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erik oberholtzer

  4 min

interview

Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder of Tender Greens

“Gathering is key to a healthy human experience…

and food is an important part of that puzzle”

 Hans Steenbergen & Ubel Zuiderveld  Xiao Er Kong

Let’s face it. With around 200,000 expected closures, the virus hits the American restaurant industry like a malicious tornado. For those who get through the destructive painful winds of the pandemic, time has come to rethink options. Especially for unbound family entrepreneurs, big questions are ahead. Walk the seemingly familiar path of traditional food again? Or walk the foggy path to calories that are predicted to be future-proof?

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Going down the foggy road

Erik Oberholtzer chose the foggy path back in 2006. Together with two partners Erik opened the first Tender Greens fine casual dining restaurant in Culver City, 11 miles west of Los Angeles. It’s written in ‘our story’ on Tender Greens’ website: “Two chefs and a foodie set out to change the way people eat for the better. Welcome to our kitchen.” Nowadays Tender Greens has thirty locations. Each restaurant has its own chef, preparing responsible fresh meals.

Democratizing good food

Oberholtzer grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania and went to university in Philadelphia. After ten years of Tender Californian Greens, he “makes shit happen” at the quirky brand builders from Cohere in Philadelphia. Meaning, Erik Oberholtzer helps founders of food brands “democratizing good food at scale”. As profiled on Linkedin: “His unique perspective on supply chain integrity, biodiversity and regenerative organic agriculture provides an intuition for future food trends in uncertain times. As a chef and entrepreneur himself, he advises each founder he serves with empathy for the highs and lows of running a growing brand.”

Prominent voice

With eye-catching international food and biodiversity projects to his name, Erik acquired the prominent voice he has today.  During a talk for food professionalslast year he raised questions that ask for rhetorical answers, like: “Is the food industry supporting better health?” And: “Why are there no third-party delivery companies with a sustainable business model?” Or: “What does hospitality look like? What does gathering look like? Are we able to preserve the emotion of a restaurant?” Answering himself: “We have to figure this out.”

Innovate your way out

No, that last sentence is not a real answer. In one breath, Erik Oberholtzer shared with his audience: “None of us has answers. We are learning in real time. The more responsive we are, the better we have a chance of a healthy business outcome.” Regarding the post COVID-19 era, Erik stated: “Before the pandemic there was already pressure on restaurants because of the raise of minimum wage, higher development costs and third-party delivery. Thus, the bandwidth of innovation among operators will be pretty minimal because of lack of money. Nevertheless, you have to innovate your way out of it. Adapt quickly while protecting what you built previously.”

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So, Food Inspiration asked Erik about innovating your way out.

Do you see inspiring examples of restaurant entrepreneurs who innovate their way out of it? 

“The biggest change is happening in the delivery and virtual space. Primarily as a reaction to covid restrictions and changing consumer behavior. I am hopeful that the ‘experiential space’ will show some real creativity coming out of this crisis. Sadly, with another 3-6 months of uncertainty I think these innovators will be slow to introduce their ideas. To do my part, I’m using this time to host highly curated, ticketed events to test ideas.”

What is the real value in food and hospitality of this decade? 

“It really depends on your perspective. For the masses it might look like convenience and customization. For others, like myself, the real value of food and hospitality is fully aligned and transparent with my worldview while offering a relief from daily life. If there is one thing we have learned through this period, it is that gathering is key to a healthy human experience and that food is an important part of that puzzle. If we are to continue along the destructive path we are on now, we’re at risk of negative outcomes because we’re all connected. Food is one important pathway to a healthier life and planet. I am committed to this more than ever.”

Will there be a new definition of hospitality? 

“In some instances "hospitality" may come in the form of AI, Artificial Intelligence. Some smart hybrid of ‘enlightened hospitality’ and ‘data driven hospitality’ is likely the future. We were headed that direction anyway.”

dot_rood.svg
wave_groen.svg
half_cirkel_oranje.svg
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  4 min

Erik Oberholtzer, co-founder of Tender Greens

“Gathering is key to a healthy human experience…

and food is an important part of that puzzle”

Hans Steenbergen & Ubel Zuiderveld
Xiao Er Kong

Let’s face it. With around 200,000 expected closures, the virus hits the American restaurant industry like a malicious tornado. For those who get through the destructive painful winds of the pandemic, time has come to rethink options. Especially for unbound family entrepreneurs, big questions are ahead. Walk the seemingly familiar path of traditional food again? Or walk the foggy path to calories that are predicted to be future-proof?

blob_zwart_2 .svg
blob_zwart_2 .svg (copy)

Going down the foggy road

Erik Oberholtzer chose the foggy path back in 2006. Together with two partners Erik opened the first Tender Greens fine casual dining restaurant in Culver City, 11 miles west of Los Angeles. It’s written in ‘our story’ on Tender Greens’ website: “Two chefs and a foodie set out to change the way people eat for the better. Welcome to our kitchen.” Nowadays Tender Greens has thirty locations. Each restaurant has its own chef, preparing responsible fresh meals.

Democratizing good food

Oberholtzer grew up in Kutztown, Pennsylvania and went to university in Philadelphia. After ten years of Tender Californian Greens, he “makes shit happen” at the quirky brand builders from Cohere in Philadelphia. Meaning, Erik Oberholtzer helps founders of food brands “democratizing good food at scale”. As profiled on Linkedin: “His unique perspective on supply chain integrity, biodiversity and regenerative organic agriculture provides an intuition for future food trends in uncertain times. As a chef and entrepreneur himself, he advises each founder he serves with empathy for the highs and lows of running a growing brand.”

Prominent voice

With eye-catching international food and biodiversity projects to his name, Erik acquired the prominent voice he has today.  During a talk for food professionalslast year he raised questions that ask for rhetorical answers, like: “Is the food industry supporting better health?” And: “Why are there no third-party delivery companies with a sustainable business model?” Or: “What does hospitality look like? What does gathering look like? Are we able to preserve the emotion of a restaurant?” Answering himself: “We have to figure this out.”

Innovate your way out

No, that last sentence is not a real answer. In one breath, Erik Oberholtzer shared with his audience: “None of us has answers. We are learning in real time. The more responsive we are, the better we have a chance of a healthy business outcome.” Regarding the post COVID-19 era, Erik stated: “Before the pandemic there was already pressure on restaurants because of the raise of minimum wage, higher development costs and third-party delivery. Thus, the bandwidth of innovation among operators will be pretty minimal because of lack of money. Nevertheless, you have to innovate your way out of it. Adapt quickly while protecting what you built previously.”

geel_blob.svg

So, Food Inspiration asked Erik about innovating your way out.

Do you see inspiring examples of restaurant entrepreneurs who innovate their way out of it? 

“The biggest change is happening in the delivery and virtual space. Primarily as a reaction to covid restrictions and changing consumer behavior. I am hopeful that the ‘experiential space’ will show some real creativity coming out of this crisis. Sadly, with another 3-6 months of uncertainty I think these innovators will be slow to introduce their ideas. To do my part, I’m using this time to host highly curated, ticketed events to test ideas.”

What is the real value in food and hospitality of this decade? 

“It really depends on your perspective. For the masses it might look like convenience and customization. For others, like myself, the real value of food and hospitality is fully aligned and transparent with my worldview while offering a relief from daily life. If there is one thing we have learned through this period, it is that gathering is key to a healthy human experience and that food is an important part of that puzzle. If we are to continue along the destructive path we are on now, we’re at risk of negative outcomes because we’re all connected. Food is one important pathway to a healthier life and planet. I am committed to this more than ever.”

Will there be a new definition of hospitality? 

“In some instances "hospitality" may come in the form of AI, Artificial Intelligence. Some smart hybrid of ‘enlightened hospitality’ and ‘data driven hospitality’ is likely the future. We were headed that direction anyway.”

dot_groen.svg
half_cirkel_rood.svg
hoek_rond_blauw.svg
wave_groen.svg
half_cirkel_oranje.svg
dot_rood.svg

Overview magazines

Food Inspiration Magazine is the online magazine for foodservice professionals in search of inspiration and innovation. With the magazine we collect, enrich and spread inspiration. The free subscription magazine is published eight times per year and is an abundant source of inspiration for food and hospitality professionals. Our readers can be found in the U.S., Northern Europe, Latin America and Asia.
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