ChutneyMex made attendees hungry and captured the win, in the first competition in which teams from four leading hospitality universities worked to "Redesign the Restaurant of the Future," presented during Restaurant Finance Week November 12.
ChutneyMex is the brainchild of a polished team from Florida International University's Chaplin School of Hospitality and Tourism, who impressed judges from the restaurant finance world with their Indian-Mexican fusion concept, which the team believes is the first concept of its kind.
Judge Keith Foster, BKD CPAs & Advisors, spoke for many when he said: "I live in Dallas. I didn't realize how hungry I was," then asked about return on investment. "As an investor I like to know how quick am I going to get my money back?"
Tameria Benjamin, the student in charge of finance for the team, had a crisp and aspirational answer—the team would like to take ChutneyMex public in 10 years.
"The irrational exuberance of youth. I love it! And maybe they'll be right. A lot of large concepts that are out there started with one store," said Brian Geraghty, with MUFG Restaurant Finance and a contest judge, in an interview after the presentation.
"It was fun to get the young guns involved," he said, speaking about all four teams. "In their entirety the judges found the student presenters to be highly intelligent, enthusiastic, knowledgeable and well prepared. I think the restaurant sector in general has some exciting new blood coming from these top hospitality programs."
Common themes in the presentations were: healthy menus with organic and locally sourced foods; a high convenience factor; learnings from the COVID-19 pandemic; and smart use of technology, Geraghty said.
Anand Gala, founder of Gala Capital Partners and a judge, said he was "really impressed with how these young people think…Not only is this demographic our industry's customer for the next 10 to 40 years, it's also our workforce and our entrepreneurs. They are far more attuned to what their generation wants and how they think, whether it's limited service, walk-up service, a hybrid of ethnic cuisines."
ChutneyMex stood out because "it was extremely well thought out from a concept perspective. It's something that does not exist in the market today, so they're not competing with a whole category with incumbents and preferences established. However, the foods were familiar," Gala said.
Would he invest in something like this? "I would. But typically we'd like to see someone take some steps to refine it. Our investment profile is north of 20 units," but Gala Capital has invested in concepts with five units. "This would be something we'd be intrigued by."
Three other teams competed with intriguing ideas. University of Texas Rio Grande Valley created Pronto, a mobile app designed to fulfill the "wanderlust" for customers stuck at home during COVID.
Michigan State University presented The Greenhouse, a concept that reimagines the Automat, which the team said dates to 1895, with lockers where customers grab their food and go.
The University of Nevada Las Vegas team presented The Way To Go, a fast-casual breakfast restaurant where customers could choose from an array of ingredients in burrito or bowl style.
Other judges were Boris Ochsenius, BSBC Chicken; and Sanjiv Razdan, GLEAM Network.