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Yolo Eats – Part 1 of 2

In my 37 minute conversation with Yolo Eats General Manager, Brett Gardenhire, we managed to cover everything from the company’s mission to global branding to how Woodland can become a destination.  Yolo Eats’ message is loud and clear, but most of all it’s very focused; Yolo Eats is ready to conquer the world by partnering with community leaders, other Woodland businesses and most of all their customers.

Yolo Eats

The following is part one of two.  Read part two here.

Introduce yourself and the company you work for.
My name is Brett Gardenhire, and I’m the General Manager of Yolo Eats Incorporated.  Yolo Eats is the parent company for four entities; Maria’s Cantina, BlackPine Catering & Events, the new Morgan’s On Main, and the events venue at Windmill Farm & Vineyard.

What is Yolo Eats’ mission?
Yolo Eats drives towards creating experiential hospitality.  As our guest, we want to make sure we are providing a service that immediately transports you.  It’s not enough to just provide food; we have a saying, “For one hour, sweep your guests away, so they lose all cares.”  We want to take care of our guests, which is the essence of clienthood.

Our events are the exactly the same way.  We call it artisan catering because we take on the jobs that allow us to focus on the details along with personable service.  That is the essence of BlackPine.

How is the company organized?
Each entity has a management team.  Tito Delatorre is the General Manager at Maria’s Cantina.  Kathryn Gardenhire is the Director of Catering at BlackPine Catering.  However, Executive Chef John Gamboni oversees all culinary development and output for all three entities.  He also works closely with Windmill’s Farm Manager, Sergio Villanueva.  John is also the interim General Manager at Morgan’s On Main.

Tell me about each entity; what’s their claim?

The entity names are simple, is that on purpose?
I have a quote I often use; unfortunately, I cannot source it right now, but it is “Complexity only hinders success.”  I say that in the sense that it’s not like complexity doesn’t have its part, but it should be secondary in communication and marketing.  Always find the direct way to communicate with people.  We have got to communicate what our message is in the simplest way possible.  It’s important to take a brand that works within a particular community but also raise it’s level, so it works on a world-class level.

How long have you been with Yolo Eats and how has it changed since then?
I came from Forest House Lodge; an all purpose hotel and lodge in Foresthill.  In a five-year period, we raised it from a local ‘to-do’ into a national brand, certainly in terms of wedding events.  That experience led me here.  At the time, Yolo Eats consisted of Maria’s Cantina and BlackPine, which was fledgling at the time.  So, that was two years ago.

I will say, I’ve heard more and more about BlackPine within the last year than ever before.
They’ve quadrupled in terms of their growth rate (jobs and revenue) in an 18 month period.  Maria’s guests counts are more consistent than they ever have been, and they are growing every month.

Tell me about the changes you made?
The first thing that needed to occur is a reintroduction of vision.  Maria’s had become “just another restaurant”.  Obviously, you can look at it and know it can be and IS so much more than that.  But it also needed love and care around the pillars that make up the experiential restaurant.  In our case, we feel you have to have good food, a good atmosphere, and the experience has to be textural.  Everything that Yolo Eats involves itself with has to be textural on a multitude of levels.  When you sit down, you begin your experience.  Whether you are marveling at the drapes, your silverware, the suggestions made by the server, or the flavors/textures of the food; all these thing have layers and textures that create the overall experience.  That is what wasn’t there before.  Once we determined what we wanted we came up with the game plan to achieve it.

BlackPine was a different situation because it was in it’s infancy.  We could start from the beginning, setting that precedence.  Whereas with Maria’s, we had to gain it back.  What we had to gain back was what the community wanted it to be.  My biggest thrill when it comes to Maria’s is that we took a chance on the Latin fusion concept.  If we were going to make a go on this, it has to go beyond great service and great food; let’s go beyond quality.  If we rely on only quality, as our competitive advantage, then we are lazy.  We had to create something that is unique and really what our guests were telling us they wanted.  It’s a gamble when you can take southwestern flavors, little bits of Americana and research recipes from Mexico.  The community has responded; they let us know, and we listened.  The Chef Taco being the main piece of evidence of us listening to our community.

What’s the future of Yolo Eats and our town?
When we invade Sacramento, we are putting the Chef Taco right in front of everyone!

When you say invade, are you talking from a marketing standpoint?
Yes, at this point I have no qualms in saying that Maria’s is in the same realm or better than any Latin restaurant in the Sacramento area.

How are you going to get people from outside of Woodland to come to Maria’s?
It can’t only be about Maria’s.  The single best friend of this city is Ken Hiatt.  He was the fist individual I met, outside my company, when I came to town.  I told him, this dream will not work unless everyone works together to make Woodland the destination.  It can’t be just one company, such as Maria’s, or one event.  Everyone has to be involved.  I’m putting my neck out by saying this, but that’s the difference between what’s happening in Winters and what’s happening here in Woodland.

Associations need to be made between business owners so they can rely on each other for strategy.  That, in my opinion, is what chambers and business associations should be doing.  I’ve already thrown it out there that I think we need a restaurant association in town.  By doing that, we can welcome people to come in and help them understand the rules of the game, “This is how a downtown Woodland business operates to be ‘eye-candy’ to travelers.”  It can’t be about one establishment, but one establishment can be the lighting rod needed to start it.

I’m leaving tons of people out but with Burger Saloon, Christy at Mojo’s, Jaun at Savory, and what Paul has been doing for years at Ludy’s – we are HERE.  The right people are in place to make things happen.  I believe it will just take a little more time, strategy and momentum.

continue to part two here.

Photo courtesy of Yolo Eats and Farrell Scott

CORRECTION: In the original post, Kathyrn Gardenhire’s name was misspelled.  Additionally, I misunderstood the relationship between Windmill Farm & Vineyard and Yolo Eats.  Yolo Eats manages only the events side of the property.  Sergio Villanueva manages Windmill Farm & Vineyard independently of Yolo Eats involvement with the site’s event venue.  Finally, just to add more information to my longest post yet, Windmill Farm & Vineyard and Yolo Eats are both owned by Jeff and Kellie Morgan.

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[…] My conversation with Brett continues as he expands on why Woodland will become a destination for visitors, gives us an introduction to Morgan’s On Main, and shares the challenges he faces, but welcomes, on this road to success.  Read part 1 here. […]