • Lack of alignment- Many of our museum clients view their café operation as most important while many food service partners are more interested in catering. While this is not likely to change for economic reasons, it is important for food service partners to put the same effort into the café that they put into catered events.
  • All about us – I have sat through too many presentations where the food service partner talks only about their company and how the addition of this museum or venue into their portfolio will work well for them. That approach is clear to show the selection committee that the museum or venue is a means to an end (and likely to be an end to discussions).
  • Boring café concepts – Be creative and have fun with the mission, collection or culture of the client. Nothing excites clients like a café concept that reflects their organization and a food service partner who has done their research.
  • Shifting priorities – If a client is not clear on their goals and relative priorities, the RFP process can suffer. The classic example is a client who claims not to be financially driven yet prioritizes the strongest financial offer in an out of proportion manner. There is nothing wrong with prioritizing a significant financial investment, but it is best to be clear about its priority in all communication to prospective bidders.
  • New stakeholders – We always advise our clients to develop a selection committee in advance, schedule all key dates and inform them of the time commitment required by the process. Nothing can derail a process faster than a new committee member showing up in time to questions all previous decisions and meet two of the four bidders.

I hope this list provide food for thought or those of you who might be considering an RFP process in 2019.




Many years ago I decided to make the same resolution every year, not to make promises that I couldn’t keep. Clever, right? I thought so. How many times can I say that I want to eat better and work out more? Well, this year for 2019, I have decided to change the repetitive mantra and make a promise for the future that has nothing to do with me personally.  

I like to think of myself as a socially conscious individual, but I find that more often than not, convenience, distraction or habit inhibit me from taking on the initiative to make change. After working on an RFP process with a higher education institution, I am making a conscious commitment to making change happen in the small way that I can. For purposes of this blog, let’s call the institution that I worked with, College X.

Prior to developing an RFP, it is typical that we meet with key stakeholders to discuss their goals and vision for how food service can make a more positive impact on the future of their organization. As part of our information gathering process with College X, we met with leaders of the school’s Student Government Association. These students were amazing!! Not only were they eloquent and passionate, but they were very well informed. One of the main topics discussed was sustainability and the reduction of single use plastic straws on their campus. The selfless nature of their argument for the greater good was incredibly inspiring to me.

After listening to our next generation of leaders discuss their views on making changes that support the well-being of marine life and the future of our environment, I felt compelled to learn more.

It was astounding to learn that it is estimated that Americans use over 500 million straws a day and that the world’s ocean is filled with more than 150 million tons of plastic. The idea that in thirty years there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish is horrifying.  

Major companies (Starbucks, Hyatt, Royal Caribbean, Marriot UK) and cities across the globe are banning the use of plastic straws. This is a movement that can make a huge impact with very little effort on our parts.

I learn something new on every project that we work on, so it’s not surprising to walk away with new knowledge. The exciting element that I came away with after speaking with these students was the inspiration to affect my own personal change.

It costs nothing to just say ‘no’ to single use plastic straws. There’s no better time of year than January to start something new. I plan on saying goodbye to single use plastic straws as my way of saying hello to 2019. #DOYOURPARTIN2019

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Quality is the Secret Sauce!

Scenario: A charming foodservice consultant (ahem) audit’s an operation and finds that the food quality is not where it needs to be, but your customers will not tolerate a substantial price increase. For some, these two problems are diametrically opposed. How can prices stay low while simultaneously increasing quality? Of course, in a large, complex operation there are frequently all manner of inefficiencies that can be eliminated to reduce costs, but for now we will examine the two most direct contributors to this problem: food and labor cost.

 All too often, when a food service provider is asked to improve the quality of their offerings, their reaction is to go “gourmet”. Customers don’t want to buy my turkey and swiss sandwich? They’ll love my turkey, goat cheese, pesto, and sundried tomato sandwich on cornbread!!! The truth of the matter is, if you start with a poor base product, no amount of layering toppings and condiments onto it will make those ingredients good. If you start with a great base product, every ingredient that you add can actually lose more customers than you gain. Rather than trying to create a Dagwood Frankenstein abomination, operators are much better suited to focus on the basics. That means using great bread, turkey and cheese, and handling those ingredients properly. Bad burgers? Rather than putting onion rings, barbecue sauce and chili on top of it, why not focus on the quality of the ground beef and bun? Suffering from terrible tacos? What’s in your tortilla?

For the purpose of comparison, let’s take a look at a burger that gets mediocre reviews. This basic burger features a 5oz patty made from distributor-bought ground chuck, a 1oz slice of American cheese and a basic white bun. At $3.50 a pound for the ground beef, $3 a pound for generic cheese and a $.35 white burger bun, the cost of this burger would come in at $1.63.Targeting 28% food cost, you would need to charge $5.82.

 To make this burger more popular, you could add two strips of bacon ($.70 cents cost), avocado ($.50 cost) and garlic aioli ($.25 cents cost), which would bring the total food cost to $3.08 at a price of $11 for the customer. By contrast, you could get a great potato bun for an extra $.30 cents and a high-quality cheddar for an extra $.19…but what about the ground beef?

 Grind it yourself. Seriously. JGL has clients that serve thousands of customers per day who grind their own beef, in-house every day,and there are lots of benefits. From a financial perspective, it’s a lot cheaper.That $3.50 a pound ground chuck is about $2.00 a pound if you buy a whole chuck round. You can save even more, and make a better-quality burger, if you use the trim from your steaks in the blend. If you’re required to serve your burgers medium-well, you could use hard fat like suet in your 80/20 blend which won’t drain away onto the grill like soft fat, preserving the burger’s juiciness and saving another $1 a pound for that portion of the burger. The product cost of your custom burger patty is now $.59, as oppose to $1.09 for the pre-ground beef. It is also a safer product because factory ground meat is a much bigger risk for food-borne illness than properly in-house ground.

 But what about the increased labor associated with grinding the beef? A competent employee making $12 an hour can grind and shape approximately 60 burgers per hour, bringing the labor cost to an additional$.20 per burger and adding $.60 to the burger’s price, bringing the overall cost of the burger to $6.54.

 Here’s the best part…it doesn’t just work for burgers! Why use expensive, high end deli meats when you can cook off your own turkey, ham or roast beef for a fraction of the product cost and virtually no associated labor? Why use frozen fries when real potatoes are half the price per pound and quickly dispatched on a potato slicer?

 At a time when minimum wages are on the rise, the popular sentiment is that labor must be cut back, but what it really means is that labor must be used efficiently. Shifting funds from buying products pre-made to making things in house, especially by utilizing slow periods during the day before and after peak service times, gives the operation more control over the quality of the product without substantial increases in over-all cost…and in some cases, it can even save you money! Don’t pay another company’s employees to make your food, invest in your own staff and it will pay dividends both now and down the road.


What is your favorite museum restaurant?

I wrote an earlier blog about how I routinely dodge the question about “my favorite restaurant”. Add the word museum to that question and I will gladly give you a list. Going from West Coast to East Coast below are my recommendations for museum restaurants I love and those I still want to visit. I have denoted the projects we worked on with an asterisk.

  • Sunday at the Museum at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco – Newly opened this year, Sunday at the Museum has received nods from the NY Times and others. * note JGL worked on this project but has yet to visit since it opened 🙁
  • Wise Sons at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco – Amazing smoked trout salad and great alignment. Enough said.
  • In Situ at SF MOMA in San Francisco- Chef Corey Lee has created an homage to famous chefs of all times.
  • Otium at the Broad Museum in Los Angeles – On my list to visit based on the rave reviews I have read!
  • Esker Grove at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis – Offering creative cuisine celebrating seasonal ingredients with a seasonal outdoor terrace, this restaurant is effortlessly cool. * JGL project.
  • Fika at the American Swedish Institute in Minneapolis – The well- crafted menu in this hidden gem makes for some difficult decisions.
  • Marisol at the MCA in Chicago – Marisol has a great vibe with an eclectic mix of ladies who lunch, business people, families and twenty somethings. Their sunflower seed hummus is delish!
  • Terzo Piano at the Art Institute in Chicago – Beautiful food in a gorgeous setting. * JGL project.
  • Café Modern at the Modern Art Museum in Fort Worth – Elegant a la carte setting with a focus on seasonal, local and artisanal offerings.
  • Mitsitam Café at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington DC – Great aligned and exposure to so many new delicious foods.
  • The Source at the Newseum in Washington DC – This perennially popular Wolfgang Puck restaurant never disappoints.
  • Rats Restaurant at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton NJ – An entirely magical experience particularly if you go during the temperate months and enjoy the grounds before or after your meal. * JGL project.
  • Flora Bar at the Met Breuer in New York – This lower level space is gorgeous; Chef Ignacio Mattos seems to have the Midas touch. * JGL project.
  • Morgan Dining Room at the Morgan Library in New York – This intimate dining room hearkens back to the Gilded Age and is a special treat for lunch. * JGL project
  • The Modern at MOMA in New York – While anybody who knows me has heard me say the Modern is not really a museum restaurant, more simply a great restaurant that happens to be connected to the museum but nonetheless this list would not be complete without its presence!
  • Café Sabarsky at the Neue Galerie in New York – This restaurant is so well aligned with the mission of the Neue; you can’t imagine one without the other.
  • Verde at the Perez Art Museum in Miami – This restaurant has a fresh and creative menu, great staff, and amazing views. *JGL project.Let me know if I have missed any of your favorites. Stay tuned – some exciting openings on the way in 2019!

The celeriac and goat cheese profiterole plate with tomato and parsley served at In Situ at SFMOMA in San Francisco, Calif.



Sunday at the Museum


To be, or not to be….Exclusive!

Many institutions that have an exclusive operator (in a market where both preferred and exclusive operations are the norm) often wonder if the financial return would be greater if they had a preferred list of caterers. This is a big question that does not have a black or white answer. This blog will focus on giving you some ‘food for thought’ if this is something your organization is considering.

Below is a chart that outlines the main differentiators of  an exclusive operator and a preferred vendor list. The chart clearly illustrates the differences between the two models and the expectations that come with each.

Main Points Preferred List Exclusive Partner
Commission Returns Moderate Increased
Discounting for Internal Events Moderate Increased
Marketing Commitment Moderate Increased
Operational Involvement from the Venue Liaison Increased Moderate
Potential Investment in the Venue Moderate Increased
Variety of Price Points Increased Not Applicable
Wear and Tear on the Venue Increased Moderate

*The chart assumes that the preferred list is limited in nature and does not exceed more than 4 caterers.

The primary argument for a preferred list  is  to allow clients the freedom to choose their vendor. In theory, having a variety of caterers offers clients the ability to select from varying price points and styles. However, many caterers are working hard to offer tiered menu options so that they can appeal to a more diverse audience. Typically, caterers are very interested in securing exclusive venues as it provides consistent business for their company. Below are the top six reasons a venue might consider an exclusive model:

  1. Investment – A caterer is more likely to invest in a project that ensures their exclusivity.
  2. Internal Pricing Structure – Exclusive arrangements often include pricing consideration for internal events.
  3. Commission Return – An exclusive caterer will provide a stronger commission offer on food and beverage sales to an exclusive partner.
  4. Our Organization Wants a Café or Restaurant – Most cultural café or restaurants are purely an amenity and are not profit generators. Typically, an operator is more interested in managing a retail outlet when catering is guaranteed.
  5. Less Wear and tear on the Venue & Staff – If the caterer is in the building all of the timer, they know the ropes!
  6. Marketing Power – A caterer will work hard to promote your venue to potential clients if they are exclusive. (Why should they promote the venue for other caterers to get the work!

Deciding to go exclusive or preferred is a decision that is embedded in the larger goals of the institution. How important is increasing earned income to the organization? Is an amenity café an important element of your future vision?

Either way, utilizing your venue for external events and collecting commissions on food and beverage sales (from one or more caterers) is a powerful tool for increasing earned income.

If you would like to learn more about this topic as it relates to your organization, please email for a complimentary consultation.


Your mission, should they choose to accept it…

One of the most important factors in choosing a foodservice provider for a cultural institution is identifying a concept that is aligned with the mission and aesthetic of that institution. Full disclosure…this is also my favorite part of the process. No matter the purpose of your organization, whether you are a music venue that focuses on 16th century Italian madrigals or a museum dedicated to the history of barber shops, you deserve a food program that not only provides a quality product at a reasonable price, but one that serves as an extension of the overall experience that your team has worked so hard to create.


Once JGL has conducted our initial study process to really nail down what all of the various stakeholders of an organization are looking for in a new or renovated food program, we work hard to create an RFP that is not only clear and informative, but one that is exciting and imbued with the passion and purpose of the institution we represent. We seek out partners that share those passions, vendors who don’t just mass-produce food for maximum profit, but those who are constantly driven to innovate and who treat our client’s mission as though it were their own.


When JGL has identified a solid group of potential foodservice providers, no matter how carefully constructed the RFP, there is still a lot of work to be done to get Romulan Ale and Butterbeer on tap at the new Sci-Fi museum. Small operators are often willing to be extremely flexible and creative but have more limited resources to invest. Larger national companies frequently have tremendous time and resources to devote to a new client, but they can also have pre-packaged fast casual concepts that they are looking to drop into as many locations as possible because profit is most easily achieved through economies of scale. Larger companies also have national purchasing programs and layers of off-site approvals that are necessary to make even modest changes. If you release an RFP and don’t get the exact response you’re looking for, is that the end? Do you just take the best of what is offered? Do you need to start the whole process over again?


Submission of an RFP response is the beginning of the process, not the end. Sometimes a respondent is so focused on trying to show you who they are that they fail to demonstrate who they can be. An RFP process can be a tremendous learning experience for all involved. I recently led an RFP process which required proficiency in an extremely rare style of food that virtually no professional foodservice provider has experience with. Through the process, we all learned and grew together and it culminated in a grand tasting that was authentic but modern. Not only did our client find an incredible, unique concept and operator, but even those candidates who were not chosen walked away from the experience feeling incredibly positive. More than one commented that they didn’t know they had it in them.


Foodservice in cultural institutions has become an expected amenity and pre-packaged turkey sandwiches just don’t cut it anymore. Patrons are looking for an immersive experience. That attention to detail can pay all sorts of dividends from higher check averages and guest satisfaction to increased length of stay and more. How does your foodservice line up with the rest of your operation? If you are unsure, or think you might be ready for a change, or just want to chat about it, take advantage of JGL’s passion for the arts by taking advantage of our free consultation, available anytime you are. We are ready to take on your mission.




What Is Your Favorite Restaurant?

As a food service consultant, I cannot count the number of times someone has asked me “What is your favorite restaurant?” My colleagues know that is a question I struggle with and generally do not answer. In our foodie culture I feel like it is a loaded question; the person asking the question will undoubtedly read something into my response. Will the wrong answer diminish my street cred? Do I name one of last year’s hot new restaurants (oh she is hopelessly out of date), do I name the great neighborhood bistro (oh I had an awful burger there) or do I name the great new Izakaya (oh what an architectural nightmare). The truth is there are so many restaurants opening daily that I rarely go somewhere multiple times.

I think “What is your favorite restaurant” might be a fair question for a food critic, but even then the answer is going to undoubtedly reflect some bias or personal taste. The fact is there are thousands of restaurants in New York City alone. JGL has worked in more than 31 states; keeping up with all openings nationwide would require a small army.

The other reason I struggle with the question is you can ask ten people about the exact same dining experience and you will get ten different perspectives. While there are certainly a number of universally highly acclaimed restaurants, there are many more that have a mixture of fans and non-fans alike. That is one of the reasons I caution my clients not to place tremendous emphasis on the tasting element of a restaurateur selection process. Food taste and presentation is certainly very important but there are so many other considerations.

As a food service consultant, I am concerned with helping my clients optimize their food service operations in whatever shape that may take. Frequently, that may take the form of an RFP or operator selection process (which may lead to the aforementioned question). Whether or not my team members or I like a particular restaurant is really one of the least important elements of a selection. The most important elements are the fit, alignment with client needs and goals, and financial terms. So, next time we meet be prepared for me to artfully dodge the question “What is your favorite restaurant”!