An Interview with Adam Kidron, Managing Partner of 4Food

We recently had the chance to lob some questions to Adam Kidron, who is one of the driving forces behind the technologically savvy burger joint in New York City 4Food.  It was an email interview, which isn’t ideal, but when one of us is in Portland and works a full-time job and the other is preparing to open a new restaurant, well, sometimes scheduling a phoner is difficult.

Anyways, the reason I wanted to ask some questions about 4Food, is because the restaurant seems to be important.  It’s one of the only restaurants I know of that blends social media, technology and healthy, local ingredients.

To me, food, and to a degree restaurants, are political.  Ingredients should be local and seasonal,  supplies, i.e. farmers, should be paid a living wage, animals should be treated humanely, artificial ingredients and chemicals shouldn’t be used, waste should be reduced, energy issues should be accounted for, etc.  These are all things 4Food has thought of, implemented and fights for.

And while 4Foods use of Twitter, Facebook and Foresquare to help promote their burgers and mission seems like a gimmick, it’s more of a marketing strategy. Patrons create a burger, give it a name, promote it through social marketing and then get credit if their burger becomes popular.  So in a sense, they’ve turned ordering lunch into a game, which works as promotion, which then in turn works at incentive for repeat business.  It’s a tool and a twist and a treatise on how restaurants function in the modern digital landscape.

Okay, one more thing about the burgers, before we dive into the quick interview.  The burgers can be ordered in lots of different combinations, from the bun, to the meat, cheese, fixings, etc., but also because each burger has a whole in the middle where patrons can select one of 25 fillings to start (including: BBQ baked beans, cheddar & scallion grits, chorizo hash, mac & cheese, MoFo, and vegetable sushi, ), with the idea that if the restaurant is successful the fillings will expand to around 100.

4Food opens on September 9.  If you live in NYC let us know what you think because it might be a few months before we can get down there to try the burgers and experience out for ourselves.

Q: Have you met the July 6th opening date, if so how’s the first month been going?

A: No, soft launch is now (finally) on August 9th, and full-time operation starts August 23rd. The delay has been caused by the complexity of integrating the functioning of two kitchens (commissary and restaurant), with a number of new technologies that support an infinitely customizable menu, social networking and marketing of User created and named (W)holeburgers, and in store media.

Q: When I think of 4food, the first thing that comes to mind isn’t necessarily food or social media, but it’s the Old Spice Guy campaign that just concluded. What are you feelings on potentially being a black swan in the restaurant business; similar to how Weiden + Kennedy created an advertising campaign that will be often imitated but never duplicated.

A: We have spent 3-years planning 4food, and though we have made more mistakes along the way than I choose to mention, we can hardly claim to be a random event. It is probably true that we cannot be duplicated as our business is primarily a product of the creativity of our customers, which can be channeled but cannot be predicted or modeled with certainty.

Q: Are you worried the social media aspect is going to be too complicated for the average person, ie someone who could care less about Twitter, Foursquare and Facebook, to grasp?

A: We have developed Chef’s Builds for people who don’t have the initial confidence to build their own (W)holeburgers, and insist that technology is as invisible as you want it to be and enabling. You can walk in off the street, choose a bundled meal and pay with cash, or you can build a burger online, use a social network to market it to your friends and purchase it using the 4food$ you have earned.

Q How are the line cooks managing? Having worked in kitchens and restaurants, the thought of 141 million combinations of burgers seems daunted to keep track of? What’s the strategy for mitigated wrong orders, speedily service and properly cooked/prepared orders?

A: We have great systems: for example our KDUs (Kitchen Display Unit) allow specific, custom built orders to be clearly displayed to the cook, one order at a time and force double checks. That said, systems only work when they are operated by an intelligent, incentivized, and well trained team and that is what we have built. It’s like Charlie Parker said when he was asked how he got so talented: “You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.” S

Q: At the end of the day, the social media aspect is a great hook (it feels like this type of restaurant could only debut in Manhattan or San Fran./San Jose), but it’s just a hook. What matters is the quality of food. Organic is pretty much a dead word when it comes to food. Can we talk about the sources of food?

A: The social media aspect is much more than a hook it is in fact essential to our business: Customers market our products so that we won’t have to, which reduces our cost as much as 12%, enabling us to spend more on ingredients while keeping our prices reasonable. This in turn attracts more customers further reducing cost and increasing operating efficiency… As for Organic is a label that has been bastardized to the point it means little more than expensive to most consumers… We are far more interested in “local”, “sustainable”, “fresh” and “unprocessed.”

Q: So you are you sourcing local?

A: Local where we can and the season fits, and in the locales that can sustainably support production

Q: I’m going to hit you up with a few quickies.  Where does the beef come from?

A: North East Family Farms: farming cooperative in New York State & New England.

Q: What’s the fat ratio?

A: Approximately 80/20.

Q: Where are the rolls from?

A: Grimaldi’s Bakery in Brooklyn

Q: What farms are you relying on, if any, for produce?

A: A variety of local growers including Molinelli and D’ Ottavio Farms.

Q: Here in Portland we’re big on not relying on Sysco, is that the case with 4food?

A: We don’t use “broad-line” vendors at all. Specialty suppliers take more time but deliver better and differentiated products. We are what you eat.

Q: What have been the standout scoops so far? Have any fallen flat that you didn’t anticipate? When you begin to roll out to 100, what are some that you think will be favorites?

A: I’m an ex-record producer and as such I learned that Users make hits and not to speculate (So check out the BuildBoard Chart).

Q: There seems to be an underlying political thrust to 4food? What’s the genesis of that mission? Is it disappointing that more food people/restaurants are not undertaking that as well?

A: DeJunking Fast Food is a political statement that has far reaching implications/consequences and carries responsibilities. You cannot deJunk fast food if you buy genetically modified soy from Monsanto, or tomatoes that were picked by exploited workers, or the meat of cattle that has been mistreated. How sustainable is an enterprise that does not safeguard the welfare of its employees, customers and neighborhoods? Why do anything at all that is not progressive? Hopefully, though imperfect, we will be worthy of our mission.

So there you have it.  Thanks to Adam for taking the time to answer a few more illuminating questions about 4Food. We look forward to having a (w)hole burger and a scoop when we hit New York City next.

Coverage Elsewhere: CNET, Eater, Thrillist, Gizmodo, & NYT

Photo Courtesy of Gizmodo.

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