Friday, July 19, 2024

Clover chief operating officer Julia Wrin Piper samples food in the chain’s kitchens in 2022. (Photo: Clover)

The fast food chain Clover Food Lab exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection Wednesday, less than six months after filing in November to allow for a restructuring of operations.

“Clover looks pretty much the same,” chief executive Julia Wrin Piper said. Clover closed only its Assembly Row and Copley Square locations and emerged with 13 locations intact, “which is almost unheard of in the bankruptcy process,” she said.

“We’re doing better today than we’ve ever been,” Wrin Piper said. Clover plans to operate in 60 locations in five years by maintaining financial stability, applying customer feedback and experimenting with food. 

Chief managing officer Kiernan Schmitt credited Clover’s quick exit from bankruptcy protection to the transparency of the executive team, which consists of Schmitt, Wrin Piper and senior vice president of food systems Chris Anderson. The executive team spoke one-on-one with landlords, suppliers and employees about the process.

“We wanted everybody to understand that” the filing was to put “us on firm financial footing for the future [and] not about shutting down,” Schmitt said.

The form of bankruptcy protection used – Chapter 11, Subchapter 5 – went into effect in 2020 to help small businesses restructure debts and assets without liquidation when there are changes in consumer and real estate markets. It is “built for speed,” Wrin Piper said. 

The executive team reads customer feedback online every day and seeks it out, engaging “with the market in a way that is very forward looking,” Wrin Piper said.

Clover Food Lab opened in 2008 under Harvard and MIT grad Ayr Muir as a food truck with the mission is to make “meat eaters dream of vegetables,” because eating vegetable-based meals is the most impactful action someone can take against climate change, Wrin Piper said; company research suggests 90 percent of customers are not vegetarian. Meat eaters dine at Clover “not because it’s morally right, but because it’s actually delicious and it’s food that they want,” Schmitt said.

Staff members serve as “Clover guides” to help customers navigate the menu and become familiar with their food – high-quality, vegetarian sandwiches and bowls with offerings from more than 2,000 recipes. The concept is for there to be “something new every single time that you come in,” Wrin Piper said. The Clover menu is designed to be approachable with recognizable food names and flavor profiles, including newer Nashville Hot and Jalapeño Popper sandwiches. A line of “truly cravable” desserts joins the menu over the spring, said Wrin Piper – who treats herself to a Clover chocolate chip cookie three days a week. 

Clover also sells subscription meal boxes intended to require five minutes of preparation. The boxes offer exclusive menu items, including tacos and Schmitt’s favorite, the Thursday burger.

This post was inserted into Cambridge Day archives on June 17, 2024.