As consumers expect more efficient service from fast-casual spots, fine dining restaurants, and every concept in between, it’s no wonder every operator and CEO seems to be investing in technology to help in both the front-of-house and back-of-house. And while time-saving kitchen equipment is reaching new heights, there remains an obvious dinosaur in the kitchen: recipe books and training materials for cooks. That’s what Opsi is trying to solve for, while boosting consistency and organization at the same time.
Opsi is the brainchild of James Passafaro, a restaurant industry veteran with more than 15 years of experience as a chef, and his childhood friend Matt Luckey, who has a background in product design. Opsi’s platform offers an operational tool for chefs to centralize workflows in what is often a fast-paced and hectic work environment. It streamlines recipe book management, task lists, ordering, communication, and training.
“I think at the time, there were a lot of tools, but built in perspective of the enterprise, going for big hotel chains, franchises, which are good and work well in their space, but don’t really translate much to single operators or operators that have five to 10 restaurants,” Passafaro explains. Plus, “they’re generally expensive, with a lot of tools you don’t really use a lot of.” There was clearly an opportunity to create a solution specific for chefs.
Prior to co-founding Opsi in 2019, Passafaro’s time in the kitchen took him from his roots in New Jersey to Rhode Island, Minnesota, and more. He worked as a sous chef at the Four Seasons in Washington, DC, and at Bourbon Steak in San Francisco under Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina.
“I was frustrated I didn’t have any digital way of managing payers, recipes, all the stuff you deal with in kitchens [instead of using] clipboards and binders,” Passafaro says. “I didn’t find anything I liked, so I decided to start building one without any natural skill for technology.”
Luckily, Passafaro reached out to his childhood friend and fellow New Jersey native, Luckey, who became the technical architect in building the app into a full-fledged kitchen tool to remove paper clutter and optimize efficiency. Says Luckey, “James identified the various inefficiencies in kitchen operations and reached out to me to help modernize these workflows. We’ve since developed the Opsi technology into an easy-to-implement and easy-to-use application suitable for team members of all experience levels. Opsi is now being used by some of the top restaurants and hospitality groups in the nation.”
In the meantime, Passafaro moved to Minneapolis to become chef de cuisine for Spoon and Stable, created by James Beard Award-winning chef, Gavin Kaysen, who became an early investor in the project and board advisor. Spoon and Stable also served as one of the first locations to beta pilot test Opsi four years ago.
With 35 cooks on staff at Spoon and Stable, Passafaro was quickly able to gather candid feedback each day about what wasn’t working. “There’s no rose-colored glasses when you’re sitting in front of the people using it and being honest with you,” he says.
While the older cooks who had been around longer had a harder time getting on board, Passafaro notes “it’s a matter of really understanding for them that it saves time. At the end of the day, if you use any type of system that’s relatively simple and ultimately saves everyone time, it cuts down on a lot of confusions and conversation.”
No surprise here, but the younger cooks in the kitchen immediately liked and adopted the idea of training from their phones.
“You can’t tell a 21-year-old cook that they can’t be on their phone in today’s world, OK? It’s literally impossible,” Kaysen told FSR. “So we put all of the recipes in this app, it has all of their mise en place lists, it has everything, and what you’re innately telling a cook when you come to work for you by giving them access to that app is, I trust you to take all these recipes with you.”
Kaysen adds he saved on paper and printing costs from not needing to hand out hard copies of recipes and training materials for new employees. “I can’t tell you a number of how much money Opsi has saved my company,” he says. But the most important benefit? “It saves time. And ultimately, that’s the one precious thing that in a restaurant, it’s your ally. You need it, as much as you can have.”
During the app’s pilot stage, managers saw a 20 to 30 percent decrease in time spent onboarding, while employees saw an 80 percent decrease in time spent training new team members, according to Opsi.
“I think part of the problem is, from my vantage point, it's how people are being trained to use the programs. It's so inefficient, the way that you're being trained,” Kaysen adds, referring to traditional methods of onboarding a new employee. “It's about [the] efficiency of, how do you train people? How do you teach them this is going to help make your team more efficient?”