Feed the Beast

By Chris Spear

By

Chris Spear
Porchetta and Pickled Jalapeno Salsa Verde
Porchetta and Pickled Jalapeno Salsa Verde

Chef Jason Neroni knows a thing or two about high-volume cooking. At his Venice Beach restaurant, Rose Cafe, Neroni is serving close to 7,000 customers a week. The 8,000-square foot space has 280 seats, and is home to a restaurant, cafe, cocktail bar, beer garden, coffee bar, market, and bakery. When you’re running an operation of that size six days a week for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, you need to be really organized and have a firm grasp of cost-control techniques. At this year’s International Chefs Congress, he provided insight into how he’s able to run an efficient dining program.

Smart Menu Planning: Having multiple dining venues under one roof allows for a lot of cross-utilization. One of the dishes Neroni serves is porchetta. “For speed of service, it’s slow-roasted ahead of time before being flash-fried and sliced for service.” While this helps get diners out quickly, there’s often cooked product leftover. That cooked porchetta often ends up in tomorrow’s pasta or on top of a pizza at lunch. It was important to the chef to “gear menus for execution without watering down my vision.” Fish bones get scraped down for tartare, and the oil used for poaching salmon gets used in rillettes. Having four rotating daily menus allows for flexibility. A staff meeting is held at noon to discuss the dishes, and the dinner menu is printed at 4pm. 

Choosing the Right Equipment: Neroni looks for versatility and pieces that will stand up to heavy use. The CVap at Rose Cafe runs 24 hours a day. It gets used for slow-roasting items like the porchetta, as well as holding sauces during service. They use it in place of traditional sous vide techniques. “Look in your trash can at the end of service. It’s filled with plastic bags.” He gets similar results in the CVap, saving a lot of money on the vacuum bags while reducing their environmental impact. They also have two pasta extruders running all day. Pasta is a high-margin item, especially when you’re elevating it with components that you already have prepared on hand.

Staffing: There are more than 200 employees at Rose Cafe. That’s a lot of people to properly train and keep motivated.  In such a large operation it would be easy to suffer from burnout, but Neroni takes care of his staff. “All the full-time employees are scheduled for eight and a half hour days with a half hour break.” They also have off two days a week. In an industry that leans toward long work days and, quite often, stretches without a day off, this helps keep energy and morale up. Full-time employees are also offered medical benefits, which, until recently, have been something of a rarity in the foodservice business.

All of these things have helped get Rose Cafe to a point where they’re operating close to a 25 percent food cost and an overall labor cost around 11 percent. Even if you don’t have multiple venues, you can still use these same techniques to keep your kitchen profitable and running smoothly.   

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