50 minutes to open

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I won’t pretend we’ve never faced a close opening situation. But I don’t think it’s been this tight. Our contractor had been trying to get the plumbing inspector in since last Wednesday, that was the only inspection outstanding yesterday morning. We finally got our permit issued at 11:10am, for an open at noon. We couldn’t bring food into our space until we got our permits, so it was a mad dash to get everything in place.

At 12:01pm I was fiddling with my computer trying to get our menu for the day posted, and I heard Dave (our new VP of Operations) taking an order. So we made it on time. I ran out and saw an absolutely enormous line. Look closely at that picture. I couldn’t capture the entire line in the image. It was nuts. And exciting. We sold out a bit faster than expected.

Now I’m surrounded by excited customers as we’re doing an open house today. Free coffee and parsnip fritters all day. We’re opening for real tomorrow. We try to give ourselves a recovery day (today) to catch up with the stuff that breaks on the trial run (yesterday). But tomorrow we open at 7am and we won’t be closing. 24 hours or bust!

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Credit only on trucks

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Starting 1 May we’re going to move to credit cards only on the trucks.

OK, I’ll admit I’ve never seen this anywhere. And I had to look up if it’s even legal (it is). And we’re giving you a few days to get your plastic ready. I hope you’ll all be happy with the change. I took orders at our trucks a bunch over the past few weeks and asked every cash customer if they would mind, most of you said it would be OK.

So why the change? I got the idea when looking at how much of our transactions have moved to credit already. When we started we were at 20% credit. Now we’re over 80% credit.

Cash is a huge pain, especially on the trucks. Most importantly, I’ve never loved the security issues raised by having a bunch of cash on a truck. Nothing bad has happened, but I don’t like it. Second, there’s a lot of work. It takes about 20-30 minutes/ day of a managers time to count the cash. Then you have to go to the bank to deposit it (another 20-30 minutes). There’s the chance of miscount or errors or petty theft. And you can run out of change during service (a huge hassle).

So we’re going to try credit only. Will that be OK for you?

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Pay what you want day: $1200 for farmshares in Central Square

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Thanks all who joined us today at CloverHFI. Today was pay what you want. It was a chance for us to train our staff and get some reps in making sandwiches.

We haven’t done the final tally yet, but it appears we’ve raised $1200 for farmshares at CloverHFI. If you want to apply to be part of this farmshare scholarship, head over to the CSA tab on this website.

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HFI Hiring

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That’s a picture I snapped of Shane, our GM of HFI, interviewing a candidate.

We’re doing something completely different with hiring for this restaurant. In the past, when we opened a truck, or a restaurant, we seeded that location with folks from around the company. So Kendall was opened by a crew of experienced Clover employees.

The issue with that approach is that you sort of gut existing units when you open a new one. And it will not scale as opening new restaurants becomes more frequent.

So we’re trying something completely different for this restaurants. We hired all new employees. It’s a daunting task, and I’ll admit, it’s a bit scary for me. Shane hired 39 employees last week. That’s incredible. But part of what is tricky here is that you can’t hire a long time before open, and you can’t even know exactly when open is going to be no matter how hard you try (see Lucia’s post from last night).

So we’ve hired a ton of people, and we’ve been on boarding them this past week and getting them trained in existing restaurants. If this approach works it will be an amazing way to move forward in the future.

So yeah, there are a few roles left if you’re wondering. We need Assistant Managers, Team Leaders (supervisors), and we need prep folks (fast with a knife). I you have interest or know somebody who does please apply right now.

 

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HFI Update

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Lucia here. We’re finishing up the last of our inspections tomorrow morning, and there’s a chance we might be postponing Free Sandwich Day. I will know the answer to that question at 10am – and I’ll do my best to let everyone know!

If we do postpone, all of the same pre-open activities will happen, just a few days later.

Thanks all for your patience! We can’t wait to start serving in Central Square.

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Higher prices coming soon

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We’re going to change our prices Monday. I doubt many of you are psyched to read that. And it’s not exactly a fun thing to announce.

But this is part of what it means to be a healthy company. I think we’re taking a thoughtful approach and I hope you will all be supportive.

Here’s some of the thinking that’s gone into this change. We haven’t changed our sandwich price in almost 3 years and I think we’re due for a change.

PROPOSED CHANGES
The average is around 7%, not adjusted for mix. I believe the mix adjusted changes will be around 9% overall increase. Note that increase is not distributed evenly.  Sandwiches will change from $6.00 to $6.54. Trucks will start selling at same price as restaurants (currently trucks sandwich price ranges from $4.67 to $5.61). There will be changes to some other menu items (e.g., breakfast sandwich will increase from $3.00 to $3.74).

I’m timing this to come before HFI opens, because if I were a new customer of a new restaurant I really wouldn’t understand if prices changed a couple weeks in, even if they were 3 years over due…

NECESSITY FOR CHANGE
I believe we will have trouble hitting our targets for profitability and sales improvement without a change to prices.

I believe our customers are willing to pay more for what we deliver.

I think that in the marketplace in general there is increased focus by customers on quality of delivered product/ experience and away from price concerns. That is to say I think people are more likely to “pay what it costs” for an experience they really want and less likely to skimp when it comes to a fantastic product or experience. Increasing prices will allow us to focus more resources on improving our product and experience.

BREAK THE DOLLAR
We have adhered to a dollar-based pricing to date. I love the simplicity of this, and early on a big part of our message to customers was around price, we wanted everybody to know how affordable we were.

This pricing approach led to very infrequent but large price changes (3 year intervals, 10% + when they hit). I think that this approach will be hard to maintain over time.

I don’t want to ditch simplicity. I think it’s important to this community that is Clover, customer and employees alike. I propose we make the following changes:
– We focus on rounding post-tax (favorable to restaurants, means no coin changers, we piloted this on trucks last summer)
– We round to quarter (rounding to dollar too restrictive to pricing)
– We price by item (although groups of items, e.g., sandwiches, will still have consistent pricing)

KEEP PRICING BANDS TIGHT
I think we want to keep the pricing brand tight. While some competitors price across broad bands explicitly (Panera) and others do it implicitly (Chipotle, with add ons), I think we want to keep our sandwich and drink pricing tight for now. While others are trying to extract maximum value from customers with some low priced offerings for those that cannot afford more alongside very high priced offerings, I don’t think this is the model Clover should follow.

I think this for 2 reasons:
– We want customers to try to breadth of our menu, a goal that is not served by tiered pricing
– Our brand feels straightforward and simple to our customers, and I’d like to keep it that way.

CLOVER VS. COMPETITORS
It’s hard to know exactly, but I expect this price increase will increase our average ticket and sales by a factor similar to the mix-adjusted increase.

We expect our average ticket will still be well below Chipotle ($11.56 for 2013) but above our industry average (around $8). I think that’s a fine place for us to be at this point. I would like us to get to an average ticket that is 80% of Chipotle’s (which would put us at around $9.50 average at Chipotle’s current pricing). But I don’t want to do this overnight.

REINVEST
We’ve already seen 4 rounds of wage increases since the last price increase. I expect there will be more, and that’s one of the things we will fund with the increase.

There are additional resources/ infrastructure we are building that price increases will support.

We will be able to continue to improve our ingredient quality. Chris has made some amazing changes over the past few years and compared to 3 years ago when we made our last price increase our ingredient quality is much much better. We’re buying significantly more organic (was approx. 35%, now more like 45%) , and significantly more from local suppliers (est. from 60% to 80%).

So I hope you all still love us after this switch. I think we’ll be a better company come Monday, and I hope we continue to get better and better.

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How many fields of parsnips do you want me to plant this year?

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That was a question Michael Docter of Winter Moon Roots asked us when we were at the farm early this fall.

Now those parsnips have been harvested and brought to Clover. Our first buy was 1600lbs, and we’re placing another order this week!

If you’ve never had a Winter Moon parsnip, they are unlike anything you’ve ever had before. These are Spring parsnips, which means they’ve spent a winter under the snow. Their starches have converted to sugars, so they are really sweet and a little bit spicy. They are the first thing to come out of the ground after winter.

PARSNIP MANIA AT CLOVER STARTS THURSDAY

Parsnip Sandwich (Spring onion chow-chow, Grafton Cheddar, mayo, roasted warm parsnips, young spinach)
Parsnip Pear Soup
Parsnip Spinach Salad
Parsnip Lemonade (free samples anytime, trust us, this does taste good!)
Parsnip Soda (same deal, this actually works as a soda!)
Parsnip Fritters after 3pm

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Team Leader pay increases to $12.50/ hour

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I had the fun job of sending a note to employees this morning announcing a pay increase for the Team Leader position. We’re increasing starting pay for our Team Leaders from $11.25/ hour to $12.50/ hour. This change will go in effect for the next pay period. All existing Team Leaders earning less than $12.50/ hour will automatically get an increase. All new promotions and hires into the Team Leader role will start at $12.50/ hour. Everybody will still be eligible for future increases per our policies in the handbook.

I have to admit I had to have somebody else point out to me that we have increased all pay this year (Provisional, Team Member, Assistant Manager, General Manager) but had left the Team Leaders behind. Sorry all, that’s an oversight on my part.

And perhaps related to this oversight we’re short on Team Leaders as a company. Hopefully this change will help correct that.

For those of you unfamiliar with this role, team leaders are shift supervisors at Clover. Team Leaders either open or close a shift. It’s the first role at Clover that introduces expectations of leadership and can be a very exciting starting point for a longer career at Clover, or a great place to learn quickly while helping us build this company.

Thanks all. Sorry it took somebody else to point this out to me. Excited to be able to make this change.

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Illegal pinball

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The other day I posted about all of the things going on for Clover. A really long post.

Towards the end of that post was a mention of a pinball. Not less than 3 hours after I put that post on the website I got an email from Cambridge Licensing letting me know that due to an ordinance in Cambridge we might not be allowed to have pinball.

So crazy right? Crazy there’s an issue. And crazy they are reading this website to find that. We’re chasing around city agencies right now to get to the bottom of this. So far we’ve been told by zoning that it’s not their job, told by the head of City Inspectional Services that there’s no issue, told by licensing that they need us to get an entertainment license. So we’ve applied for an entertainment license.

I’d love to sit down with a City official and go through how absolutely crazy it’s been to try to work in this City. I’m reaching a boiling point. Feels like anything you want to do there’s an absurd obstacle put in your place.

We had a Cambridge Fire Sargent come into the HUB the other day harassing Chris about a bill that a plumber we work with hadn’t paid them, $500 or so. Chris asked if it was our bill and they said no, but they know we work with that plumber. They threatened to shut down the HUB and prevent HFI from opening if we get the plumber to pay up. No joke. No joke. In 2015. In an educated city.

We can’t apply for a beer license for HFI because the previous tenant has what Massachusetts calls a pocket license. That’s a license that’s not active (because he has no business anymore) but is “attached” to our address. Cambridge will not allow us to apply for a license until that pocket license is moved or revoked. The Cambridge ordinances say very clearly that pocket licenses should not be renewed, yet the License Commission renewed his license at the end of the year. He didn’t file for an extension of his license, but the Cambridge License Commission extended it anyway. And here we are, 1 year after we signed a LOI on the space, still unable to apply for a permit. It’s really incredible.

It’s taken a year, literally a year, to get our pita oven approved for use in Cambridge. If I’d opened it in New Hampshire I could have had bread baking last May. And I’m spending more money on consultants, engineers, etc. than the oven cost to be built in Israel and shipped across the ocean.

These are some larger stories, but there are dozens of smaller stories. And they’re hardly unique to Clover. It’s just an amazing pain to try to do business. These things seem broken. They just don’t seem to work they way they should. I would be shocked if there is somebody who lives in Cambridge who thinks it would be a bad thing for Clover to have a pinball machine in our restaurant. And I think most business people in the City feel there is nothing they can do. I feel that same way.

(Oh, and we will have pinball, legal or not. And yeah, that’s a cherry Twilight Zone machine there. I’ve been doing a lot of pinball research : )

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More than eggs

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Since the first truck I’ve thought it would be fun to be able to sell stuff other than sandwiches. We had a bunch of you ask for eggs and used to pack extra dozens of ChipNfarm eggs to sell at request. We also sold bags of pita.

Now, with Clover HFI, we’re building an enormous retail wall into the restaurant that will allow us to merchandise and sell all sorts of things. We’re planning a little book nook where we’ll sell our favorite food-related books and magazines. And we’re going to sell everything from Charlie Baer’s beans to an organic peanut butter we use for our sandwiches that we think is amazing.

Anything you’d like to request? Any obscure food magazines you would like easy access to?

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