While there are other fast casuals that tout sandwiches made with artisan breads and farm-sourced ingredients, Mendocino Farms’ chef-driven selections aim even higher, with options such as prosciutto, braised pork belly, Peruvian aji amarillo sauce and mustard pickle remoulade. It’s a vision driven by husband-and-wife duo Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen, Mendocino Farms’ CEO and president respectively, who opened their first location in 2005.
That culinary focus and the couple’s talent for creating neighborhood gathering places—complete with foosball tables, bean-bag toss and other games—has garnered Mendocino Farms a cult following, with customers consistently lining up out the door at lunchtime. The 12-unit SoCal concept also captured more influential fans, when in the fall of 2015, Whole Foods became a minority investor, with the goal of incorporating branded Mendocino Farms venues into its stores, strengthening the chain’s infrastructure and increasing its freestanding locations into San Diego and the Bay Area.
“Being mentored by the Whole Foods team is a great opportunity for us as we scale our brand while trying to deepen our purpose, culture and positive impact on the communities we serve,” says Chen.
According to a statement, an impetus for Whole Foods’ investment was that Mendocino Farms’ high-quality products and core values align well with those of the supermarket chain.