How a B&I chef combats labor and budget challenges

Iraj Fernando, senior executive chef with Southern Foodservice Management, shares fresh menu ideas that can work in your operation.
The cafe at Bosch's North Charleston plant includes several new stations and menu items. / Photos courtesy of Iraj Fernando

As senior executive chef with Southern Foodservice Management, Iraj Fernando develops menus for workplace cafes in a variety of company settings. This winter, he launched a new cafe at the expanded Bosch plant in North Charleston, S.C.

With labor still a challenge these days, ease of execution is a major R&D consideration, Fernando says. The culinary labor pool is largely unskilled, so less complicated menu items are in demand. The new cafe also boasts automated menus and kiosk ordering, so customer choices can’t be modified as easily.

Rising food costs are also an issue, and Fernando has created more budget-friendly items.

With elevated egg prices, breakfast is especially tough, he says: “We’re offering slightly smaller sizes. I’ll use a 6-inch tortilla to make a breakfast burrito, for example, or do egg-sausage sandwiches on ciabatta, like the Starbucks model.”

Dividing dishes into individual portions helps conserve costs and reduce waste, too. “For catering, we’re doing charcuterie and cheese cups instead of laying out platters or boards,” Fernando says.

Cups have also been a good vehicle for international favorites, including Mexican and Indian street foods.

Despite these challenges, innovation is always on the front burner for Fernando. A native of Sri Lanka, he likes to introduce diners to the flavors of his homeland. He recently added packets that feature Sri Lankan curries, as well as Indian and Moroccan combos, over a small portion of rice. 

The chef is also playing around with “mashed burgers without borders,” incorporating ingredients such as poblanos, eggplant chutney, chorizo mashed potatoes and harissa green papaya slaw into burger builds.

Fernando roasts tomatoes to enhance the flavor and layers them with veggies and cheese for a plant-forward sandwich. 

“I’m big on panini-pressed sandwiches with global ingredients too, using deli meats and other proteins as a base,” says Fernando. Plant-forward versions use roasted and grilled vegetables paired with cheese.

Yet his biggest challenge is time.

“I want to take a deeper dive into Spanish food and reintroduce barbecue to the onsite cafes, perhaps in a small bites presentation,” he says. “I also want to explore all the potential of mushrooms. But there’s little or no time to test!”



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