Cherry Lane Ventures was looking for an invoice automation & inventory management solution that integrated seamlessly together. The answer: Plate IQ + COGS-Well.
A restaurant for restaurant people.
That was the mission.
Anyone who’s worked in the industry knows that the people who love great food and hospitality are not always able to afford it. Truth is, it’s not uncommon for world-class dining to be invented, cooked, and served by people who can’t enjoy it on their own dime.
To Joan Gillcrist, this presented an opportunity.
After a wide-ranging career that took her through Stanford University and the US State Department, in the mid-1990s, Joan was saving up for medical school with various restaurant jobs in Santa Fe, New Mexico. But eventually, Joan felt that medical school just wasn’t where her heart was.
"I realized this wasn't for me," she says.
What is for me is opening a restaurant that serves high-quality food but at prices affordable for people like me, because I can't afford to eat in the places that I work.
“Santa Fe has a very rich restaurant scene — there are a fair amount of wealthy people relative to the size of the town, so you've got a deep market — and $80 per person meals do not really fit with those working in the restaurant community. It’s those people, in [Joan’s] mind, who should be entitled to eat equally good food,” Will Strong, who is Senior Advisor to Cherry Lane Ventures, said.
“So, she identified a market niche that was very underserved. There were less expensive New Mexican food options (i.e. $10-$15 per person), and there were higher-end places ($60+ per person). The affordable, middle-market places did not really exist at that time,” he continued.
“So Joan and business partner Chef Chris Galvin opened Andiamo! in 1995 with the idea that they were going to be a restaurant for restaurant people. They picked Italian-inspired food with local ingredients. That was the mission. And they opened.”
Four years later, Joan bought out Chris’ interest, and the restaurant, with its Italian-inspired food that uses as many local ingredients as possible, continues to be a local favorite today.
After moving with her family to her hometown of Austin, TX in 2007, Joan proceeded to open another restaurant with her sister and celebrated chef, Marion Gillcrist in 2015. It had a similar premise: excellent quality food at two-thirds the price of higher-end options. 68 Degrees Kitchen was born.
There's really no manager at our restaurants. Joan has split up the “manager” role and assigned those duties to various other roles.. So it's really about hiring the right people, great management, excellent vision, and keeping costs under control.
– Will Strong, Senior Advisor, Cherry Lane Ventures
Keeping quality high and costs low is an important aspect of managing Joan’s two restaurants. Will and Joan spent a lot of time implementing the right restaurant management systems to obtain accurate, real time data about all aspects of the business.
They were happy using QuickBooks as their accounting solution, but the myriad of proprietary spreadsheets they had created to track other metrics quickly became unwieldy as the complexity of the business increased.
Information would get lost, formulas would break, continual updates took a lot of time to manage, and there was always the chance of human error when inputting data. In order to have accurate dish costing, inventory valuation, item tracking, and sales analysis, Joan and Will knew they needed to find best-in-class systems.
“Cherry Lane Ventures did not want to work with one of the all-in-one companies. Not gonna do it — because those guys make you change all of your ecosystems and you cannot do everything perfectly. I also wanted a system which could enable us to derive value right away and make the whole inventory process much easier. In order to offer the best prices for the highest quality, invoice data and reliability of the information collected is the highest priority.
"And so, the foundation of all of that has to do with getting the paper into the cloud. We started with invoice management (in our case, Plate IQ) because digitizing invoice data saves a significant amount of time and substantially lowers the error rate relative to manual tracking of invoices. I was also looking for a system that interfaced with Toast, Plate IQ, and QuickBooks, and that could provide cloud-based analytics. Of the six systems I tested, COGS-Well is by far the best at simplifying vendor items. COGS-Well leverages (Plate IQ’s) data and allows us to use it to make decisions. In 1995 or even 2000 or 2005, you couldn't do a lot of this stuff without systems. Our ‘system’ consisted of Excel, email, and ledgers.. When we found Plate IQ it was a game-changer. We linked Plate IQ to COGS-Well and that took us to an even greater level of analysis, allowing us to keep our fingers on the pulse of cost control. It also shows us where we need to focus our effort on improvements ”
- Will Strong, Senior Advisor, Cherry Lane Ventures
Plate IQ is super easy to use. The chef snaps the picture with the app and immediately the invoice is in the system. And she doesn’t have to think about it anymore.
Digitizing the information eliminates so many human hours. The information automatically ends up in both our accounting system and our inventory system. Now we have data at the meta level that can provide whatever information we need, when we need it, and that’s incredibly powerful.
– Will Strong
Using Plate IQ and COGS-Well together helped Will and Joan keep an eye on vendors who overcharge on deliveries and eliminated the need to use excel sheets to track costs.
In Will’s words:
“You know, I need accurate financials right? Then you can determine “oh, my linen costs last year over this year is X versus Y,” right? OK, how has the napkin costs changed over time? I used to have to develop a spreadsheet and type each invoice’s information into it to see how napkin costs have changed over time. And the reason I'm picking on linen guys is because our experience has been that they have overly confusing ways of charging for their service and it’s not always accurate. They could be off by a few bucks here and there (and it’s always to their advantage). And to deliver the same product at less cost to the consumer requires us to watch our costs very closely, which we can easily do with Plate IQ.”
Will also was very impressed with Plate IQ’s customer service. In his words:
“[T]here's one vendor in particular here in Austin where both the item and the farm from which the item comes are listed on the invoice. Plate IQ tended to pick up the farm instead of the items when the system scanned the invoice. So I (submitted) a ticket and literally the next day the problem was resolved going forward for all future invoices from this vendor. That’s great service.”
COGS-Well’s inventory management system seamlessly integrates with Plate IQ’s invoice automation system to capture vendor and inventory item detail from every invoice. By eliminating manual data entry, COGS-Well and Plate-IQ automated and eased processes related to inventory control and invoice management.
By integrating Plate IQ with COGS-Well, Cherry Lane Ventures were able to shave off more than 6 hours per week on time spent to process invoices and track inventory and that was just one of the many benefits.
In Will’s words:
"I built an Excel model (to track) the food costs side where we would input the invoices, of course, by hand. It would be done once a month. But to get that information in there it was so time consuming. We're talking five hours just to try to estimate. With Plate IQ, we spend a little time up front on each item we purchase, but once you do that, it's done. Even with messy, handwritten invoices, Plate IQ picks up the information. Now, it's a click of a button. So that part is incredible. I love the simplicity of your system. Other systems are behemoths. We use it (COGS-Well) to order, we use (it) look at our waste and we look at it for end-of-month values — to ensure that we're counting and keeping track of things. It (used) to take two hours to do inventory just for (wine and beverage) bottles. Now, it's 30 minutes"
Will also relied another major benefit of using Plate IQ and COGS-Well: A reduction in the hours needed to be spent on location by their bookkeepers:
"Each location has its own bookkeepers. Every two weeks they touch the books, pay invoices if they're not automatically paid, and book sales. Our bookkeepers used to spend time picking up invoices, taking them to their office to do the work, and then dropping them off with checks for us to mail them when they were finished. Neither bookkeeper has been on location since we got Plate IQ. So we’ve gained accuracy and are saving time and money on our bookkeeping as well. That’s a win-win."
You know, the hardest thing they (now) have to do is buy stamps for a few manual checks we send out. Literally.