The Story of How Mario Del Pero Pivoted from Mendocino Farms to Goop Kitchen
He’s Gwyneth’s partner.
When Mario del Paro and wife Ellen Chen decided to sell a controlling interest in their SoCal sandwich/salad eateries Mendocino Farms to the private equity group TPG, Mario was excited about his life. He and Ellen had spent 15 years arduous years growing the chain and wanted to spend more time with their two children. Though they remained the second-largest shareholders and sit on the board, as Mario puts it, “Going from working 70 hours a week to zero emails and only texts from guys I went to college with was not a comfortable transition.”
Mario says he realized how much he loved building food companies. Plus he felt like he had a road map to avoiding some of the many blunders the couple made at Mendocino Farms.
Along with three partners, including the COO from The Cheesecake Factory, Mario founded DOM Food Group three years ago. The company’s first project was a joint venture with Goop, founded by actor-turned-lifestyle brand owner Gwyneth Paltrow.
“We created a restaurant concept based on Gwyneth’s best-selling cookbooks and recipes. We own the concept with Goop, and Gwyneth still approves every food item, every packaging, and every detail of the business,” Mario shares.
The concept is centered around clean eating: no refined sugars, processed foods, gluten, dairy, peanuts or preservatives. It quickly grew. Five Goop Kitchens are now open: Studio City/Toluca Lake, Santa Monica, Beverly Hills, El Segundo and Costa Mesa. Most have no traditional storefront. The kitchens deliver locally, or customers can come in and pick up.
Mario says the Brentwood Chinese Chicken Salad is Goop’s most popular item at all of the outlets. He adds that the protein and grain bowls sell well too. Goop Kitchen also offers a gluten-free pizza and their own pasta brand called Goop Superfina.
“While running Mendocino Farms, I spent an enormous time studying the premium fast-casual space and all the innovations around delivery,” says Mario. “I really thought there was an opportunity to do a concept more premium than Tender Greens, Sweetgreen or Chopt, but at a price point and value proposition that was better. If we could do higher volume, we could share that efficiency with a reduced price point based on the quality for the guest.”
Ellen doesn’t have a role at DOM, but keeps busy as an angel investor and advisor to other companies. The two still live in a sprawling Colfax Meadows home with their kids, and continue to take a lot of pride in the ongoing success of Mendocino Farms, which has grown to 56 eateries.
“It is like our baby is now grown up, got married and is now having kids of her own! Ellen and I are feeling like grandparents,” he laughs.
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