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Sandwiches + hospitality

But ordering takes three people and two machines

It’s good to know going in that this Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich is really just chicken salad.
It’s good to know going in that this Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich is really just chicken salad.
Place

Mendocino Farms

8795 Villa La Jolla Drive, San Diego

A new sandwich shop opened in La Jolla last month. Despite the Northern California reference in the name, Mendocino Farms is a small chain of fast-casual farm-to-table restaurants based in Los Angeles. They have been expanding south through Orange County the past couple of years, and the La Jolla spot marks its 15th location, with another due in Del Mar in 2017. It operates under the motto “eat happy” and clearly stresses attentive hospitality.

For this first-time customer, ordering feels like you’re being solicited by a petition-gatherer in front of a grocery store.

Unlike McDonald’s, which is vowing to switch to self-ordering kiosks to save the big money it pays its employees, Mendocino Farms is going in another direction. The process of ordering your meal there requires three employees, and it starts when you walk in.

First, a host or hostess greets you to take your salad or sandwich order. There’s a large menu beside the door, and a hostess stood in front of me, ordering tablet in hand, offering suggestions. Actually, she just read the menu aloud as I tried to choose from more than two dozen options. A second hostess did the same for another customer a couple of feet away.

While in theory this isn’t different than a server taking your order at a table, for a first-time customer it feels like you’re being solicited by a petition-gatherer in front of a grocery store.

I settled on one of the chain’s most popular dishes, the Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich, and the hostess entered it on her touchpad. But it wasn’t over. She directed me to a second server standing behind a nearby glass counter filled with side dishes. These didn’t appear on the sandwich and salad menu but may be added to your order for $3.50. This part of the ordering process proves a little more fun because you can taste through a litany of items such as dill mashed potatoes, curried couscous, and kale-and-beet salad.

A third employee, further along the counter, finally completes the order, adding drinks and cookies and etc. and taking payment. From here I could see several other workers hustling behind the counter, preparing the food. I saw a couple more bussing tables around the dining room and patio. Sitting down to eat around 2 p.m. on a weekday, a head count told me there were as many people working as there were customers.

The not-so-fried chicken gets its name by being a roasted chicken sandwich that adds crispy bits of buttermilk batter to emulate a fried chicken crunch. It’s served with pickled onions, mustard pickle slaw, and herb aioli on a toasted ciabatta. It was terrific but nothing like a fried-chicken sandwich. With a generous portion of aioli dousing the veggie toppings and chopped breast meat, “not so fried” is really a euphemism for chicken salad.

I’d even call it a great chicken-salad sandwich, and I appreciate the naturally farmed ingredients and that better-than-fast-food jobs are being created for this friendly staff. But I could have ordered it from a single cashier.

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It’s good to know going in that this Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich is really just chicken salad.
It’s good to know going in that this Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich is really just chicken salad.
Place

Mendocino Farms

8795 Villa La Jolla Drive, San Diego

A new sandwich shop opened in La Jolla last month. Despite the Northern California reference in the name, Mendocino Farms is a small chain of fast-casual farm-to-table restaurants based in Los Angeles. They have been expanding south through Orange County the past couple of years, and the La Jolla spot marks its 15th location, with another due in Del Mar in 2017. It operates under the motto “eat happy” and clearly stresses attentive hospitality.

For this first-time customer, ordering feels like you’re being solicited by a petition-gatherer in front of a grocery store.

Unlike McDonald’s, which is vowing to switch to self-ordering kiosks to save the big money it pays its employees, Mendocino Farms is going in another direction. The process of ordering your meal there requires three employees, and it starts when you walk in.

First, a host or hostess greets you to take your salad or sandwich order. There’s a large menu beside the door, and a hostess stood in front of me, ordering tablet in hand, offering suggestions. Actually, she just read the menu aloud as I tried to choose from more than two dozen options. A second hostess did the same for another customer a couple of feet away.

While in theory this isn’t different than a server taking your order at a table, for a first-time customer it feels like you’re being solicited by a petition-gatherer in front of a grocery store.

I settled on one of the chain’s most popular dishes, the Not So Fried Chicken Sandwich, and the hostess entered it on her touchpad. But it wasn’t over. She directed me to a second server standing behind a nearby glass counter filled with side dishes. These didn’t appear on the sandwich and salad menu but may be added to your order for $3.50. This part of the ordering process proves a little more fun because you can taste through a litany of items such as dill mashed potatoes, curried couscous, and kale-and-beet salad.

A third employee, further along the counter, finally completes the order, adding drinks and cookies and etc. and taking payment. From here I could see several other workers hustling behind the counter, preparing the food. I saw a couple more bussing tables around the dining room and patio. Sitting down to eat around 2 p.m. on a weekday, a head count told me there were as many people working as there were customers.

The not-so-fried chicken gets its name by being a roasted chicken sandwich that adds crispy bits of buttermilk batter to emulate a fried chicken crunch. It’s served with pickled onions, mustard pickle slaw, and herb aioli on a toasted ciabatta. It was terrific but nothing like a fried-chicken sandwich. With a generous portion of aioli dousing the veggie toppings and chopped breast meat, “not so fried” is really a euphemism for chicken salad.

I’d even call it a great chicken-salad sandwich, and I appreciate the naturally farmed ingredients and that better-than-fast-food jobs are being created for this friendly staff. But I could have ordered it from a single cashier.

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4S Ranch Allied Gardens Alpine Baja Balboa Park Bankers Hill Barrio Logan Bay Ho Bay Park Black Mountain Ranch Blossom Valley Bonita Bonsall Borrego Springs Boulevard Campo Cardiff-by-the-Sea Carlsbad Carmel Mountain Carmel Valley Chollas View Chula Vista City College City Heights Clairemont College Area Coronado CSU San Marcos Cuyamaca College Del Cerro Del Mar Descanso Downtown San Diego Eastlake East Village El Cajon Emerald Hills Encanto Encinitas Escondido Fallbrook Fletcher Hills Golden Hill Grant Hill Grantville Grossmont College Guatay Harbor Island Hillcrest Imperial Beach Imperial Valley Jacumba Jamacha-Lomita Jamul Julian Kearny Mesa Kensington La Jolla Lakeside La Mesa Lemon Grove Leucadia Liberty Station Lincoln Acres Lincoln Park Linda Vista Little Italy Logan Heights Mesa College Midway District MiraCosta College Miramar Miramar College Mira Mesa Mission Beach Mission Hills Mission Valley Mountain View Mount Hope Mount Laguna National City Nestor Normal Heights North Park Oak Park Ocean Beach Oceanside Old Town Otay Mesa Pacific Beach Pala Palomar College Palomar Mountain Paradise Hills Pauma Valley Pine Valley Point Loma Point Loma Nazarene Potrero Poway Rainbow Ramona Rancho Bernardo Rancho Penasquitos Rancho San Diego Rancho Santa Fe Rolando San Carlos San Marcos San Onofre Santa Ysabel Santee San Ysidro Scripps Ranch SDSU Serra Mesa Shelltown Shelter Island Sherman Heights Skyline Solana Beach Sorrento Valley Southcrest South Park Southwestern College Spring Valley Stockton Talmadge Temecula Tierrasanta Tijuana UCSD University City University Heights USD Valencia Park Valley Center Vista Warner Springs
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