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Un-f*cking the Restaurant Industry with a Little Tech & a Lot of Community

Mathias Holzmann from Informal at the Community Leadership Summit #2

Mathias Holzmann is a co-founder at Informal & works together with daring entrepreneurs to improve our food systems at atgc.vc.

In this talk at the Community Leadership Summit #2, Mathias shares his stories of food as an enabler of human connections and why he believes the most powerful and impactful communities have not been built yet.

Transcript

It must've been over 10 years ago I lived here in Berlin. elBulli, what used to be the best restaurant in the world for four-five years in a row, came out. I'm a nerd, so I loved how elBulli was using molecular gastronomy to create new dishes and to completely rethink what things are. Things that look like tomatoes and tastes like oranges. And this guy, Ferran Adrià really brought a big change to the world.

What was really funny by the time, suddenly all these restaurants started to pop up. Oh it's this guy who used to work at elBulli, and this guy and this girl. And when I was looking at elBulli, I could understand it. But if you go 10 years back and you look at Copenhagen, which now is one of the biggest food cities in the world, you'd realize that the food sucked there.

Connecting person to person relationships

And then there was this guy who came and said, hey, how about we treat a carrot, just the same as we treat a steak. Which is the complete fucking opposite. Ferran Adria was putting all this technology, all this heavy science, all this crazy things together and creating something that has never existed before. Then this guy comes and says, oh yeah, I'm not only going to use a carrot, I am also going to use a carrot that's from 10 meters over there or 50 meters over there.

Obviously this restaurant is Noma and it's Rene Redzepi, who has been a huge part in turning Copenhagen into the food city that it is. Today you have 30 restaurants of people that have gone through his school. You have bakeries, you have Puglisi, you have tons and tons of restaurants that have learned from him and noma.

In this way the restaurant and food industry is pretty fucking amazing because you go into this really intense environment, you learn from these really special people. You even go to the farmer to collaborate on things. So in many ways the food industry has been really, really good at connecting these person to person relationships.

Learning beyond the physical realm

Now, the other amazing thing is that every single chef is on Instagram. Instagram has actually enabled a lot of these restaurants to build up huge communities around the world. Just think of the sourdough hype. I bet there is a whole bunch of you who are following bakeries that are not in your hometown, but in San Francisco, LA or Stockholm.

In this way technology has been really amazing. Because we can learn beyond the physical realm. And now Rene Redzepi even said he's not going to talk to the press anymore. Because he can only talk to one journalist at a time and the people that really matter is really all of us. So Rene Redzepi just said, okay, fuck this, I'm gonna let people ask questions on Instagram and just answer that way. That way you can interact with millions of people. So you'd think that social media has really enabled and created a whole different level of community.

The fire power of money and their ability to scale

However, the secret about a lot of these restaurants that are small and have 10, 20, 30 employees, is that they don't make any money. The ones that are making money is the Sweetgreens, the big chains. We used to think of chains as McDonald's as really fucking disgusting food. But then if you go to Sweetgreen, it is actually a pretty tasty salad. They even collaborate with a lot of the famous chefs and they actually work with the farms. So what's really bad about this?

The thing that's really bad about this is that food is something that connects us. Kala, Korean just made a lot of Middle Eastern food here for us. And we could connect. This is a physical place where we can connect. You can see me have all sorts of stuff falling from the rice paper roll that I just made for myself. You see I'm human. I'm sweating. I'm letting the rice paper fall. I'm just another human being. You don't need to care about my opinions or anything else.

The problem is that now everything that these small brands are creating, Sweetgreen and other chains are taking up with the fire power of money and their ability to scale. But what precisely makes noma, the sourdough bakeries and all of these things special, is that they don’t scale. It is this one group of people facing you that are creating this one particular experience.

The most powerful and impactful communities have not been built yet

Now it's enough to talk about the food because when we think about communities, we often think about the publicity and the tools to just tell our story. But the amazing thing when we think of community and technology as tools to not only spread our story, but to give those individual operators the scale you would normally only get in a chain.

How is that? How could we hire staff together? How could we buy stuff together? How could we exchange our knowledge together? How can we build tools and communities where one restaurant trust the other one? How can we build technological tools that fundamentally rely on communities that create scale without having to scale the single units?

I actually think the only thing that I want to motivate you guys with, is that I think the most powerful and impactful communities have not been built yet.

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