Demetrio Marquez, a Reinhart Foodservice division corporate chef, is one of the busiest chefs around. Covering five states, including the New Orleans and Shreveport, La., divisions, Marquez (a.k.a. “Chef D”) counts development manager and customer engagement specialist among his talents, a skill set that makes him an invaluable resource for chefs and owners looking to gin up their operations.
“What I do is kind of a ‘Reinhart restaurant rescue,’” he says, chuckling. “What is beneficial to operators is new ideas, talking about trends and what we can bring to the table. Menus often get stagnant with restaurateurs not having the time to find any kind of solution on their own.”
After successfully assessing Cornet, a popular steak, seafood and Cajun restaurant on Bourbon Street, owner David Karno approached Marquez with an opportunity.
“He had a building right next door and just gave me the keys to come up with something,” Marquez says. Realizing he could break through the wall and share Cornet’s kitchen, Marquez quickly created a new concept.
Named Huge Ass Cantina—a riff off Karno’s other concept, Huge Ass Beers—Marquez did research and development, recipe building, kitchen training and execution all within a couple weeks. With items like the 28” Huge Ass burrito, 14” taco and Bourbon Street garbage can nachos, the menu aims to satiate revelers after a night of French Quarter shenanigans. Yet every item was carefully considered to maximize cross-utilization in the small shared kitchen, cut down on food cost and labor, and deliver to the bottom line. These are goals, of course, for any restaurateur.
“How do I walk into a conversation with a potential client letting them know I’m more than just a sales rep?” poses Marquez. “I’m giving the insights and tools, that benefit labor first and foremost, which is one of the biggest challenges operators always have.
“Instead of buying a whole pot roast and cooking it ourselves, let’s control the labor by using wonderful, pre-done pot roast by Cobble Street Market; instead of chopping onions, why not purchase the onions pre-diced? Already I’ve manipulated their labor costs, and we’re just getting started.”
Items that have flatlined in sales, especially if they are high in food cost, are some of the most common situations that Marquez addresses.
“Let’s accentuate what you have, or get a better item that will show more profit,” he says. “And that’s a key thing, that’s what I want to look at, while giving a refresh of ideas.”
In the case of Huge Ass Burrito, the growth potential evolved from using items and ingredients from Cornet’s menu, like creating a burrito from the restaurant’s jambalaya and substituting red beans for refried beans. Other proteins are sourced through Reinhart and prepared sous vide. “Just heat it up and there you have it: portion control, done.”
With 35 years of operational experience, including six-and-a-half years at Reinhart, Marquez is not slowing down anytime soon.
“There’s not enough of me to go around,” he says, jokingly. “I’m telling you; I’ve got my work cut out.”