Foodservice

Q&A: Rutter’s Ryan Krebs on Strategy and Chef Coats

CSP speaks with Krebs about maintaining consumer buy-in and a winning momentum

YORK, Pa. -- In 2015, Ryan Krebs joined Rutter’s as director of foodservice after a career in restaurant, hotel, country club and long-term healthcare kitchens. Since then, Krebs has helped the convenience-store retailer bag two CSP/Intouch Insight Mystery Shop victories and take on some larger-than-life initiatives for the 70-unit chain; however, great success often means even greater expectations. CSP spoke with Krebs about maintaining consumer buy-in and a winning momentum.

  • York, Pa.-based Rutter's is No. 101 on CSP's 2018 Top 202 ranking of c-store chains by number of company-owned retail outlets.

Q: How has Rutter's preserved the customer trust it has built up over the past 50 years? 

A: Where we’ve continued to grow trust is the quality and consistency we provide our customers. I hear people say all the time, “I can’t believe you’re doing that in a convenience store.” I love hearing that. It slashes the perception for what a convenience store is and what it can do. I believe that trust opens doors to take calculated risks. We’re not about trial and error with our customers. We don’t just see if it bites. It’s very strategic and calculated. That gives us more of an opportunity to take a risk.

Q: How important is it to bring on people with restaurant experience in a c-store? 

A: We have 15 culinary-arts-certified chefs. I believe there is value in that food expert being throughout your organization; however, we have fantastic people who are managers who don’t have a food background—the priority is that customer-service-centric individual.

We’ve found that since we provide a quality of life [that] restaurants and hotels don’t always provide that you can peel out some really qualified people that say, “Oh my gosh, I can work Monday through Friday, hug my family, get some rest and have a good-paying job.” And they’re still proud of the quality of food they’re serving. In breaking the perception of what a convenience store does, if you can get chefs to come on board, you’re telling the industry and convincing chefs that this is top-quality food.

About a year and a half ago, I put all our managers in chef coats. It was a bold move on my part, but I remember being a kid getting ready to go to culinary school, and I remember my chef putting a chef coat on me and I still get chills, because I earned it. I wanted to provide that to our restaurant managers and say, “Be proud of what you do and the quality of what you serve.”

Q: What challenges do you have today that you didn't have five years ago?

A: The biggest thing is the constant movement of staying on top of consumer demand. Gen Z and millennials have brought back such a transparency and passion to food. It has become an ultimate experience to put food in your mouth. Does that bring a lot more work to things? It does. You have to be more technologically savvy. You have to be more transparent. You have to source different, so we have about 85 local items on our menu. We’re going to start bringing in local produce this summer. We’re probably one of the first c-stores in the country to use locally sourced fruits and veggies on the menu. It’s a lot more intentional and in-depth work.

The other challenge is there’s competition everywhere. Would you drive by someone else to come to me? If we can keep trying to execute that, I think it will continue to make people pass someone else.

Q: How are you able to execute these initiatives so quickly? 

A: There is a beauty to that speed. Our biggest competition (Altoona, Pa.-based Sheetz Inc.) has over 500 c-stores in six states. We have 70 high-volume locations. I test, I decide, I run it by a couple of people and bang, within a few weeks we can do whatever we set out to do. When I found out I could get cage-free eggs, there was one conversation to make sure it was approved, and within weeks, I was in the cage-free-egg business. My competition is projecting they’ll be in cage-free eggs by 2025. By the time that comes out, we’ll already have that cage-free-egg customer.

What people don’t see on the back end is that there’s been a lot of strategic vision getting to where we are. I go to chef conferences, we travel to restaurants around the world and my chefs send me photos of menus from France or New York. We’re looking globally at what we do, and that’s what helps us stay out in front.

Photograph by Matt Roth

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