Lina O’Connor wants to build a unique portfolio company that future restaurant concepts will want to call home.
That has been a key goal of the 2021 merger between fast-casual concepts Tender Greens and Tocaya, which are now operated by the newly created One Table Restaurant Brands, or OTRB, based in Los Angeles and led by O’Connor.
The former chief financial officer for Tender Greens, O’Connor is president and CFO of OTRB. The merger brought together two very like-minded concepts — the 25-unit Tender Greens and 19-unit Tocaya — which will continue to be operated separately. But O’Connor is working to bring the two brands together culturally in a way that will set the stage for the potential addition of more brands under the One Table umbrella.
The post-pandemic recovery has fueled a boom in portfolio restaurant companies — multi-concept platforms that come together in part to create efficiencies, boost purchasing power and offer potential career paths for leaders to grow internally.
That was certainly a factor for One Table. But O’Connor said more important to her was establishing a new culture of creativity, innovation and support.
“We have a strong culture at Tender Greens and a strong culture at Tocaya, but we wanted to bring something together that was uniquely One Table, and that’s a process,” she said. “We’re making huge strides in that journey so that we can be, I like to say, the platform of choice, where people are clamoring — whether they’re a six-unit brand or a 10-unit brand or a 20-unit brand — and they’re saying ‘I can’t go at it alone. I’d really love to be part of One Table.’ That would be success for us, that we’re not just back-office support but something bigger that people want to be a part of.”
For the brands, that vision has brought a return to basics, whether that’s ensuring orders are accurate or that hot food is hot and cold food is cold.
“I think the industry as a whole, and One Table is no exception to that, got a little bit of a free pass from consumers over the past year and a half because of what we’ve been facing through the COVID pandemic, and we’re really focused on the customer experience right now,” she said. “Especially in this more omnichannel environment, it’s more challenging than ever to create that optimal experience, and that’s our focus.”
The emphasis is on the daily experience for guests at Tender Greens and Tocaya, which are experiential but also high-frequency concepts.
“It’s not these big ideas of grandeur,” she added. “The more that we can focus on creating a great experience for everyone, regardless of which channel they choose to access our product — I think that’s how we’re really going to wow ourselves and wow our consumers and blow the industry away.”
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