IHG Makes Informed Improvements to EVEN’s Cork & Kale
Brand growth brings closer attention to wellness at breakfast.
In 2015, we examined InterContinental Hotels Group’s (IHG) relatively recently launched EVEN Hotels—a 2014 entry into the midscale, mainstream-priced market. EVEN vies against brands such as Hilton Garden Inn and Courtyard by Marriott, with a wellness- and holistic-focused positioning. That philosophy manifests itself in F&B in the form of Cork & Kale, a 24-hour program in which all items are à la carte (no buffets) and reasonably priced, prepared using labor-saving kitchen equipment. Offerings include hot breakfast, smoothies, build-your-own yogurt bowls, cold lunch, hot dinner, desserts, and a bar with signature cocktails, wine, and craft beer in the evenings. Outside of those mealtimes, there are “wellness-approved” packaged items such as yogurt, granola, fruit, etc., in a grab ‘n’ go pantry.
Guest awareness of the brand and buzz are mounting, says Anthony Torres, director of global upscale F&B solutions at IHG, as EVEN continues to spread. Its roster of nine hotels currently includes recent openings in Sarasota, Florida; Eugene, Oregon; and Seattle—where EVEN’s first dual-branded hotel (with Staybridge Suites) launched next to Amazon headquarters. Since the concept’s inception, which was born from market research and advisory board member input, IHG has had plenty of time to measure feedback from operators and guests. We touched base with Torres about the progression of Cork & Kale.
Wellness in the Eye of the Beholder
“For breakfast, we realized our guests were looking more for wellness on their terms and more variety,” Torres says. “Wellness on your terms means sometimes our guests may want a superfood açaí bowl, but sometimes wellness may mean the turkey sausage breakfast sandwich, which is not as niche or super-healthy. We wanted to make sure we added variety and balance. We still have a really great brand framework for wellness but we wanted to add items that are familiar and thoughtfully prepared.”
A revamped menu at Cork & Kale, Torres says, is key to moving forward, allowing EVEN to be more flexible in different markets with labor. The markets who have seen more growth may have to add staff accordingly, but overall it’s efficient, he says, thanks, in part, to cross-utilization of ingredients.
“We had about 230 SKUs and took it down to about 170,” Torres notes. “Our owners were excited. If we had an ingredient in a menu item, we wanted to make sure it was also used in something else—not just one ingredient for one menu item. We looked at prep time and gathered feedback from our teams and GMs and looked at what was selling and what we could change. We made quite a few refinements and also upgraded quality of certain items.”
The bar component of Cork & Kale also received a reworking.
“We realized our bar program was very niche, with some products not everybody was familiar with, so we brought in some more familiar products, such as Tito’s vodka, putting them into some cocktails that were very much what we see everybody drinking, such as a Moscow Mule,” says Torres. “We also added Bulleit bourbon. We made our style of an Old Fashioned, which is a maple-apple Old Fashioned. And then we redid our wine program with some great wines such as Hogue and Meiomi.”
While some guests may want to sit down and dine, Torres notes that others are just trying to make it to a meeting, so EVEN expanded its Marketplace (24-hour pantry) offerings.
New training at properties has followed the tweaks, over six months from late 2017 into 2018, with new service. “We’ve seen great performance financially and in guest service since launching the program back in September,” Torres says.
Torres says EVEN has seen, on average, 15% to 20% growth year over year, but the overall goal in these first few years has been to open more properties.
With continued attention to guest feedback, says Torres, EVEN is looking at new potential additions and concepts such as breakfast bowls and layout changes. “In the new Cork & Kale, you’ll see an entirely new layout of the bar and kitchen space, to be a more efficient model.”
IHG is even discussion the possibility of a pre-ordering system for guests, based on feedback.
“There are a couple different models of Cork & Kale,” Torres says. “Now, we’re looking at our new model moving forward, as well as how to give guests breakfast on their terms with pre-ordering. We’re still in the development phase of that. The marketplace provides a quick grab-and-go, but we want to make sure they can get something more substantial.”