I stopped by Pacific Whey in South Coast Plaza yesterday and met with Pacific Whey partner Marc Wilsey.Marc Wilsey
A favorite in Newport Beach, I was dying to know how the cafe was doing at its new locations at the mall and in Ladera Ranch.
Marc, who has a great sense of humor, gave me lots of good info and had me cracking up with stories about the rocky opening of the Ladera restaurant in 2006. I'll get to those in a minute but first some news.
Pacific Whey is currently selling unbranded breakfast and lunch items to a Southern California chain with approximately 100 locations. Pacific Whey's first wholesale client was Kéan Coffee in Newport Beach, founded by the notoriously discriminating Martin Diedrich of Diedrich Coffee fame.
Pacific Whey Ladera Ranch
Marc and partner Cheryl Clancy want to rev up their wholesale operation after taking over a 5,000-square-foot Robert Mondavi space in Costa Mesa and opening a commissary a year ago. Marc didn't want to name the new wholesale client because the deal is still in test mode.
Pacific Whey runs all its catering, which has grown to a seven figure slice of the business, out of the commissary and makes most of the food for the restaurants there. Marc said they have capacity to service more wholesale accounts and more company restaurants. He recently bought three new vans to support the catering operation.
In other news, Pacific Whey signed a letter of intent to open at Marblehead in San Clemente but that project is delayed until 2009, Marc said. Now, the company is on the hunt for a new location in South County and in Huntington Beach.
Here's the Ladera Ranch stories: Luckily, Marc can laugh about it today, but Pacific Whey went through the wringer when it first opened there. You know Ladera Ranch: It's full of families with young children. Pacific Whey totally underestimated the impact all those families would have on restaurant operations.
Pacific Whey has never had fried food on its menus. Before opening, it added french fries and chicken fingers in a nod to its demographic. But the staff was unfamiliar with making fried stuff, and the restaurant got slammed at 5 p.m. with families with young kids ordering the kid-friendly fare.
Pacific Whey was used to the Newport Beach crowd, where they opened their first two stores. They served children, sure, but not the same quantity. Pacific Whey had never had a dinner rush at 5 and never had so many orders at once for fried food. As a mother who now eats dinner at 5 with my 4 year old, I could totally picture this scene.
"It just crushed our kitchen," Marc said. "Absolutely crushed it."
The restaurant also came up short on high chairs. Marc bought six and figured that was enough.
"But two families came in and all the high chairs were taken," he said.
Pacific Whey received lots of complaints and tried hard to respond, he said. They lowered prices on some items, bought a lot more high chairs and added a fryer. The staff is also more seasoned now, and operations smoothed. After a big opening and a big drop off, sales have edged back and are nearing plan, Marc said.
As far at the South Coast Plaza restaurant, it's "doing fine," Marc said. "Do I think it will do better? Yes. We still get a lot of ‘Oh my God, I didn't know you guys were here.' "
They opened in January, a slow time for the shopping center, and as back-to-school and Christmas approaches, Marc expects business will ramp up even more. At lunch time Thursday, most of the tables were taken.
Pacific Whey opened a big space at South Coast Plaza - 4,500 square feet with three distinct sections. A coffee/pastry counter, a sitdown restaurant with separate ordering area and a takeout counter near the parking lot for easy access.
The past year was hectic while the company adjusted to adding two restaurants and a commissary.
"Things are settling down," Marc said.
As we finished talking, Marc's mom, Patricia, showed up for lunch. I've seen her other times at the Pacific Whey at Crystal Cove. He gave her a big kiss and hug.
You've got to love a guy who makes time for his mom.