As Chefs Floyd and Angie Kahlil like to tell it, first they fell in love with each other. Then they fell in love with feeding people in and around their native Philadelphia.Since 2007, their Plum Restaurant Group has grown to include a catering business, several food trucks, and a brick-and-mortar bistro. Then the husband-and-wife team had the chance to park their food truck at a local university. Students gravitated toward the Plum Pit’s eclectic lineup of sandwiches, tacos, rice bowls, and empanadas.
That guest restaurant opportunity, made possible by our Local Restaurant Row program, kicked off a new trajectory for this Black- and veteran-owned company. “Local Restaurant Row puts us in front of new customers and helps supplement our business, especially when it’s the off-season for our food trucks,” says Chef Floyd.
For nearly two years, Local Restaurant Row has been bringing minority- and women-owned restaurants to campuses, hospitals, and workplaces across the nation. The innovative program is fostering an inclusive supply chain—while helping our clients and restaurant partners bounce back from the pandemic.
In Search of Excitement and Authenticity
Guest restaurant programs are a tried-and-true strategy for infusing variety and authenticity into a dining program. Meanwhile, local restaurants are always looking for the growth and stability that comes from new revenue streams. Local Restaurant Row was born of the idea that we could help connect the dots in communities where we live and work.
“The local element plays very heavily into the program’s success,” shares Andrew Levy, Regional Vice President, Business Dining. “Consumers love having easy access to the hot local barbecue place, favorite sandwich spot, or chopped salad place in town.”
Today, Local Restaurant Row is active in our Healthcare, Business Dining, and Higher Education lines of business. Healthcare and Higher Education scaled first, as those hospitality programs were among the first to reopen from pandemic-related restrictions (if they ceased operating at all). Now, as more companies welcome employees back onsite, implementation at our Business Dining locations continues to accelerate.
“Dining amenities were once a means to recruit and retain employees,” says Levy, whose territory spans west from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Ocean. “Today they can attract people back to the office, helping them reengage with their colleagues and with the culture of the organization.”
Like many office complexes, Four Oaks Place in Houston wasn’t able to welcome guest restaurants for much of the pandemic. But as restrictions eased, they turned to Local Restaurant Row in April 2021 to help impact the community and entice employees with new dining menus. Four Oaks Place was drawn to this solution because it offered more control over partner selection, menu variety, scheduling, and communication. To date, they have engaged with 15 new local restaurant partners.
“Local Restaurant Row gives us the flexibility to serve a poke bowl one day and traditional Mediterranean food the following day,” says General Manager Chris Conti. “This program will be a crucial part of getting our cafés back to normal as the buildings begin to repopulate.”
We’ve found guests are eager to support local restaurants who can offer authentic cuisine. Clients who have activated Local Restaurant Row report higher foot traffic, increased overall sales, and higher average spending per transaction.
Meanwhile, the participating restaurants gain wider name recognition that, with time, translates into business growth. Partners like Plum Restaurant Group report that Local Restaurant Row brings people back to their own restaurants and has yielded new catering opportunities.
A Marketplace for OpportunityIf community, diversity, and inclusion are the spirit of Local Restaurant Row, technology is its backbone. Prospective restaurant partners apply to the program online, and we’re more than happy to guide them through the process. Front-line managers can even recommend local restaurants for the program—after all, they know what brands and trends are emerging in their respective markets.
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By design, the program criteria are rigorous enough to meet our quality standards, but with contract terms that are feasible for businesses of their size. This screening process is a major differentiator for clients who may have attempted to operate such programs before on their own. “Local Restaurant Row adds a level of credibility to a guest restaurant program. Our managers like knowing we have vetted these organizations first,” Levy explains.
From there, the 500-plus approved restaurants can be sorted by geography, cuisine, and business classifications that meet our clients’ local sourcing goals, such as veteran-owned, minority-owned, or woman-owned. “Being able to filter all the local restaurants and seeing what new restaurants have completed a profile is very helpful. I go on every day to see if there are new restaurants that have signed on,” says Barry Giordano, General Manager at Lankenau Medical Center, a teaching hospital located just outside Philadelphia.
Once a match is made, Local Restaurant Row allows our locations to contract and communicate with guest restaurants as needed. They can align on a schedule that works for both sides, whether that’s joining Food Truck Friday for an entire academic year or operating a lunchtime café station one week per month. That blend of flexibility and long-term predictability is a boon for small businesses striving to keep their employees on the payroll.
“With Local Restaurant Row, we’ve got good economy of scale,” Levy says. “It’s reducing the administrative burden on our managers, opening up new opportunities for our partners, and elevating the guest experience. The direct access saves resources and, more importantly, deepens their relationship.”
Once a small business gets started with Local Restaurant Row, they can quickly expand to other accounts and even new lines of business. That first two-week stint at a local university propelled Plum Restaurant Group to offer their versatile menus—ranging from barbeque to Caribbean to Tex-Mex—at other accounts across the greater Philadelphia region.
At Lankenau, the team was specifically looking to add menu variety and support their local community in the wake of the pandemic. Since Local Restaurant Row debuted there in early 2021, the dining program has seen an increase in both transactions and average check size.
Among Lankenau’s new restaurant partners is Pita Chip, which combines the flavors from Omar Alsaadi and Mouhanad Kabbani’s childhood in Damascus, Syria, with those they grew to love in America. Their modern Middle-Eastern cuisine has a loyal following, but like all restaurants, COVID-19 forced them to adapt.
Local Restaurant Row was part of Pita Chip’s strategy for overcoming the economic hardships brought on by the pandemic. At Lankenau, guests have been lining up for their imaginative takes on chicken shawarma and falafel, and array of yogurt-based sauces. Since partnering with Lankenau, Pita Chip’s online sales have grown significantly and they have been able to expand to other accounts in their adopted hometown.
“Our partnership with Aramark has allowed us to gain new exposure to customers in the healthcare industry and beyond that we otherwise would not be able to access,” attests Omar’s son Rend Alsaadi, also a Pita Chip partner.
Investing in Local Communities
Yes, Local Restaurant Row makes it easy for our clients and guests to “go local” with new, exciting food experiences. But the program is just as much about having a positive impact on our communities. We’re providing the right spaces for small, minority-owned businesses to expand their footprint and build their brand—and emerge from two of the roughest years our industry has ever seen.
Next up, Pita Chip intends to explore opportunities in the Philadelphia suburbs. Meanwhile, Plum Restaurant Group wants to expand their fleet of food trucks (which Chef Floyd builds himself) and add a full-service special events venue to their portfolio. “We've definitely seen a benefit from being in the Aramark family,” says Chef Angie. “Our business continues to thrive, which we are grateful for.”
Not coincidentally, some guest restaurant partners are referred from mentorship programs that empower small, diverse-owned businesses in key markets nationwide. “Eager entrepreneurs tend to have big plans for their businesses.
That makes them a good potential fit for Local Restaurant Row,” says Levy.
Like Plum and Pita Chip, countless restaurants want to share their culture and cuisine with the world while ensuring a reliable path for growth. With Local Restaurant Row, we’re inviting them to grow with us.