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Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen Founders Mendocino Farms
<p>Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, founders, Mendocino Farms</p>

The Power List 2016: Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen

NRN presents The Power List 2016, our third annual list of the most powerful people in foodservice. The Groundbreakers on the list are writing their own rules and questioning business as usual.

Being creative while keeping ingredients local, seasonal and sustainable is a winning formula for husband and wife team Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, creators of the “better sandwich” chain Mendocino Farms Sandwich Market.

The chain offers sandwiches that are modern takes on regional classics or deconstructed fine-dining dishes for between $7 and $11.

Customers have not been the only ones drawn to Mendocino Farms’ sandwiches, soups and salads. Natural and organic grocer Whole Foods Market Inc. made a minority investment in the Los Angeles sandwich brand in the fall. The company will test the opening of Mendocino Farms in outlets in select Whole Foods locations.

Mendocino Farms sandwich
Photo: Mendocino Farms

“Mendocino Farms is one of the best sandwich and salad concepts coming out of Southern California,” David Lannon, executive vice president of operations at Whole Foods, said at the time.

Del Pero and Chen have been skilled in attracting investors to help grow the concept. In 2010, Così founder Nick Marsh made a $1.2 million commitment through Growth Point Restaurants. In 2012, Catterton, a growth-minded private-equity firm, also invested in the brand.

Mendocino Farms is set to grow to 30 units in the Southern California market by 2018. Before creating Mendocino Farms, Del Pero founded the beach lifestyle concept Baja Sharkeez. He and Chen also created the fast-casual Asian concept Skew’s Teriyaki, which they sold in 2001 after growing it to three units.

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TAGS: Fast Casual
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