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Trep Talk

Tasty Turnaround: How Restaurant Chain Dig Inn Wants to Change the Way America Eats

Senior Entrepreneurship Writer at CNBC
7 min read

The New York City-based restaurant chain Dig Inn bought and served 185,000 pounds of carrots, 124,000 pounds of kale, 225,000 pounds of sweet potatoes and 142,000 pounds of brussels sprouts last year. That’s a whole lot of vegetables -- which is precisely the point.

Founder Adam Eskin, wants more Americans to eat high-quality, fresh food. And he wants them to like it.

“We felt pretty passionate and compelled about having some culinary inspiration around the type of food we serve: Not just a bison burger patty, for example, which was on the old menu, but a slow-cooked, braised that has been in the oven for eight hours, all sorts of vegetables and spices and herbs, so that when you eat it, you know that it’s great for you, you know that it came from a great place, but its actually delicious, too,” he says.

The lines out the door during lunch hour are a testament to its deliciousness -- and its relative affordability. Meals typically range from $7 to $10 a pop.

Dig Inn currently has nine locations, all in New York City’s central Manhattan borough, and expects to have between 16 and 20 locations by the end of next year. The company, which will end the year with 20 corporate employees and more than 450 workers in its restaurants, raised $6.5 million in its first two rounds of venture capital fundraising. It expects to close its third round of funding later this year.

Dig Inn is the product of an intense reinvention of The Pump Energy Food, a struggling restaurant chain whose menu was geared toward gym rats. Eskin first became involved with The Pump while working at Greenwich, Conn.-based private equity firm Wexford Capital. Wexford had bought the chain thinking, at the time, that protein powder shakes and egg-white omelets were the future of healthy eating. Eskin was tasked with overseeing The Pump for a year and coming up with a plan for its turnaround. As he did, he started noticing that trends in health-conscious diets were evolving.

“We had the old business that we were trying to maintain and keep alive -- with a little bit of buyer’s remorse, right? -- and you had this urgency and to move forward with something new,” he says.

Eskin left Wexford Capital in January of 2007 to devote his attention and energy fully to revamping the shriveling fitness-food chain. The Pump was fully transitioned to Dig Inn by September 2011, and the farm-to-table concept has been growing steadily ever since. Wexford still owns a piece of the company.

Watch this video to learn how Dig Inn got its start and how its customers have turned into some of its best investors.


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