Culinary evolution Featured

8:00pm EDT June 25, 2009
Finalists
Manufacturing

Lisa Johnson and Farzad Shahsavarani know the importance of a flexible business plan. In 1987, they opened a healthy fast-food restaurant, Two-Minute Gourmet, in downtown Chicago. But when it was unable to deliver sales via foot traffic, the company quickly focused on developing a new model that focused on catering business meetings.

They closed the restaurant in 1989 to pursue corporate catering, founding Gourmet Kitchens Inc. and marketing their business as Last Minute Gourmet. When sales hit a plateau a decade later, it was time for another transformation, and in 2001, Johnson and Shahsavarani began making fresh foods for retail chains. They jettisoned the catering business in 2004, and their new focus has created a thriving company that employs more than 300 people.

GKI has experienced double-digit growth since it began catering to retail chains, thanks to the pair’s innovative and optimistic management style. They are always working to stay ahead of the curve and have traveled around the world to see what product, packaging and machinery trends are working in Europe and Asia. This has helped the company realize consumer needs much faster than its competitors, bringing trends to market as they arise.

Another point of differentiation for GKI is innovative packaging. Because Johnson and Shahsavarani are committed to using ingredients without artificial additives, they are constantly looking for innovative ways to extend the shelf life of their products. Shahsavarani designed and patented the “Just Toss It” salad bowl, named one of the best new products of 2006 because of its dual atmosphere design that separates the salad greens from the salad dressing and toppers, increasing shelf life and improving product quality.

For More Information: Gourmet Kitchens Inc., www.lastminutegourmet.com