Figuring out the best pace of growth for your business is like learning how to balance raw spaghetti on the edge of a knife: it’s a constant dance that’s near impossible to get right at every moment. If you hold back and grow too slowly, then you run the risk of being eclipsed by the competition. If you push too far, too fast, then you run the risk of wearing out your staff and dismantling what makes your business special.
That’s where Adam Eskin sits right now with the New York City-based farm-to-table eatery Dig Inn that he founded. Currently, Dig Inn has 9 locations and big goals. To become the next Chipotle is almost a cliché at this point, but Eskin envisions the impact that having thousands of restaurants could have on America’s eating habits.
“If we can get to 500, 1,000, 1,500 units, that’s a lot of people who are eating brussel sprouts and kale and sweet potatoes, and that’s a lot of people that are choosing those options over burgers and fries. And if we have done that, then I think we are going to be feeding America in a very different way,” he says.
Dig Inn serves healthy, fresh meals for under $10. While its goal is to get customers in and out in less than 10 minutes, each restaurant has a comfortable seating area for customers who want to sit down and eat. The model is popular and Dig Inn is growing. With $6.5 million in funding under its belt already, Dig Inn has 20 corporate employees and more than 450 workers in its restaurants. Dig Inn expects to close its third round of funding later this year.
Eskin knows he isn’t making widgets. The Dig Inn experience depends on quality, sourced ingredients and a carefully trained staff. That kind of a labor-based infrastructure can’t be multiplied overnight. “Could we build 15 units next year? Under no scenario could we do that. No amount of money could help us grow that fast and do that responsibly,” he says.
The restaurant industry already has a terrifying rate of failure, and Eskin has watched chains that have tried to expand too quickly, rushing into real estate that hasn’t been properly researched, sink themselves.
And then there’s the fact that Max, Eskin’s dog, is the company’s “comptroller.” And at the corporate offices, Dig Inn staff take “human time,” during the day, when the employees pull away from the computer and talk to each other. If Dig Inn wants to run 1,500 restaurant locations, chances are Max won’t be able to keep up with the books. And, Eskin knows the culture around the office will undoubtedly change if it isn’t managed with great care and attention.
Meanwhile, Eskin knows his restaurant model isn’t proprietary, and he needs to move into new markets before someone else does first. When he started thinking about democratizing the farm-to-table movement five or so years ago, he had a head start on the industry. Now, sourcing your food has become trendy.
“We don’t necessarily think this is a novel idea anymore. So, this type of food -- at a reasonable price, in and out fast, focus on vegetables -- other folks have that idea now, and I think there will be more and more that pop up, so we also don’t want to be the folks that go too slow.”