Most of Suzy Monford’s career is steeped in retail tradition. She’s held executive-level positions at H.E. Butt Grocery and more recently as an independent consultant, helped Coles Supermarkets in Australia revamp its offerings.
Now Monford is applying her years of retail experience to foodservice as she attempts to literally “clean up” the menu at the EZ’s Brick Oven & Grill, a chain of fast casual restaurants in her native Texas.
For Monford, who actually started her food career at the original restaurant in San Antonio, it’s a homecoming of sorts.
“I worked with EZ’s when it was just being born,” she says. “When it started in 1989, it was quite innovative to make home-made, very high-quality food in a fast casual environment.”
Among the biggest changes customers of the five-unit chain are finding under her tenure as president is a new emphasis on healthy and clean ingredients.
“It’s been a combination of working with our current suppliers and sourcing what we would typically call, in the supermarket trade, specialty food manufacturers, to get things like all-natural peanut butter, almond milk, organic jam, gluten-free buns and blue agave nectar in portion packs,” she said.
Blue agave nectar in portion packs? The healthier food products cost about 30% more than their counterparts, and the green takeout products cost as much as 75% more.
“It’s a bit of a leap for a company that was working to right itself financially after making some bad business decisions to say, ‘Look, we’re going to reinvest a percentage of our revenue to take us back to the quality of the ingredients we use, and invest in that yet again,’” she said.
Monford and the EZ's team have adjusted the recipes to use minimally processed brown rice and whole grain pasta. There are absolutely no trans fats, soy, MSG or corn syrup in the products. All their fresh, homemade-daily salad dressings are made with 100% olive oil, instead of soybean and cottonseed oils. Even their new mayonnaise contains no corn syrup, GMOs or bad oils; and their nut butters contain only nuts, with no added soy, corn syrup or MSG.
“It’s not just a personal passion of mine. It’s how you win,” adds Monford. “It’s how you engage the customer today.”
While the restaurant industry is a different animal, Monford has discovered that her long tenure in the retail food universe was ideal training for her current endeavor.
“In the retail food industry, our disciplines and processes for going to market are used every single day, all day long,” she says. “Once you can master that balance of art and science — whether it’s procurement or sourcing or pricing or merchandising — those talents lend themselves quite well back here in the restaurant world.”
Still, in Monford’s playbook, nothing beats working in the supermarket environment for a daily rush.
“To me, it’s a sport. You’ve got about three seconds to shake off your horrible failure that just happened, figure out what went wrong, come up with a new game plan and jump back into the game.”