The Fast Casual Nation Podcast offers exclusive interviews with experts ranging from top chefs and brand makers to executives and restaurants who work in one of the fastest-growing segments of the restaurant industry. In this episode, Pepe chats with Lori Cominsky, Vice President at Mongolian Concepts, about driving growth strategy, labor shortages and menu innovation.
When asked about her 20 plus years of experience in restaurant operations, Cominsky shares that she began working in the industry at KFC when she was a teenager. She talks about landing her first restaurant management job right out of college and how she learned a great deal about systems, new restaurant openings and how a company grows. She shares that the company grew from 15 units to 200 during her 9 years with them. Cominsky talks about growing a Chicago based Mediterranean fast casual brand and opening several locations under her leadership. She shares that she went on to serve as Vice President of Operations at a healthy quick service restaurant before taking on the role of Vice President at Mongolian Concepts.
Cominsky talks about why she decided to join the Mongolian Concepts team. She shares that Mongolian Concepts is the parent company of three casual dining, stir-fry brands and how she welcomed the strong challenge of taking three unique brands, making them successful, aligning them with their systems and training, while allowing each of them to have their own culture and identity. She adds, “I also firmly believe that Mongolian Concepts has the ability to grow exponentially and become the best stir-fry concept in their respective markets.”
Pepe and Cominsky discuss the importance of improving communication, labor shortages, and recruiting new talent. Cominsky shares that she had a 30-60-90 day plan laid out when she joined the company, and that her number one goal was improving communication across the board, which resulted in improved trust and bond within the team. She talks about the company’s two-pronged, digital and hands-on training technique for new hires to make certain that they feel empowered and supported. When it comes to recruiting new talent, Cominsky shares that the brand takes a multifaceted checks and balances approach to ensure that teammates want to stick around. She adds, "It's something that we talk about every day. We talk about how we can become better staffed and what we can do better to keep our team and to get the best people and to make sure that they're happy.”
Pepe asks Cominsky what we can expect to see from Mongolian Concepts in the coming months. Cominsky is excited to share that in addition to remodeling some of their existing units, they recently opened a new Genghis Grill location. She talks about the pride the team felt regarding the roll out of a new menu at the brand's concept, bd’s Mongolian Grill, which will feature chef-curated dishes as well as some signature cocktails. Cominsky mentions the importance of menu innovation and shares that the company's concept, Flattop Grill, is introducing new dishes including Ramen and Poke bowls. She says, “Innovation with this menu allows for significant growth in dining room sales. So, we're planning to drive our business there and also to drive off-premise and third-party sales to a bigger percentage of our overall sales.”
To hear more from Cominsky about the brand's new menu items, third-party delivery relationships, and the company's ghost kitchen concept, listen to this episode of Fast Casual Nation on Apple Podcasts.
Produced by Lisa Pepe