I’m telling you sincerely as a business owner, xtraCHEF has changed my life. And it’s definitely changed the game. Now we’re in our fourth year after taking over, and I’m finally in the food costing area!
The Cambridge School of Culinary Arts is an iconic New England institution with 45 years of service in culinary education. The nationally renowned school turned to xtraCHEF in early 2021 to automate tedious invoice and AP processes.
Even after just one month with invoice processing and AP automation, the school operators are already seeing payroll savings, newfound insights, and real chunks of time going back into their day.
The student becomes the teacher becomes the owner…cooking all the way
Chef Roberta Dowling and her husband Bill founded the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts (CSCA) in 1974. Chef Roberta started teaching out of her home before formally designing a program for students serious about getting into the food industry.
These days, the school is owned and operated by Sean Leonard and his partner, Randy Freidus. Sean is actually a former student turned instructor. He took over ownership in 2017 following Roberta’s passing in 2015. Sean handles the overall operation with a focus on financials and admissions, while Randy focuses on operations, marketing and human resources.
The school has had some talented students go on and start their own businesses around Cambridge, including Hash House A Go Go, Davios, Bagelsaurus, Blackbird Donuts, and even other schools such as Culinary Underground and Create-a-Cook.
xtraCHEF inventory and purchase ordering wrangles a multi-headed moving target
Sean has had early success after only a month of using xtraCHEF, which is exciting to see given the unique nature of their use case.
“We’re not a typical restaurant,” says Sean. “The school has anywhere from 20-30 recreational classes a week. And then we have a professional program and follow the guidelines for private trade school.”
“It’s like a restaurant on steroids,” says Randy. “Our business changes so much week-to-week, so it’s a lot more robust of a purchasing program and inventory management requirement than typical restaurants.”
You can imagine how critical and how difficult it is for the school’s different programs to communicate and coordinate on purchases and inventory management.
“We have to look at 14-day roadmaps so that we know what we need for the All-Schedule,” says Sean. “Maybe we need 160 eggs across all our classes this week but 300 or more the following week.”
This coordination requires creativity in planning, but before that, it requires pinpoint insights into purchase orders, true on-hand inventory, recipe management, and food cost goals. This is an area where Sean knew the school needed a better system in place.
AP automation reduces payroll and empowers CSCA to do more with less
While Sean remains committed to the school’s European classical training, he saw a need to breathe some life into operational technology and processes.
“We started using ChefTec in 2006,” Sean says, “and that was good because we were previously using Excel sheets. As a small business, no one was really concentrating on all the operational nuances.”
CSCA continues to use ChefTec, but Sean still saw a real need to get more out of his technology.
“I needed to save time for me to move the business forward with Randy. And let’s face it, all small businesses are trying to cut costs from payroll. Of course, I didn’t realize how much this would save.”
Though it’s only been a month, Sean has seen measurable benefits from xtraCHEF and realizes the long-term benefits to come as he brings the rest of his team into the platform.
Sean saw xtraCHEF as a means of obtaining significant payroll reduction but even still underestimated what was to come.
“My sister started helping out doing the invoices when we were going through the ownership transition,” Sean says. “xtraCHEF has eliminated her role – completely amicably – and a purchasing person that had 10hrs/week entering invoices into ChefTec. Overall, it’s $20K savings just in payroll.”
Go beyond basic invoice automation to line item-processing and invoice searches
The “burden” of invoice processing is no longer a burden at all, Sean says. He has been managing it himself with xtraCHEF and will soon get his kitchen managers setup as well.
“I typically have to go downstairs to our purchasing managers to gather the invoices. Now I’ve created a username for them and told him to try it out before rolling it out to their staff. And then they’ll use their phones.”
Setting up purchasing and kitchen managers with xtraCHEF improves their efficiency and accuracy with invoice processing; getting them back to core tasks quicker and freeing up Sean and crew to focus on operations, student acquisition, and their own core responsibilities.
“What helps too is the line item-level processing,” says Sean. “When our produce would come through, I was previously just putting in a general ‘produce’ and the dollar amount. And sometimes I’d tell my assistant to just input the top three items because I don’t want someone spending that much time on it, especially if they can be on the phone making a sale to a new student.”
The ability to centralize and digitize past invoices is another time-saver that Sean is very excited about.
When I’m talking to my vendor, I don’t have to go over to the filing cabinet. I do an invoice search and there’s all the info. Date, cost, invoice number – I have all that info within seconds. I don’t have to ask anyone. I don’t have to put them on hold. And I get done with the call in five minutes, rather than 15-minutes because I wasn’t prepared.
A+ data entry on the front-end leads to A+ analysis on the backend
Sean is all too familiar with how costly a single purchasing mistake can be.
“Two years ago,” Sean says, “someone input saffron incorrectly. Our food costs were off $25K. I think a lot of restaurants out there don’t realize that when you’re doing food costs, a single issue or mistake like that can throw everything off drastically.”
Along with flagging and avoiding costly purchasing accidents on the front-end, xtraCHEF has helped Sean have the strategic operational conversations he wants to have on the back end.
“Now I can have a meeting and ask why we’re ordering Vanilla A at $87/quart when we also have this delicious vanilla concentrate that’s $139/liter. I can see that cost breakdown, and I know the marginal difference in quality.”
What he’s gained after a month of using xtraCHEF – a fraction of the cost of his other platform – is full-circle optimization around accounts payable, invoice processing, inventory, food cost management, and so much more. And the insights gained are critical for making data-driven decisions that will keep them doing what they love and carrying on the legacy of Chef Roberta.
xtraCHEF is the roadmap for what’s going on in the month. A lot of times before, I’d say ‘I’m budgeting $20K for food costs for the month.’ But then I look at the end of the month and it’s $24K. Now I can look at three months and see a pattern and ensure we have the funding.
The improvement has been an obvious one for Randy, who sees what xtraCHEF has unlocked for Sean.
“Since we’ve been using xtraCHEF,” Randy says, “Sean has a much better picture of not just processing invoices but seeing what the invoices are telling us. And I think he’s getting a lot more insight as to what’s coming into the building and how we’re spending our money.”