August 7, 2017

Hummus (July 27, 2017)

Last night we tested hummus bowls at CloverKND. We’re on again tonight, 6pm – 8pm at CloverKND (Kendall Square). I’m hoping this is the first step towards the future of food at Clover. Let me explain…

I realized 2 months ago that most of our customers are taking our food to go. I guess we sort of knew this was happening. But in 2011 when we opened our first restaurant 20% of our customers took the food to go. Now up to 80% of our customers are to go. What have we done over that time to make our food portable? Nothing.

So I’ve been intensely focused on this question for the past few months. We cut the tomatoes AFTER you order the sandwich, just so that sandwich will taste better. We love just cut, just made, scratch made because it just tastes so much better.

But what sandwich is good 40 minutes later? OK, good maybe. But great? Something you can dream about?

I think we need something else. I’m turning to hummus as the solution. I’m hoping we’re moving from the era of falafel at Clover to hummus at Clover.

Let’s start with a bit of background. In the early days of Clover, back when I hadn’t yet picked the name Clover, I was back and forth about what our food should be. I settled on sandwiches, soup, salads, and breakfast. My friend Ron Shaich calls these “broad swimming lanes.” I’ll admit, I’m always a little confused when he says that. But I know what he means generally. Play in food categories where there is room for lots of different people.

Falafel was the first item we sold. Mostly because of an amazing experience I had in Paris that I couldn’t shake. I thought: this might be a step towards helping the carnivorous eat less meat and more vegetables.

But around that time we were experimenting with hummus as well. I’d been introduced to a fresh silky style of hummus that was totally new to me. You would start eating it and you couldn’t stop. Some of the places in NYC served this hummus with beans or marinated mushrooms or meats.

We developed our first robust recipe for “silky” hummus back in 2008. But we sort of put it on the back shelf because it was pretty hard to execute daily. So instead we emphasized a slightly more mainstream hummus on our sandwiches. Then around 2014 I tasted “rustic style” hummus and loved it. We changed our sandwiches to that style of hummus, no tahini, lemony.

So when I started thinking about this question of take-away the thing I was really puzzling on was how the food tastes. What is food that tastes as good after 40 minutes? Or… what is food that tastes better after 40 minutes? And I started thinking about hummus. Enzo said the other day that hummus is the “whitebread of the middle east.” I think he meant hummus tastes good with almost anything. Just like white bread. Savory. Sweet. Acidic. All yum.

The other idea I have about these bowls: I think they could be even better than our current sandwiches at featuring what farmers grow. Right now it’s really hard for us to make sandwiches that feature some of the beautiful ingredients we get from farms. Eggplant, we have that covered. But what do you do when your farmer has a lot of carrots? We figured this out with the roasted carrot sandwich earlier this year, which was a total hit, and delicious and cravable. But I think we sort of got luck on that one. It’s hard to make a sandwich featuring carrots. Or how about heirloom peppers? How do we make a sandwich based on that?

A hummus bowl on the other hand, it’s easy to imagine how that might work. It could be beautiful and delicious and filling.

So come by CloverKND and help us figure out the future. I said I’m hoping this is the future. But it only works if people love it. And we have to be open minded as we test this idea. Maybe it’s a hit. Maybe it’s a mistake. You can help us figure that out.

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