Articles by John Gifford

Dinner Lab: Upscale, Folksy, Pop-up Dining

Tuesday, March 24th, 2015
Dinner Lab   Image Credit: Rieux Photo

Dinner Lab Image Credit: Rieux Photo

Because Dinner Lab is announcing its entry into the Indianapolis Market today (see details below), we’re sharing some background on their upscale, folksy, pop-up restaurant model.

When Brian Bordainick, CEO of Dinner Lab, was living in New Orleans and found himself missing good ethnic food, and good late night dining, he filled the void himself, initially serving midnight Thai and Indian meals. Subsequent meals were diverse in both people and food, and it planted the seed for what Dinner Lab has become.

After nine months of these occasional dinner parties, the model evolved of opening up a membership, hosting dinners more frequently, and incorporating feedback.

In these pop-up events (restaurants appearing Brigadoon-like on a given day and then gone the next), chefs are provided a creative platform to prototype new dishes and ideas. Guests provide detailed feedback to help them iterate and grow.

As a company, they operate as a subscription service where people pay up front for access to their calendar. They aren’t trying to be exclusive or anything like that, but this is how they subsidize the cost of dinners, hire people, rent a kitchen, etc. Guests then pay for each dinner and have access to not only events in the local market, but in every other city (30 before Indianapolis) that Dinner Lab operates.

What differentiates Dinner Lab from other eating experiences is their constantly swapping chefs, locations and menu themes/cuisines. Chefs use Dinner Lab to experiment on new recipes and get feedback from diners – think of it as a foodie focus group. Diners can attend events in any of their 30 markets, which as Bordainick says, “is a great perk while traveling for work, or just planning a weekend trip around an event.”

Brian Bordainick, CEO of Dinner Lab

Brian Bordainick, CEO of Dinner Lab

Bordainick characterizes his customers as “adventurous diners who want to have a little fun and try something new. Diners who enjoy the fact that these chefs are trying something new and not every dish is going to be a home run, but that they can use the feedback cards to give their feedback.”

According to their CEO, the excellent chefs and staff of Dinner Lab result from a great HR team. “On the chef side, we have a curation team that works with prospective chefs, looks at their menu and helps them develop it to make sure it is as successful as possible. All of our teams go through an extensive training that lasts a few weeks to get them up to speed before sending them off to run events on their own.

We have a very work hard, play hard culture. We all have enough work for 4 people, but we make sure to have fun every now and then. After all, we’re in the business of food and booze!”

A new niche that Dinner Lab is adding is a private events arm, Dinner Lab catering, that can take care of the food and beverage for any event – wedding, corporate events, etc.

Bordainick’s wish, after you’ve experienced one of their unique pop-up dining experiences, is that you’d say, “Wow – I’ve been living in Indianapolis for my entire life and I never knew about this space! The food was so inventive – I didn’t think the flavors would work together but they really did. I can’t wait for the next one!”

Here is a One Page Summary of Dinner Lab, as well as other cities where it currently operates:
Dinner Lab One Pager

Here is an extended history of Dinner Lab:
Dinner Lab History

For more information, email Edie Feinstein:

Details for Indianapolis Dinner Lab

Indianapolis membership will be going live at on Tuesday 3/24.

$125 per person gets access to the calendar for the year not only in Indianapolis but in all of our markets across the country (currently 30). Each member can purchase up to four tickets to each event.

Once the membership is purchased, people will immediately be able to buy tickets for the launch event which is planned for July 17th with Chef Danny Stoller.

About the dinner:

A celebration of all things PNW (Pacific Northwest for the geographically challenged)

Chef Danny Stoller

Last places lived
Seattle, Boston, Olympia (WA)
Learning Institutions
Northeastern University, Seattle Culinary Academy
Last 5 places/restaurants worked
Revel, Tilth, LUC, Ray’s Boathouse, Black Bottle
Current gig
Dinner Lab

Charred corn consomme
hush puppy | lime creme fraiche | beech mushroom

Trumpet Mushroom Flan
carrot & apple slaw | kettle corn | pea shoots

Cured Trout Salad
mizuna pesto | roasted beet cake | celery root puree | hazelnuts

Grilled Leg of Lamb
white beans & tomato confit | red eye colatura

Carrot Sponge Cake
dulce de leche sorbet | celery heart | olive oil

Location: TBA 24 hours prior to the event.

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Salvation Army Collects Coats for Children in Need

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

JoAnn Remender
Planned Giving Director The Salvation Army
Indiana Divisional Headquarters
3100 N Meridian Street
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(800) 589-1037
Opening our Hearts (and Closets) to Children in Need this Fall

Remember last winter and the “Polar Vortex” that haunted weather forecasts from December through March? You may ask, “Who doesn’t remember it?” With the onset of fall and the return of kaleidoscope trees, we are once again thinking about the challenges that families in our communities experience during cold winter months.

For 28 years The Salvation Army has partnered with Indianapolis television station WTHR and Tuchman Cleaners to collect, clean and distribute well over 200,000 winter coats to Central Indiana children in need. New and gently used coats in all sizes are needed to help families who cannot afford the extra expense of winter gear for their growing children. In 2013, over 4,200 children “shopped” with their parents and family members to find the perfect coat and perfect fit.

From its beginning, The Salvation Army has made it a priority to clothe and protect the most vulnerable members of our population – children. Today we continue that tradition and mission with programs in communities around the world, including across the State of Indiana.

For the fourth year, The Salvation Army Lafayette Corps is partnering with local television station WLFI to collect and distribute coats through its own Coats for Kids program, which served over 3,000 Tippecanoe County residents in 2013. The Bloomington Corps asks Monroe County residents to be a “Shield Against the Cold” by dropping off coats at almost twenty area businesses during the month of October. Other programs in Evansville, Kokomo, Fort Wayne and other communities help thousands more children prepare for winter weather.

When it comes to the safety and well-being of our children, communities across Indiana look to The Salvation Army as a local resource for the basic necessities of life: food, shelter, water and clothing. Of course, every coat that warms a child also warms their heart with life’s greatest gift – love.

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Southwest Airlines: Quick Turn Arounds (Case Studies of Great Companies)

Thursday, June 12th, 2014

1. Overview

Modeling after the California intra-state airline, Pacific Southwest Airlines, entrepreneur Rollin King and lawyer Herb Kelleher started Southwest Airlines in 1967.

Southwest Airlines’ goal was to make life simpler for travelers who wished to travel the distances between Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio. The need was there, the Texas economy was booming, and the business model made eminent sense.

However, the existing entrenched power base was not willing to relinquish its control of the the Texas airline market uncontested. Kelleher suspected as much, and was determined to raise twice his initial figure of $250,000 venture capital, because of the likelihood of a prolonged fight to get Southwest off the ground. It turned out to be even more difficult a proposition than even Kelleher imagined.

Kelleher filed Southwest’s application to fly between Dallas, Houston, and San Antonio with the Texas Aeronautics Commission (TAC) on November 27th, 1967, and on February 20th, 1968, TAC approved the application. However, the day after TAC voted for approval, Braniff, Trans-Texas, and Continental successfully filed a restraining order to keep Southwest from flying, arguing that the markets were already saturated; the restraining order was upheld in the intermediate appellate court but was over-ruled in the Texas Supreme court.

Four years after its incorporation, Southwest was finally ready to fly. On June 18th, 1971, Southwest was finally off the ground, in spite of additional efforts by existing airlines to keep it grounded.

Southwest differentiated itself from the other airlines, especially in its excellent customer service, lower fares, and in its use of older, smaller, close-to-downtown airports which were more convenient for business travelers.

The key factors in the early years for Southwest’s success were:

1) Profitability
2) 10-minute turn-around
3) Steady growth rate
4) Low debt; low leveraging
5) Outstanding stock performance
6) Lowest fares
7) Market dominance
8 Most productive work force
9) Low turn-over
10) No furloughs
11) Highest customer service ratings
12) Cancels fewest flights
13) Best safety record
14) Youngest fleet
15) Most emulated

In 1978, airlines and the newer airports (shunned by Southwest) made their influence felt once again, this time through legislation, spear-headed by congressman James Wright. Ultimately, this legislation’s impact was gradually mooted.

Out of this early contentious history of Southwest Airlines came a fighting attitude of us vs. them, a spirited, passionate belief in the mission they represented which was giving people the “Freedom to Fly.” This was a unifying force for both employees and customers as Southwest made it possible for “the common man” to fly.

2. Focal Strategy: Key Metrics and the 10-minute turn-around

Out of necessity, Southwest mastered the capability of the 10-minute turn-around of their planes. In September of 1971, Southwest had four 737’s to cover all their routes. When a federal district court ruled that Southwest could not fly charters outside Texas, the fourth plane became a financial liability.

In order to service their routes with just three planes, it became necessary for quick turn-arounds. No one thought they could do 10-minute turn-arounds, but they did, enabling them to make do with just three planes. The quick turn-around became a strategy for economy, as well as on-time performance.

At the present time, metrics still play a large part in Southwest’s success and customer service excellence. The four key measures that Southwest Airlines tracks are:
read full article »

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Zappos Is Different (Case Studies of Great Companies)

Wednesday, May 7th, 2014

I. Overview

Tony Hsieh wants to want to come to work

In 1998 Tony Hsieh was unhappy at the dot-com company he founded (LinkExchange), so he sold it to Microsoft for $265 million. But Tony was not ready to retire–he wanted to run a company where he would be happy to come to work.

That place was and is Zappos, known for selling shoes online (they sell clothing and other things, too) and their outrageously good customer service.

How did this successful combination of Hsieh and Zappos come about?

1) As if he were a venture capital god creating a myriad of worlds, Hsieh funded some 20-odd companies and tracked their evolution to find the one that was having the most fun (Zappos)
2) Hsieh proceeded to get Zappos company founder Nick Swinmurn (he couldn’t find the shoes he wanted, so he founded Zappos) to hire him as his CEO.
3) As CEO, Hsieh had this company of happy employees set down on paper the culture of the company by sharing what it meant to work at Zappos
4) Hsieh then took this information shared by the employees and articulated a written set of core values
5) Having laid out this set of core values Hsieh made certain that decision-making at Zappos was consciously driven by them: hiring, customer service ethic, way to treat employees, compensation and promotions, openness to new ideas, etc. are informed by the culture encapsulated in these principles

Hsieh’s targeting Zappos as the place he wanted to work and his enhancement of a company culture that was already successful has paid off for the company, its customers, and its employees. Consistent growth by Zappos led to $1 billion in annual sales in 2008, beating their internal goal to $1 billion by two years. Customers are cult-like in their following of Zappos and it is borne out by Zappos being in the top 10 for Customer’s Choice Awards in 2010 and winning the 2011 Stevie award for Sales & Customer Service. Another internal goal that they reached was making Fortune’s list of the Top 100 Companies to Work For in 2009 (#23) and the February 7th Issue of this year listed Zappo’s up to number 6 on that measure of employee satisfaction. Even though Zappos was sold to in 2009, Hsieh is still the CEO and “Zappos” lives on as a semi-autonomous entity within Amazon, with its culture and systems virtually intact.

And as testimony to its ability to go its own way, Zappos is in the process (it began in part in 2013, and is continuing as of May 2014) of implementing a hierarchy-averse culture in name as well as in practice. This business model is known as holacracry, whose concept is to “replace the traditional corporate chain of command with a series of overlapping, self-governing ‘circles.’ In theory, this gives employees more of a voice in the way the company is run.” Time will tell if Hsieh’s bet on this counter-mainstream paradigm pays off.

Zappos is Different

Zappos differentiates itself from other online retail establishments by its focus on customer service and making it easy for a customer to buy and to like the company:

1. There is a 365-day return policy
2. A phone number where the customer can contact a live representative of the company appears on each page of the web site (in contrast to other web-based companies who are unable to be reached by phone); Zappos’ philosophy is that the phone is an excellent means to build rapport and develop life-long customers
3. Only items that are actually available are listed for sale on the site
4. Surprise upgrades to overnight delivery and other wow experiences encourage customers to tell their friends about the super customer service
5. If Zappos is out of an item, they will even help the customer to find the item on another website (as their aim is lifetime loyalty, not just a quick sale)
6. The emphasis is on the customer and meeting their needs, as demonstrated by Zappos’ policy of not measuring the duration of calls of employees as a criterion for success

Fueling the excellence of customer service delivery is the culture of the company employees, which is reinforced by Hsieh and other Zappos management:

1. Every employee goes through call-center experience, underlining the importance of the front-line employees
2. There are no scripts for the call center personnel; they are to use their unique personality to connect with the customers
3. Spontaneous parades and celebrations may break out (and are encouraged) at any time among the employees
4. In order to foster transparency of the company, tours are conducted regularly throughout the whole of the company
5. After training, an employee is given the opportunity to quit for $2,000, thus weeding out those employees just there for the money–overall it saves time and money spent on such employees
6. Each year the company publishes its massive “Culture Book” which is composed of statements from the employees describing their view of Zappos company culture
7. Potential employees go through two interview processes, one for professional skills and the other for their personality. The hiring process seeks to hire those individuals that have an affinity to the existing culture
8. Numerous perks are available for Zappos employees — free lunches, no-charge vending machine, company library, a nap room, and free health care.
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