The Windmills Kitchen is all about fresh farm food fast – and it’s perfectly placed on the busy N3 to offer just that to busy travelers going between Joburg and Durban. The collaborative food hall at the Windmills Garage hosts a carefully-curated selection of cuisines and menu options from numerous food stalls within the restaurant. Looking for vegan or veggie options? How about a burger? A pizza? A bunny chow? A salad? What about just a freshly-made juice or coffee? They’ve got them all! The space is kid and pet friendly – a huge blessing for road tripping families – and the service is quick and efficient, making it a perfect spot for those on the go. We chatted to Emily Dyer-Schiefer from The Kitchen Think, who was involved in the creation of the restaurant – from concept to kitchen. Because of course, a unique offering such as The Windmills Kitchen needs a unique approach and set-up.

Can you tell us about the sourcing of products for use at The Windmills Kitchen?  Everything served must be sustainable, ethical and local. This means that all meat is hormone-free and grass fed. The chickens and eggs are free-range, and almost everything is farmed in the area.  We met with a bunch of suppliers and have found a core group who align with these practices and are able to work with us to ensure the product is consistent and available.

How was the Windmills Kitchen concept arrived at? Was it difficult to balance the needs of locals with the needs of visitors? Our aim at The Windmills was always Fresh Farm Food – Fast. We knew a few things going in:

  • We wanted families to be able to order a variety of options. If a family of 4 came through and 1 wanted a sandwich, 1 a pie, 1 a pizza and 1 a burger could they get it?
  • We wanted people to only pay once. There is nothing more annoying than going to a food court, everyone wants a different meal and you must pay 4 times.
  • We didn’t want too many variations on one item. If you wanted a burger you were getting our signature burger.

The locals were receptive to that. I think good, simple food always hold an appeal to people whether they’re traveling in a car for 5 hours or 5 minutes.

What sort of research went into developing the menu? We looked at what people were ordering, and at when people came to eat. Did the offering reflect the trends throughout the day? I came up with a concept based around that, and the earlier principles and then created the menu from there. Once done, we tested and took it to the customers. We got feedback on what people want on the road, and if our menu aligned. There was lots of testing and tweaking before we went live.

There’s quite a big range of healthy and vegan food on the menu, and a big focus on vegetables – are you seeing a growing demand for this food in the area? Was there any special training involved in how to cook veggie-centric and vegan dishes? In general consumers are looking for more vegetable-based items. There is currently huge focus on the environment and people’s purchasing and eating choices are reflecting this. The kitchen was very receptive to it. Evan Coosner assisted with the kitchen training and the new menu implementation. I spent a lot of time with the waiters on different dietaries and people’s eating choices. We wanted the Front of House team to be knowledgeable about it, so that they could make suitable recommendations. Everybody got to taste the new menu and Evan and I did a few workshops showing everyone the ingredients, explaining the difference between free-range and factory farming and the preparation process.

Can you tell us a bit about how you got into the industry, and why you decided to take this path as a restaurant consultant? I started as a waitress when I was 18 and loved the industry. From the beginning, I wanted to absorb it and learned everything I could. I trained as a chef and worked as a chef for 10 years. In 2011 I was taking a break and a friend of mine asked me for some help at his restaurant in Bath. I spent a month there, helping them align their strategy and introduce new services. That got me thinking. I’d collected all this knowledge through working in the industry and I wanted to share it. I launched The Kitchen Think in 2013 to work with restaurants.

What does it usually entail? Our clients and projects range so much. We’ve worked with coffee shops looking to streamline their processes to hotels wanting a creative food & beverage strategy. We will meet the client first (in person or on-line depending on their location) and then create a plan based on what they want to achieve.

Often, we will need to spend time on-site training and implementing. That usually happens once all the creative work is complete. We work on both the creative side being concepts, interiors, plates, food-styling, menu structures and the operations side which includes increasing revenue, food-cost control, training and systems.

What are some of the big challenges you’re noticing in the restaurant industry at the moment? Not necessarily challenges but the industry is changing. Customers are spending money where they have trust that the experience will be good and consistent. Delivery apps have altered the way people are eating – diners are going out less and ordering in more. Marketing plays a significant role in new restaurants. A few years ago, one could open with no online presence which now is not the case. Consumers are spoilt for choice. There are a lot of restaurants offering similar menus and experiences, so you must work hard to stand out and remain relevant while still keeping your brand identity.

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