On this week's episode of "What's Eric Eating," Mendocino Farms co-founders Ellen Chen and Mario Del Pero join CultureMap food editor to discuss their decadent sandwich shop that just opened its first Houston location in Rice Village. The conversation begins with the couple explaining how they met, became business partners, and developed the concept for the restaurant that now has more than 25 locations in California.
Mendocino Farms has grown in part thanks to investments from Whole Foods and TPG Growth, a private equity firm with $8.3 billion of assets under management. Sandler asks the founders how working with those partners has changed the restaurant.
"It's really forced us to look at the business in a different way," Chen says. "I think for founders, we want to be creative and want to keep pushing, but for us, it's given us the capital to continue to grow and build a really great team and infrastructure."
"I think we have really clear values, and we use those values as our filters. I'm in front of you today going the food is as good now, this is our 28th baby, the food's better now than it was at 21," Del Pero adds. "We've been able to leverage our relationships with Whole Foods. Leverage our relationships with some of our local vendors and suppliers in a healthy way to still bring quality food at a good price."
From there, the conversation turns to the decision to open in Houston; the restaurant has already announced plans for locations in Uptown Park, downtown, and The Heights, with a fifth location that has yet to be announced. Eventually, they plan to add locations in Dallas and Austin.
Prior to the interview segment, Sandler and co-host Matt Harris discuss the news of the week. Their topics include: Crawfish Cafe's plans to open in The Heights, a second location of The Rustic coming to Uptown Park, and chef Mark Holley's plans to reopen Davis St. at Hermann Park.
In an extended restaurants of the week segment, the hosts discuss their experiences dining at three new establishments: Cielito Cafe, a Mexican breakfast and lunch restaurant in Montrose; The Gypsy Poet, a pizzeria in Midtown; and Bamboo House, a Chinese restaurant in Humble that's earning a reputation for its Peking duck.