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How did the other concepts evolve?

We had added the Kitchen Upstairs, which was a wine lounge with a wood oven. It was a more fun and social place, and was really an extension of The Kitchen.

Then about four years ago, I had an accident while skiing. I was on an inner tube that flipped, and I was paralyzed on one side for a few months. At the time, I felt The Kitchen and Upstairs didn’t reach enough people. It didn’t have the feel I wanted. And I realized life is short and I wanted to do something about it.

So we opened Kitchen Next Door, which was lower priced, much faster and more fun. It’s more of a pub environment. We created a kids’ menu that taught kids you can eat healthier food that would taste just as good. Instead of fries, for example, we do kale chips. It’s super tasty for kids but has more nutrients.

Now you’re growing all three?

We did a second Kitchen in Denver, and a second Next Door in the Glendale neighborhood of Denver. We’re opening in Ft. Collins (in Denver) in June and another Next Door is opening in downtown Denver near The Kitchen there. We’re opening The Kitchen in Chicago and we’ll likely do a Next Door there too.

How are you handling supply challenges as you grow?

The nature of our business is very supply chain based. Since local farmers are our suppliers, it’s extremely valuable to have more than one restaurant in one location. First we want to create a community hub and grow from there.

How will the Learning Gardens help?

We think the nonprofit will help drive our growth. They’re really two different companies, but because we spent so much time in Chicago, where the mayor has given $1 million for gardens there, I’ve lived there for the past year working on the nonprofit. You get to know landlords, and some have the same vision. It becomes inevitable that we’d open a restaurant there.

Now I’m spending time in Los Angeles, so it’s inevitable that we’ll do a restaurant there too.

Will you take The Kitchen to other markets?

We’ll probably focus on adding restaurants in those three communities, rather than growing more outside. We’re doing our best to grow at the pace our supply chain will maintain. If we grow too fast, we’ll be forced to use traditional suppliers, and I think we will not succeed.

I’m on the board at Chipotle and have been watching things they’re doing to impact the supply chain. They are big buyers and can work with these farmers at scale to improve the way things are raised, to improve transparency and how things are done and to become more responsible citizens, not only from the perspective of the animal, but for the quality of the product.

The term farm-to-table is used increasingly now in the restaurant world. How do you feel about what that has come to mean?

The term was invented after we started, but we love it. There’s a much greater awareness from customers about what local means, from the quality and uniqueness of the product – a carrot grown in L.A. isn’t the same as a carrot grown in Denver – to the environmental realities. If you know who your suppliers are, you know what they’re doing to the environment. Everyone becomes a much better patron of the community.

If (restaurants) keep doing what they have been doing, looking at price regardless of quality or nutrients or the impact on the community, Millennials are going to leave us behind. It’s becoming very, very important to the younger generation.

Contact Lisa Jennings at lisa.jennings@penton.com.
Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout