While the fast-casual industry has risen up as a way to serve real, affordable food to the masses—Musk points to Chipotle, a fellow Colorado-based brand, as an example—he believes the experience falls far short of a gathering place. And the food in traditional casual-dining restaurants, he adds, is simply not good enough. “Don’t blame people for not wanting your product if it’s not keeping up,” he says.
What truly distinguishes Next Door is its fresh, real food, delivered to the table with a speed that rivals any fast-casual concept, in a full-service setting that invites guests to linger and play, and at a price point that’s stamped with value. The average check, including an alcoholic beverage, rings in at $16.
While traditional casual-dining brands worry about turning tables, Musk is monitoring “fire times” throughout the day at Next Door locations. That fire time, he explains, is the minutes that pass “from when a waiter standing at the table has pressed go on the iPad to the time the food arrives at the table.”
And the numbers are impressive. “We have an average fire time of 5 minutes, and some fire times are 2 minutes. Five minutes is profound—and sometimes food arrives even before the waiter has left the table.”
Next Door is all about delivering “a full-service experience at the speed of the guest.” And if guests aren’t ready to order, there’s no pressure from Next Door to make them hurry.
Journey to Food
It was a long road that led Musk to innovating within the casual-dining restaurant sector. His story begins like that of so many chefs who grew up cooking for their families. But that’s pretty much where the similarities with other chefs end. Musk’s family includes brother Elon Musk, the billionaire founder of SpaceX and Tesla (whose boards Kimbal Musk sits on).
Musk’s journey took him from South Africa, where he was born, to college in Canada and through the dot-com boom in Silicon Valley (where he and his brother made more than a little splash with their technology ventures). Eventually it led him into a world of disillusionment before he found his home, and his mission, in the heartland.
“My family is very intense, so we never sat down and had dinner together unless I cooked,” he says. “When I did cook, the food was better, and my dad and my mother would say, ‘OK, Kimbal is cooking, we’re going to sit down and have a meal.’ I was glad to have that opportunity to share, because I’d get to have a meal with my family.”