At Moe’s Southwest Grill, a new item has about a 10% chance of making it from the idea stage to the menu, and the process can take a year, says Jason Dowd, executive chef at the Top 500 Mexican concept. To get to market faster, Moe’s last August turned one company unit into “Moe’s of the Future,” a lab to test out ideas. A pair of seasonal salsas were the first LTOs to come out of the lab. Here’s how they made the cut.
1. Instant feedback
In developing menu items, “My goal is to get the food conversation started,” says Dowd. At the test unit, teams from purchasing, operations, quality assurance and marketing provide input. Plus, Moe’s can get a quick pulse on how something will do through real-time sales data and customer response. “It gives us a reality check and a chance to make adjustments to the recipe or procedure as needed,” says Dowd.
2. No bad ideas
Ideas may get shelved because they’re fiscally unfeasible, seasonally inappropriate or operationally complex. “Sometimes it takes working through a different process to get the desired outcome in the restaurant; sometimes we have to work with our suppliers to get the right ingredients; and sometimes we need to source or build new smallwares or equipment,” he says. Moe’s rarely nixes an idea completely; Dowd often revisits it, tweaking flavors, repositioning it in a different season or simplifying labor.
3. Earning a spot on the line
These will be the first salsas to earn a spot behind the line on Moe’s cold table—a decision made after in-house testing. They share space with 20 or so ingredients on offer to customize burritos, nachos and more. “We have to watch what’s moving, and make sure every ingredient is relevant and doing its job,” says Dowd. “The challenge is finding the real estate.”
4. Mobile in mind
Moving the seasonal salsas behind the line at select locations is an added convenience for Moe’s online and app customers—they now can customize an order with salsas as well as the other cold-table items. In-house patrons have access to a separate self-serve salsa bar with six choices, including the two rotating seasonal salsas.
Currently in test at Moe’s of the Future is a Hatch (New Mexico) green chili smothering sauce. “I love Four Corners cuisine, so I’m looking to bring more of those ingredients to life,” says Dowd. “But I’m also looking at flavors that transcend the region, like Sriracha.”