No longer under the eye of a corporate control, the former franchisees have been able to make improvements to the menu, website, and online ordering platforms. The Chicago locations were already doing things a little differently and now have even more freedom to develop the brand to its full potential.
Paulsen and the team at L3 built a new website on a completely new platform. The branding was outdated and the imagery didn’t reflect what the Chicago locations were offering.
“This is the most exciting part of becoming a full owners of the brand for me, as a marketing person,” Paulsen says. “ With all digital assets we just did not have any control over or access to as a franchisee. The website, it was just really tired from my perspective.”
With competition continually growing in the fast-casual and fresh-casual segment, if LYFE wanted to stay relevant these changes were at the top of the to-do list, Paulsen says.
She adds having corporate partners did have some benefits. LYFE’s former owners built out the framework for an app and online ordering. “But it never went to the finish line,” Paulsen says.
L3 has taken those existing frameworks and updated the branding to match the new website, which was more colorful and current.
“It was really important as soon as we became the sole owners to make it much more reflective of who LYFE Kitchen is here in Chicago and where we're going,” Paulsen says.
Food photography plays a major role in the new branding. With each new seasonal menu change, the website updates.
“We wanted to not only establish ourselves as a Chicago local business but really define what makes LYFE Kitchen special with our amazing food that tastes great and makes you feel great,” Paulsen says. “Getting that message out there was really important to do on the website.”
Diving into delivery
As a micro-chain, getting into online ordering and delivery can be expensive, but it’s a necessary part to maintain that competitive edge. Off-premises sales continue to rise and demand isn’t going away anytime soon, Paulsen says.
Even with old technology, customers were using the LYFE Kitchen app.
“It’s important to provide an amazing digital experience to the guest,” Paulsen says. “Whether they're ordering on their phone or ordering on a website, we really have been working hard to upgrade those assets and really perfect them for the guests.”
Customers can order LYFE Kitchen through third-party services, like UberEats and Grubhub, but Paulsen doesn’t want that to become the norm. Partnering with these services was a go-between solution when corporate controlled online assets.
“Especially in a city like this, especially in the winter, so many people want to order delivery and have things brought to them,” Paulsen says. “ We signed on with those third parties so that we could at least have that option for guests.”
Like taking control of digital assets, the company wants to control the delivery experience from start to finish. By taking a hands-on approach, LYFE Kitchen can touch every part of the process instead of leaving it up to someone else. There is complete visibility of the order, Paulsen says.
“For smaller chains, [delivery] is a challenge,” she says. “ But if a cookie is missing or if a delivery driver gets lost like we can easily ... solve those issues, for the guests much more quickly.”
At the end of April, the LYFE Kitchen mobile app is getting a facelift. Guests can use the app to earn points for its loyalty program, which has also been reworked. Using her knowledge from working with the old version of the app, Paulsen helped develop the new platform to reflect what customers want when it comes to rewards. Every dollar spent earns a point and, after hitting different thresholds, diners can receive cash back and discounts to use on any order.
“We have totally changed the way the point structure works to make it better for the guest based on complaints and questions that I have received from customers over the last three years,” she says. “After that mobile app update gets pushed to all consumers we’ll finally be there I think.”
Transforming the Menu
The healthy eating craze has hit an all-time high, Paulsen says, and restaurants across the country are shifting to seasonal menus with fresh ingredients. Since opening five years ago in Chicago, the success of LYFE Kitchen proves the wellness trend isn’t just a coastal thing.
“I don't think that the Midwest is so much just a meat and potatoes kind of place anymore,” she says.
Chef Marco Behenna has been on the L3 team for more than two and a half years. After the transition, Behenna took the original LYFE Kitchen menu, elevated the flavors, and created the cuisine L3 Hospitality truly represents, Paulsen says.
“People are really interested in food trends, eating new things, and learning about what kind of food or food combinations are good for the body,” Paulsen says.
Behenna tries to use as many local vendors as possible. LYFE Kitchen is a small business so it makes sense for it to work with other small businesses.
“If you're shipping something from California or from the East Coast there’s transit time,” Paulsen says. “Not only is that worst for the environment, by the time the produce hits your kitchen it’s already been off the vine for a few days.”
While the quality is better, smaller vendors tend to specialize in specific products. Instead of one national supplier, Paulsen has to manage multiple vendors, which can be time consuming and more difficult to track.
“Other chains might work with one supplier that is sourcing from all over the country or even all over the globe,” she says. “But they only have one point of contact. It's just a little bit more challenging logistically to manage that sourcing and ordering when you're working with several local vendors. But we think it’s worth it.”
LYFE Kitchen has an advantage as a micro-chain to add LTO specials that sometimes aren’t even on the seasonal menu. These specials are tested as a chalkboard item and if they’re a hit with guests, the company adds it to all locations and online.
Right now, the seasonal offering features halloumi cheese as a meal add-on or in a special bowl. The spring menu also features Buffalo Cauliflower tacos as a vegan and vegetarian option.
Picking up on the smoothie craze, LYFE Kitchen also added five smoothies and a line of boosters, like adaptogens, protein powder, and CBD oil.
The Future of LYFE
With many other cuisines and a large foodie crowd, Chicago is a great setting for the LYFE brand, Paulsen says.
It’s too soon for the brand to announce a growth strategy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the minds of L3 Hospitality. Paulsen is excited about where LYFE Kitchen is going.