For Challenge 10, we decided to research restaurants that make healthy foods more accessible. Focusing on the Boston area, we chose several restaurants that focus on mostly vegetarian or vegan cuisine. Since we have already been to many of these restaurants, we decided to visit two that we haven’t previously been to and that stood out to as unique: Dig Inn and by CHLOE.
Dig Inn and by CHLOE. are both chain restaurants with locations in Boston, New York, and other major cities across the United States that are looking to expand. Both focus on providing vegan/vegetarian cuisine (or in the case of Dig Inn, mostly vegetarian food with some meat options) that is fast and accessible. Both have a significant online presence, especially on Instagram, although the way the two restaurants have very different branding strategies.
First, we went to Dig Inn, where we met with Irene, the COO of Dig Inn. She was incredibly generous with her time and helped us think about the problem we had initially identified a little differently.
Some of the questions we asked included the following:
What differentiates your restaurant and business model from other healthy, fast-casual restaurants? What do you think are some of the contributing factors towards your success ?
What are some of your biggest challenges?
The “dig-isms” stood out to us as a strong and compelling statement of values. Is there a tension between focusing on community, sustainability, responsibility and the bottom line? If so, how do you navigate that relationship?
For our research, we are thinking about enabling lower-income populations to eat at places like Dig Inn. Have you entertained choices that would make your products more accessible? What do you think would be the next steps in this sector of the food industry?
What are the guiding principles Dig Inn follows in interfacing with customers i.e. designing customer experience in restaurants, Instagram presence, other branding, etc.? How does that impact overall business?
How do you see Dig Inn developing over the next few years / more long term?
Some major takeaways from our conversation with Irene was that food product costs is only one factor of many in considering socially-conscious business operations. While Dig Inn is not currently targeting consumers from lower socioeconomic groups (though we were initially surprised by how you could get a filling meal from Dig inn for around $10, which is much more affordable than an average sit-down meal in Boston), their business model does include other programming that is related to this goal. For example, they have an intensive culinary training program for every employee (which helps people develop their skills) and company policy is that all employees can eat free and family and friends receive discounts (which they hope will encourage healthy eating habits).
Irene spoke to various considerations such as real estate, food waste, employee treatment, changing food culture (e.g. having a community table in every restaurant to encourage sitting down and eating together, a moment of respite). It was also clear that company priorities change at various stages in their development. Dig Inn is currently in a growth phase, and is focused on ensuring standards across the different restaurant locations. In this process, training and retaining good employees has been a major focus. This made us consider long-term vs short-term considerations in starting a business.
There are several ways in which Dig Inn and by CHLOE differed. Of the most notable, Dig Inn was centered on wholesome, farm-to-table food, while by CHLOE was more focused on creative ways to present vegan food (the vegan aspect was mostly disguised in a diner-esque menu). Dig Inn was located in a busy stretch of Boylston St while by CHLOE was in the Seaport district and beside a Soul Cycle and a juicery. Their Instagram accounts also have different styles. Dig Inn is focused on the process, the ingredients, the people. By CHLOE is far more focused on artistic expression. It seems like the latter is more highbrow in branding and is targeting a younger foodie group.
In both of these places, we saw a lot of young people. Their customer bases are largely homogenous, and we want to think about how to bring these kinds of foods to underserved populations.