Ask a Costing Expert: Benji Koltai, Galley Solutions
Recipe costing and documentation can be a painful art. Many chefs still rely on antiquated pen-and-paper or Excel solutions for keeping track of their ingredient and recipe or unit costs. This leaves back of house without the ability to quickly or easily make adjustments. How can makers use technology to create living recipes and drastically lower their COGS? Software developer Benji Koltai founded a company that was built to answer this exact question. The result is Galley Solutions, an all-in-one BOH software solution that works for makers large and small. We interviewed Benji about all things costing, and why Galley is the solution you’ve been waiting for.
Galley is our newest Foodboro Toolkit partner, which means our members will have access to exclusive discounted pricing on this life-changing product. Contact us to get access to Galley and other Foodboro Toolkit partners!
What was the impetus for creating Galley?
I worked for a food startup in San Francisco called Sprig. Sprig was one of the first full-stack delivery-only restaurants. We had a customer app, our own fleet of drivers, our own logistics platform, and our own kitchen. Not only was the delivery mechanism of the food a new idea, but the food operation that backed the product was also an ambitious one: it was a daily rotating menu of items. And not only were our menu items constantly changing, but the volume of those menu items was also constantly changing. It was a highly dynamic food operation.
The culinary folks who worked for Sprig used what they knew. They set up spreadsheets, and used pencil and paper, and ran it like a normal food operation. Very low tech. Being a software engineer, and realizing that a huge way that the startup would succeed would be by optimizing the food operation, it became pretty clear that we needed to digitize that aspect of the operation. It started with converting the recipes from spreadsheets to an app, a web app that I built.
Then, once you have recipes and menus in a web app, the possibilities of automating or semi-automating those aspects of running a food operation are pretty much limitless. You can do things like getting purchasing automated, so that you just have to tell the system, ‘these are my recipes, these are my menus,’ and you can select the menus you want to purchase for and it automatically scales and aggregates the ingredients and converts them to the appropriate pack sizes to send to the vendors. All of that is just math, and computers are very good at math. So that’s one example of a workflow that came from this project.
This platform ended up really running the food operation at Sprig once it was fully built out. I had just thought that I solved Sprig’s problem, but everyone who worked at Sprig, who had come from the industry, told me that it was applicable for many different operations. Everyone has recipes that they use to convert raw ingredients into finished goods.
So the idea is flourishing, and we are building Galley as the modern operating system of both emerging and existing food businesses that are still working with pen and pencil and spreadsheet.
Do you have any theories for why back of house doesn’t see the same technological innovations as front of house?
Absolutely. I think that in order for there to be a technology built, there needs to be two things. Number one is pain. Number two, are people experiencing that pain who can solve the pain? There is lots of pain in BOH, but the set of people who experience that pain is pretty much just culinary folks.
It’s interesting that it’s been done in FOH, and I think that’s due to the proximity to techies and entrepreneurs. People who feel the pain in FOH are sometimes entrepreneurs and software engineers, or other people outside of the realm of culinary, who don’t want to wait in lines, or who want to use a credit card at that small institution. They feel the pain, and then they go out and solve it. And granted, they work with industry experts! I’m not saying that the culinary folks are not capable of solving problems, but they sometimes do need the help of techies and entrepreneurs.
And tech folks can grasp FOH problems a lot easier. The average layperson doesn’t understand the intricacies of a large commissary kitchen. I was fortunate to have that BOH exposure, and be in it for two years.
It’s not to say that there aren’t other companies who have built BOH software. I had a unique opportunity to build BOH software while having access to modern technology. These problems have been solved 15 years ago by the incumbent technologies, but they were built in the 90’s and haven’t really been updated since then. And we’re now living in a world where everybody uses software every second of the day.
What can Galley do that your Excel sheet can’t?
First off is the interface. That’s one of the most immediate things that our customers realize and feel. This is a specifically designed app to store your recipe data. So instead of it be 5 clicks to make a change, it’s 1 click. Multiplying that by hundreds of thousands of changes that an organization needs to do, that saves a ton of time and a lot of headaches.
Then there’s the fragility and brittleness of a spreadsheet system. Spreadsheets are great because you can model anything, but they’re also really easy to break. And when things break, it’s really difficult to figure out what broke. Typically, with these spreadsheet systems, there’s one person who’s allowed to use it. They have to be really careful, and maybe they’ll break something and it’ll take them a week to figure out what broke. So Galley is entreprise-grade software, and it has all the stability of a consumer product. We take on all of that complexity and maintenance. And also, literally by the hour it’s getting better. We have a full-time team dedicated to making this product better. You don’t get that when you build your own spreadsheet.
Is Galley as flexible for the smaller CPG company as it is for the large food service operation?
Absolutely. The approach that we’re taking is to build the functionality for those large-scale operations, but it’s all leveled-out. You can turn off the features you don’t need, like inventory or purchasing, and just get a bare-bones version of Galley that does recipe storage, recipe scaling, and costing. It’s a product that has both the basic and the superuser, and it brings value to both.
What are the insights that an entrepreneur is getting from using Galley?
We come alongside you in your operation and support you in whatever task you’re doing regularly that would make sense for a computer to do. For instance, just having your recipes stored in a central location and having them be the single source of truth, so that you don’t end up with 3 versions of a marinara sauce because you use marinara sauce in your spaghetti sauce, your chicken parmesan, and your sandwich. There’s one version of the marinara sauce. As an entrepreneur that’s valuable because it not only leads to increased quality and repeatability, but it helps you run a more efficient operation by doing things like minimizing your SKU numbers.
Chipotle is so successful because they have a simple menu offering that translates to a million different menu items. They’re all the different permutations of all the components. Galley gives you a similar framework that’s really intuitive to use, to build out your operation. We make it easy to do the right thing and hard to do the wrong thing. That’s what you don’t get from spreadsheets.
Are there any success stories so far?
Yes! One that stands out is from a catering company. Part of the onboarding process is helping users learn how to use the tool, so we said, ok, let’s input a recipe together. They had sent us their vendor list, and we had all of their ingredients and costs. We went to the chef and we said, “let’s teach you how to use the recipe inputting tool, why don’t you pick a recipe that you want to input and see the cost of?”
Most food organizations have no idea what their recipes actually cost them. He decided to pick one of his loss leaders, a salmon dish, and “I think it’s like $2.50 per plate.” So we went in and inputted the ingredients, and at the end, the total was run, and it was $5.70. He turns to his operations people and says, “this item is off the menu.” So instantly, they’re getting thousands of dollars of margin back, because they’re getting this instantaneous insight. You don’t have to make the mistake, see the bill, dig through the data, and unwind it all. Galley is proactively telling them the cost of their recipe, and the cost composition of their menu.
It’s not just at the recipe level that you can see this! Maybe you do have a loss leader; maybe your salmon dish is a low-margin dish but you have a salad that’s a 70% margin dish. When you put those together on a menu, input your projected sales of those items, the system does the math for you, and says “the projected margin on this menu is 54%.” And you as a business owner get to make that decision.
So the whole idea, and this success story, is the power of visibility. When you have things on pencil and paper and spreadsheets, you have to do a lot of work to make the important information visible. We do that work for you. We present you with the important data up front. So that as you’re going through the workflows, you can make the best decisions possible.