June 8, 2016 | by Cherryh Cansler
Dig Inn CEO takes 'disruption' to a new level

Disruption. It's one of those buzzwords we hear all the time. Marketing and business experts toss it around when speaking during educational sessions. Some have even built careers on teaching others how to "disrupt their industries."

I could go my entire life with never again hearing, "You have to be different; you must disrupt the industry." "Are you a disruptor?"

Although the word has joined the ranks of cliche business catch phrases, it's impossible to deny that disruptive brands stand out from competitors. There's a catch, however. It's hard.

For Adam Eskin, CEO of Dig Inn, being disruptive meant severing ties with standard supply chains and developing relationships with local farmers in order to source ingredients for his New York City-based concept. It serves only from-scratch and seasonal food. Menu items, for example, include: flame-grilled wild salmon, Sicilian cauliflower, roasted kale, five-spice meatballs made with chicken or pork and free-range roasted turkey from Koch's Turkey Farm in Tamaqua, Pennslyvania.

"We really think about food as a mechanism in which we can build a community and have an impact," Eskin said during a panel, "How Fast Food is Disrupting the Way Americans Eat," last weekend at the NRA show in Chicago.

"Broken," is how Eskin described today's food system, which was set up decades ago to deliver food to masses of people as quickly as possible. That goal has led to obesity and a failing agriculture system, which inspired him to launch Dig Inn.

"We are a very mission-driven brand," said Eskin, who built the brand around the two core pillars of supporting agriculture and offering culinary with integrity.

 A dedication to culinary arts

Dig Inn's seasonal and innovative menu means talented chefs must always be in the kitchen, and Eskin admitted that finding NYC chefs who want to work in a fast casual setting can be challenging. Many dream of working for fine-dining brands, but instead of letting that stopping him from growing his 11-unit chain, Eskin found a solution by developing his own in-house culinary school, where he transforms employees into chefs.

"We are in the business of recruiting young chefs, but we don't think there are quite enough of them," Eskin said. "What we are looking for is hard work and passion and the desire to learn or grow. If you have those three attributes we can train you."

In an effort to inspire and help his chefs grow, Eskin partners with some of New York's high-end restaurants, including Danielle, to provide them with the opportunities to work in their kitchens. It's a win, win; young chefs study under pros and then put new skills to use at Dig Inn.

"We are happy to cover that cost," he said. "You just look for the problem to solve. It seems to be working."

Ag support

The agriculture piece of the business means that Dig Inn always uses small and mid-sized farmers to source its ingredients, said Eskin, who views his supply chain as a way to build a community through food. Because he wanted to stay local, he had to find a way to make it more accessible.

"We had to start with distribution; we are gonna have to strip out some of that cost," Eskin said, which is one of the reason he deals directly with about 50 farmers. His personal attention also leads to a more trustful relationship, which is better for his business.

"We don't go through traditional distribution," he said. "We have sponsored upfront costs; we've financed farm equipment — whatever it takes to have a mutual-beneficial relationship."

Eskin visits the farms at least once a quarter and pays for employees to go as well. Last quarter, for example, 50 employees made a trip with Eskin.

"We had a meal together; about 50 crew members signed up," he said. "We talked about agriculture, pet the goats. You have days like that…. It's the community inside our organization and outside the organization."

The company has even helped farmers buy land and equipment and is now looking into buying farmland.

"We'll start with 100 acres and grow that to 1,000 or 20,000," said Eskin, who described his journey into farming as in the discovery and listening phase.

Scaling the business

Dig Inn, which will have 17 units open by the end of the year, is planting a flag in Boston, its first out-of-state restaurant. Although Eskin's ultimate goal is to keep growing the business, he knows it's a slow process.

"In terms of scaling our business, we recognize there's only so quickly we can move within the constraints of our model, so we've opted to stay local," he said. "We're not ready to jump to the other side of the country."

Topics: Franchising & Growth, Health & Nutrition, Sustainability

Cherryh Cansler
Before joining Networld Media Group as director of Editorial, where she oversees Networld Media Group's nine B2B publications, Cherryh Cansler served as Content Specialist at Barkley ad agency in Kansas City. Throughout her 17-year career as a journalist, she's written about a variety of topics, ranging from the restaurant industry and technology to health and fitness. Her byline has appeared in a number of newspapers, magazines and websites, including Forbes, The Kansas City Star and American Fitness magazine. She also serves as the managing editor for FastCasual.com. wwwView Cherryh Cansler's profile on LinkedIn

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