David Chang’s Ando launches a new menu, refocuses on the food

Food delivery is far from perfect. From big players like Grubhub to newer companies like Caviar, the combination of perfectly cooked food and delivery logistics is one that is pretty damn easy to mess up. Just take a look at Maple*.

Ando, the David Chang-led delivery-only restaurant, has spent the last 14 months trying to change all that. And not without a few bumps in the road.

But today, the company is launching a brand new menu alongside a renewed mission. And this time, it’s all about the food.

Ando launched back in May of 2016, promising to deliver delicious food quickly. Chang and the team worked to create food that was perfectly suited for delivery, from the actual pH balance of the food to the packaging itself. But the company was also focused on delivering restaurant quality food, with items like Bibimbap, Cheesesteaks and Fried Chicken on the menu.

As part of the scaling process, Ando limited its delivery to lunch only, and started with a small area in Midtown East, where many professionals hungrily search for good food at high noon.

But while the dream seemed flawless on paper, execution was far more difficult than expected. Ando struggled to deliver the high-quality product it spent time and energy creating in the kitchen. Certain items, like the Fried Chicken and the Bibimbap, simply couldn’t withstand the delivery process and left customers disappointed.

Meanwhile, the broader problem of delivery logistics made things even more difficult. Not to mention the fact that Ando distracted itself through specials menus, dubbed Ando Labs.

Obviously, Ando’s operations and business needed a slight overhaul.

So, in February, Ando hired Andy Taylor (formerly the operational lead at Pret A Manger and CEO at Hale’n’Hearty) to take over as CEO at Ando. Since his arrival, the company has been slowly condensing the menu — Fried Chicken and Bibimbap are no longer available — and renewing the company’s focus on the food itself.

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“The majority of our resources now goes into the food, and we’ve reoriented the team and recruited people from the food side of the industry,” said Taylor in an interview with TechCrunch. “I’d say we focus 70/30 in favor of food and operations vs tech, which is the reverse of what it was a year ago.”

With all the layers of tech involved in the Ando operation, from a snazzy consumer-facing app to a staggered roll-out to a more technical algorithm to handle delivery times, it’s easy to see how the new company got bogged down in the tech side of the company.

“With the pace of change in tech, it’s easy to juggle ten balls and focus equally on all of them,” said Taylor.

But make no mistake — technology is still an important factor in the company. Ando uses 24 variables when determining the delivery time of a certain food, including the cook time itself to the location of the recipient to weather specifics like rain and wind speed/direction.

“The logistics piece is the key to all this,” said Taylor. “What we’ve learned is we’re going to let delivery experts figure that out, while we put our energy into the food. We’ll marry with delivery guys as these processes get tightened up and improved.”

Ando already uses other delivery services like UberEats and Homer to deliver a large majority of its product, and is currently implementing a small team of internal, W2 employees to handle delivery to core users. Taylor explained that there are certain buildings that receive an Ando delivery every single day. In an ideal world, according to Taylor, Ando would control the full-stack for every single order, but this test is a great way to get a feel for the right mix of internal delivery vs. external delivery while controlling the relationship with core users.

But there’s a fine line between quality control and scaling the company. Remember, Ando received $7 million in Series A financing and has opened a second kitchen. And while the new Ando menu is more manageable from a cooking/operational standpoint, the company still wants to grow its user base within a crowded landscape of competition.

Taylor says that anyone that sells quality food for lunch can be a competitor, of which there are few.

“Most places assemble food,” said Taylor. “We cook our food.”

Interestingly enough, Taylor revealed that Bibimbaps and Fried Chicken weren’t actually the most popular items on the menu, and that demand was much higher for staple lunch items like the Cheesesteak.

And with a condensed menu, quality is paramount. Taylor revealed that he runs a test each day on the food. At lunch time, JJ Basil (Ando’s head of culinary and the former Sous Chef and wd-50) brings an Ando sandwich to Taylor’s desk. But Taylor waits to actually eat it until the next morning. The idea here is that the food has to taste good from the moment it’s cooked to hours after, refrigerated or not.

The plan, according to the CEO, is to get the original Midtown East kitchen to profitability and efficient operations by Q4 of this year.

Which brings up another issue: the demographics from neighborhood to neighborhood are quite different in NYC. Employees in Midtown East are essentially in a food desert, whereas the younger crowd in Downtown Manhattan is surrounded by delicious choices, and comprises the NYU college crowd, which have different tastes when it comes to lunch.

But Ando is hoping that the new menu is able to satisfy all, with a wide variety of sandwiches (both vegetarian and meaty), as well as grain bowls, salads, and sides. You can check out the new menu below:

*David Chang also invested in Maple and served as Chief Culinary Officer.