“Going from 1 to 2 locations was difficult. Going from 2 to 3 and more was harder. There is a learning curve, and things break down if you don’t have the right systems and processes in place.”
We asked Christian Mouysset how he overcame the challenges and scaled Hummus Bros to 6 units and 100s of corporate pop-up locations.
Today, Christian is at the helm of Tenzo, the forward-thinking BI and analytics platform, but before founding the software company, he co-founded and managed Hummus Bros for 13 years.
He reveals his growth process and how they managed daily activities:
🧑🍳 Consistency: “For a restaurant to be successful, customers need to know that when they go to that place, the experience will be the same every time.”
⚙️ Process-Driven: “Everything needs a process. Even the obvious things because if there’s room for interpretation, it might be interpreted differently, leading to an inconsistent customer experience.”
🤝 Hire the Right People: “Since every location is different, we’ve empowered our GMs to identify and hire the right people that fit into the company culture. They are trained to train their own teams.”
📈 Upsell: “Train your team always to upsell the correct product to match the order. Measure the results daily and motivate them to hit a bigger goal the next day.”
🏃 Control Labor Cost: “Look at labour as a percentage of sales and set parameters to know if you’re overstaffed or understaffed. Aim for productivity without compromising the guest experience.”
📲 Easy Access to Data: “The restaurant industry is fast-paced and runs on very tight margins. It’s very stressful since you need to get it right all the time. With easy access to data, you know exactly what needs to be adjusted, and you can make the right decisions every time.”
🗑️ Control Food Wastage: “Devise ways to use the full ingredient. If there are some vegetables left over that are not in the best shape to be on a dish, we’d cook them in a soup.”
🛢️ Harness the Potential of Bulk Buys: “There’s a huge difference if you buy a five-kilo box of tomatoes versus buying a pallet of tomatoes. We started rethinking recipes, menu and purchasing to reduce the costs.”
🌶 Fewer ingredients: “We wanted to make things easier to replicate and be more consistent. We reduced the number of ingredients by 1/3. This also helped us buy more in bulk.”
🙋♀️ Lead By Example: “My co-founder and I knew what it was like to work in the kitchens, clean the dishes, serve customers, keep toilets clean, and any other job in the restaurant. We wanted to know how to do it in the best possible way and then train people to do the same.”
Carl: Hello, Christian Mouysset from a Tenzo. Thank you very much for joining the show today. I’m very happy to have you. Just to start off, I’d like you to introduce yourself a little bit, so we know who’s Christian and what you’re doing in your daily life.
Christian: Great. Yeah, Very happy, and thanks for having me on the show. So I originally studied computer science back in the day, and after that, I went to set up a chain of restaurants. So not the most obvious career path that was. Computer scientist turned restaurateur set up a chain of restaurants called Hummus Brothers and grew that to six locations and several hundred pop-ups we ran in corporate restaurants like Bank of America and JP Morgan, etc.
And really, whilst running that business, the main realisation I had actually is how difficult it was to run a restaurant business. I think from the outside often people think it’s something that’s pretty easy to do. You cook some food, you bring it to the customer, the customer loves the food, goes and tells their friends and then you repeat it. But the reality on the ground is very difficult. It’s a very operational business.
You typically are dealing with perishable food. You have lots of different suppliers, and you have a lot of equipment, and you have a lot of staff. Generally, you need to be open every day. You know, you’re opening hours. You can’t be opening late or closing early.
You’ve got to be there, and you’ve got to do it in a way that customers don’t see all the complexity behind it.
Christian: It all needs to be happening behind a curtain, and everything is smooth. And that was very difficult and so ran that for a number of years and then went to set up a business called Tenzo, which really takes all of a restaurateur’s data and helps the business, the operational team in particular.
But people in the business understand what is happening, what does the data tell them. And the reason for this is that there was a huge disconnect when I ran my business between the head office teams and the GMs, the general managers that were operating on the ground, they were often in the dark, not able to see what was happening and how I try to solve that was bring all this POS labor and inventory data, the three main levers the restaurant has, bring it all into one Excel and send it out to them.
And they hated engaging with it because it was slow, full of mistakes and didn’t really like Excel. And lots of these decisions were made on guts. And so we’re trying to do that. Help restaurants become data driven in their approach to making decisions.
Christian: Oh, that’s interesting. So when I was studying computer science, I studied there with this guy called Ronin, who whenever we’d meet up to study together, and he’d always have hummus in his fridge. And so we would eat hummus with whatever there was else in the fridge. You know, as students, there’s not really, you know, you’re not really going out to eat and you want to have the fastest meal possible.
And one day we thought maybe other people would like this. It’s a really healthy food. It’s delicious, it’s vegan. It’s something that is very versatile, that you can have it with lots of different dishes. And so we decided to go and test that.
We went to a market in London. We tried with a few markets, we tried with the Truman Brewery and we tried with the market in Hampstead. And really what we did the first few times I remember we cooked it at home, we cooked like a huge rack of hummus and like the fava beans and the mushrooms. And we went to the market and just served it. And we gave it away for free initially because we thought we’re the crazy ones that love this, no one else is going to.
And one thing we learned there is you give food away for free, people will love you for it and will tell you, Yeah, it’s perfect. It’s amazing. They won’t give you like proper feedback. And what we started doing is going back and starting charging for it like £1, £2. And we started getting really constructive feedback at that point. And I remember one point of feedback, which was interesting.
We thought about calling the different dishes by colours. So you know, you’d have like the mushroom hummus, which was called the brown hummus and you know the beef one is called the red hummus and people were like “brown hummus? Sounds horrible. What are you doing?” So we quickly gave up on the idea of colors there. But that was where we got started.
And so it’s a dish that’s traditionally served in the Middle East, hummus as a base with different toppings, pita bread to scoop it. And once we had tried it in the markets for a few months and learnt a lot, we then went to get our first branch, which was on Water Street in Soho, which was an incredible location to start with the first one.
Christian: No, 100%. We went in it with the view that we would build this into a business that had multiple locations and also because we ultimately wanted to see if we could launch a hummus brand in the supermarkets, because actually at that time and even today, I still believe that most of the hummus you get sold in supermarkets is not really what you would traditionally expect.
Like it’s not really true to its origins, let’s say. We had that view of getting into supermarkets ultimately. But actually the thing that I was really shocked about was how hard it was actually to go from one location to two locations and and even harder to go from 2 to 3.
I think that learning curve at the beginning, because when you had one location and my co-founder and I were in the same restaurant every day, at least one of us could be there and we were learning. You need to tweak and you need to think about these things. Things like how many people are we going to have the next day or how much food to order in or what feedback to give to the team.
When we were both there or one of us was there, at least it was, I wouldn’t say easy, but it was easier because we could then think about it and react. But once you start getting to two and then three, I think it’s a little bit like children, right? Like when you have two children, there’s two parents, you have one each. When you get to three, they outnumber you, it gets a bit complicated. And that’s what it was.
When we got to three, things started breaking because we didn’t have the right systems in place and the right processes. And that’s really where you start defining them.
But when we started, that was not something that we, although we’d plan to go to multiple, we hadn’t really thought about like the processes that you would need to have in place to make sure that that’s possible.
Christian: You kind of needed a process for everything. And I think there’s two real reasons for this. To me, for a restaurant to really be successful, they need to make sure that customers know that whenever they go to that restaurant, the experience will be consistent.
They know they will get what they expect. Because otherwise, if they have a bad experience, then they’re not going to come back. And that will be everything from the food itself, the service, how much they pay, everything. So they just want to know that I’m going to this place. I know exactly what’s going to happen.
And so what that means is that you need a procedure around everything. So when we open the restaurant, we need to make sure is the front door open or is it closes the heater on or is it off? Is the till on? Is there someone at the door greeting people, etc. Because then you can replicate exactly that experience or as close as possible to what you’re expecting. So really what that means is you need a procedure ultimately for everything: opening and closing, how you run, how you train the team.
How do you use the different softwares you’re using, etc.. The short answer to that is everything needs the process. Even the things that seem so obvious will need a process, because if there’s room to be interpreted, it might be interpreted differently and therefore you might not have that consistent experience.
Christian: Actually, that’s the biggest challenge. That change because suddenly you’re needing to train people who are in turn training themselves. And I think even more complicated than that is you’re trying to make sure that those people are hiring people that fit into the culture. And so, therefore, because a lot of the experience will come through the culture that you’ve built with the people in the business.
And therefore, you need to make sure that people who are going to be hiring and at Hummus Brothers every GM was hiring their team. So at that time, people would drop off CVs. Things have changed a lot now. We’d get CVs dropped in every day and then they would need to be making sure that they’re interviewed to identify the right people who will add to the culture but also that then being able to train them.
So actually that step change of not being interviewing everyone and not making sure that you’re hiring everyone was, especially because typically in the restaurant industry, the turnover is pretty high. So that means that you’re really on the constant hiring drive and making sure that you’re identifying the right people with a real challenge. And so we’d organized effectively the GMs would be trained to be able to hire and train people.
But we also had these training processes where they would go to one branch where they would then be trained in the same way. It was like the classroom. And that I think is really like a step change when you’re going from three and maybe you’re getting to four or five, six locations, you really need to make that change.
Christian: Not on day one to be clear but once we’d got to three or four locations and especially because different locations require different setups. So one location, for example, had two floors, which meant that you had a different profile of team.
And some locations were more takeaway heavy or delivery heavy and others were more like eat in heavy. So you did have a little bit of a different blueprint. So we probably had three different blueprints. say if it’s more a takeaway delivery is this way.
If it’s got two floors, it’s this way. If it’s one floor, mostly eat and it’s this way, and then you’d figure out which one you’d want based on that. But yes, you would very much define it. We want like one person on the till, two people preparing the food, one person in the back, like making sure that they’re cleaning the dishes, etc.. And that was very well codified and it had to be so that it was easier then to train the people.
But my turn to ask a question because I’m not fully aware of how you’ve come into the hospitality industry. And I would really like to hear your journey into the industry.
Carl: I am also not a trained restaurateur. Nothing to do with with the restaurant industry as such. Actually, I’m an art historian from education.
And the reason why I ended up being co-founder at Apicbase is because two friends of mine, they were actually heavily involved in the hospitality business and they were running restaurants and they had the problem that they wanted to have standardised imagery of everything they were doing in the kitchen.
So that’s how they came to me. I was a friend of them. I was used to doing projects because in the art world everything is project based. You make an exhibition and that’s the end of it. So they asked me can you join the team to make sure that this photo studio, which we were building, that this can come into fruition and really become a tool that we can sell. And that’s how I joined that team.
Originally from a totally different product. But then along the way, we had a lot of customer requests that were mainly, let’s say, software based, not so much hardware based that we moved from building this hardware into what Apicbase is today, and that’s the F&B management platform which helps you streamline the back of house.
Christian: Is there still the photography element of it? Is it still part of the product?
Carl: No, actually not. We do, of course, still service the customers that use this tool. And that’s really important for us. But we decided a year ago when we were at the end of life of the current version, do we renew or do we make a new version or do we cancel the product?
And as you have to do sometimes, you have to kill your darlings. We see that the return on investment is much higher for customers in terms of the software we offer them than it was in terms of the hardware. But as I said, customers that use our studio today of course they can still use it and we still support it to the fullest and to the extent that we can replace parts.
You have to kill your darlings from time to time. And I think that’s only good for the growth of a company. Which brings me to the next question actually.
Christian: It was quite a transition and it was all on the backdrop also of Brexit, which made the restaurant industry a lot harder to operate in the UK too. But what started happening is my co-founder Adam who I set up Tenzo with so we know each other also from time where we studied computer science together and his path post uni was much more reasonable.
He ended up really in big data and analytics and I was talking to him about the problems I was having running Hummus Brothers on the day to day. Which was really this difficulty about making sure that my team had the data they needed to run their business. So I was spending crazy amounts of time in Excel, downloading data from my POS, my labor and my inventory tool, really putting it all into one Excel.
And the reason why I was trying to do that is that clearly the GMs in the restaurants didn’t have the time to go and log in and check all this data.
And really it was difficult for them to really say, okay, well, they didn’t have the time to go and manipulate it and say, well, what does this mean? What is this telling me? So I was trying centrally to do all that bit so that they then would receive an Excel that would really make it easier for them to understand what was going on.
And as I said, the difficulty about that is that GMs are typically not gone into the restaurant industry for the love of data. They’ve gone in for the love of food and hospitality. And what was happening is they were being pulled more and more out of the love of food and hospitality, more into having to look at the data. And so they didn’t really like Excel.
It was often late the reports and often had mistakes because it was done manually. And it was preventing us from growing at Hummus Brothers because really what it meant that each branch we were adding, there was a lot more centrally that was happening it was too slow to get to the restaurants and therefore we were always one step behind or maybe five steps behind of where we should have been, because the teams were either over scheduling or under scheduling, over ordering or under ordering or not training the team and not having that feedback fast enough to really be able to tweak the performance, to really get to the right place.
And, you know, the restaurant industry is a margin business, right? They don’t have these massive margins that they can be like, well, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter if the day doesn’t go well. Every day matters. Every day you need to be looking at it. And every day you need to be tweaking to make sure you get to the right place.
Christian: That’s a great question. So these are the ones we were looking at. And by no means does it mean these are the only ones. There’s different approaches, but really they fall in three buckets. Sales, labor and inventory.
Those are the three levers you can pull every day. Your rent and your marketing, either they agreed for long periods of time and you can’t change and the marketing is typically not got a big enough impact that the ops team can really have on. So if you think about sales, the biggest one for us was really about training the team to upsell a drink at lunch.
So, for example, if it was a warm day, we’d say offer the mint and ginger lemonade and just ask, Would you like a mint and ginger lemonade with that, sir? And the answer would be yes or no. And after lunch I wanted to be able to say to them, 75% of the people took lemonade today. That’s great. Let’s push to 80% tomorrow. And if it didn’t, if it got to 65%, then we could debate what did we do differently? But you needed that real time kind of straight after lunch. Did we do well or not?
So that was sales. So average transaction value and attachment rate, how often are you selling a product as a percentage of the transactions?
On the labor front, it was really our cost of labor as a percentage of sales to really tell us if we were overstaffed or understaffed.
I knew that if our cost of labor as a percentage of sale was above 35% or below 25%, you probably were in trouble because there would either not be enough staff or too much staff. We wanted that band to be in and people sometimes look at that as as productivity or so.
There’s two other ones. One was really around wastage, making sure that you’re controlling the wastage so the portion size, but also how much food you’re throwing away at the end of the day.
So wastage was one that we’d really look at and the final one was around the review score, your average review score on TripAdvisor, Yelp, Facebook, Google because really you could tell that if it was below four on average, people when they would look up your restaurant and say, I’m not going to go there.
So we were constantly trying to push the team to be above four. So those were the main five KPIs we would be pushing.
Christian: So we had a theoretical food cost. And it wasn’t a specific number because I think we wanted to give a bit of freedom in terms of what we could do in terms of dishes. So we were always targeting this 25 to 30% was kind of where we want it to be.
I think the actual food cost would typically be above that. So we would typically around that 32%, which was always a little bit too high and we were trying to get a bit below that and things that would flay and that would like portion size, for example, was often something that we’d often have people leaving food leftover.
And so we’re like, okay, we’re making the portion size too big. Let’s reduce because our customers want less effectively and it will save the business some. In terms of how we thought about it from the menu.
So we had this target of where we wanted to be, but there’s a lot of factors that you take into consideration.
Like for example, we would have a soup on the menu. And often restaurants will typically have a soup because if there are some vegetables left over, they are maybe not in the best shape to be on a dish where they’re not cooked. In a soup, they could be.
So there was a lot of things like that we try to to think about. So how can we use the full vegetable, all of the meat and that we didn’t have like any wastage. What could we do in terms of making if some ingredients were not in their best shape initially, what could we do?
There was a lot of thought around that. And even thinking about consolidating the number of ingredients we had on the menu so that we could bulk buy more of these of these items.
So less different types of items so that they could create bigger bulk buys effectively because we would then get a better price. So those were some of the levers we tried to pull to get to a good food cost.
Christian: Yeah. So so it’s really interesting because the two things that happen when we started growing. We actually started realising that there was a huge difference if you bought a five kilo box of tomatoes or if you bought a pallet of tomatoes.
So then we started thinking. And when I say huge, like of the order of like 30 to 40% could be the cost difference. So we clearly need to be buying more. And that’s really where we started paring down the number of ingredients.
Till that point, we were kind of like, we want to give like the most varied menu possible. But then we realized that really to be able to do that successfully at scale, you have to reduce it. Plus also to make the training of the chefs and of the team generally easier.
So like coming back to that standard operating procedure, really trying to simplify things and make it really easy to replicate and consistent every time. So we probably reduced by a third the number of ingredients we would have on the menu.
Especially with the pop ups that we were running in these corporate canteens, it made us realise that there was a benefit of running a few more so that we would tip over that quantity to get to that 30- 40% reduction. So that was really an element of us really thinking about how do we place these orders to really optimise and get the discount.
And it made me then realize how hard it is for new joiners that are coming onto the market. If you’re a new restaurateur, you’re at a really serious disadvantage compared to an established player. And you know this 30 to 40% improvement.
I’m sure it happens again multiple times as you go from six locations to to 20 to 50 to 100. I’m sure there’s more benefit that comes. And so if you think about a single unit that’s competing against a sixth location, the 15 or 50 location, they’re at a disadvantage in terms of the ingredients and same quality right. Ingredients we’re talking about just like the ability to bulk buy.
Christian: I think it’s interesting. I think there’s two things. First of all, I think there’s a big difference between being a first time founder and a second time founder. And I think that doesn’t matter what business you’re looking at.
I think there’s a lot of learnings of how you approach things that are different when you do it the second time around, whether that was the restaurant the first time around, or a tech startup, the first one. With everything in life that you learn and then you think about it and you’re like, I should do these things differently. I do think that there is a lot that, for example, at Hummus Brothers, it was very important for me that we led by example.
And in the restaurant context, that meant Ronan and I were working in the kitchens. We were cleaning dishes, making sure the toilets were clean, like we would do any job that was in the restaurant, like serving customers, etc., because we also wanted to know how to do it the best possible and then be able to train people on.
And really like leading by example, I think is is something that’s translated through to Tenzo also really in terms of making sure that, you know, I speak to customers, I speak to the product teams, you know, work on in all those different roles to really understand and build that credibility.
So I think there’s there’s bits like that are transferable. There’s other things that are very different.
Like the teams we had at Hummus Brothers, a lot of them were students that were looking at this for like they wanted to do a three month stint and they were doing 3 hours a day and therefore never really got into the business and the cultural side of the business as much, as where Tenzo where it’s more people who are thinking about this as their long term career and therefore we’re building much more of a team in that way.
So there’s huge differences, but there’s a lot of things that definitely translate over.
Christian: The two things I found, the two outcomes from not having easy access to data in the restaurants that really caused a lot of pain for me was one, the amount of food we were wasting and two, the stress that it was causing in the industry.
So the food is the obvious one. If you can’t predict how much food you need to have or if you’re not learning from the past, how much did you need, then obviously you’re over ordering and under ordering and it gets complicated. The second one is is less obvious.
And the reason for that is the restaurant industry is a pretty stressful industry. It’s fast paced. There’s a lot going on because you’re running on such tight margins.
You need to be getting it right every day and getting it right in the context of ordering food, having the right amount of staff, making sure you’re selling the right products is looking in my belief is looking at your historical data to help you understand where did you get it right? Where did you go wrong?
Make data driven decisions. And by having gut driven decisions, typically in the industry, especially in an industry where there’s people come and go quite regularly in roles, it’s stressful because you’re often getting the decision wrong.
To give an example, for example is if you over staff, typically the management is going to be upset with you because you’ve wasted resources, but if you understaffed, your team will be upset with you and your customers will get a bad experience because there’s just not enough of you to make sure everyone’s getting a good consistent experience and therefore you need to get it right so that you don’t you’re not being stressed either by your management or your team.
And that creates a lot of stress. And this is why really, to me, at the end of the day, if Tenzo is successful, what it means is an industry that’s less wasteful, that’s more caring for the planet. And secondly, an industry where there’s less stress, where more people are focusing on really where their passion lives, which is food and the hospitality, not having to get stressed about, oh, how am I going to look at this data and make sure I’m making the right decision?
And that’s really what we’re trying to. The end goal we’re going after.
Carl: I think we’re very much aligned in that sense, that Apicbase has the same objectives. I think it is clear that where the restaurant industry needs to move towards and I think happier people and less waste are two of the main or the most important things in the industry.
But you know, from experience and I don’t know if how you experiencing that, but from experience I see that a lot of restaurateurs and managers, they still today say, hospitality is around for 2000 years. Why should we suddenly change and why should we suddenly go digital and have all that data?
I’ve been doing it for 30 years myself, the way that I’m doing it, and I’m doing just fine. How do you respond to that from a not just from a perspective of “I want to have a customer for Tenzo.” That’s not what I want to hear. It’s just how do you respond to people that still think today data is not important for their business.
Christian: I think it’s really interesting. And first of all, I think the restaurant industry has been around for 2000 years and I think it will be around for the for the rest of eternity. And to me, the proof for that is the pandemic.
Like the pandemic, in the UK, they were told you should not go to a restaurant because you might spread. And then they decided to shut them and then they allowed them to open everything.
Restaurants survived that. To me, that is like the biggest testament that restaurants will be around forever. Now, that doesn’t mean that they will be around without adapting. I think in the pandemic they had to adapt in a very rapid way. For example, they have to start doing deliveries, order a table and work with their teams to make sure people are wearing masks, etc..
And to me, the industry having to digitize and to embrace data is the same way they need to adapt. And why is that? Because actually running a restaurant today has become much more difficult for many reasons. Like, there is much more pressure in terms of labor today, there are many reasons for that. In the UK, you could say it’s Brexit, it’s because of the pandemic.
People are changing careers and many other reasons like food has become more expensive. There’s inflation for many reasons, fertilizer in particular going up. And all of this means that it’s become much more competitive to operate and therefore it was much more predictable 10, 20, 50 years, 100 years ago to run a restaurant than it is today.
And that’s why I think you have to adapt. Otherwise, unfortunately, I don’t think you survive because it’s become more difficult.
Christian: That’s a really difficult one, I think. So I do think it’s still possible to run a mom and pop shop.
But I think you need to be very clear about what makes you stand out compared to other restaurants out there and especially these chains.
So, for example, something that could make you stand up is actually that you embrace the fact that you’re unique, that you’re family run, that you’re not going to have like this same experience and people seek that out and review you. And that’s why they come and get you. So I think you have to go in it knowing why you’re going to be different and being able to operate as a standalone, I think it is possible.
Lots of our customers are standalone customer, mom and pop shops. And I think they just know what is making them stand out. And you need to make that it’s even more challenging than it’s ever had because you are competing against chains that have huge advantages.
And we just talked about one, the volume, the bulk ordering of food. And I think that it is possible, but it is more challenging than ever.
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