Although he may have cut his teeth in the world of finance, Rob Gerstenfeld is now a proud veteran of the quick-service restaurant (QSR) industry.
“I was in investment banking, doing a lot of transactions and valuations across many industries, when the opportunity came up to take that same skill set to the QSR space,” Gerstenfeld says of a key turning point in his career. “I didn’t know much about the space at the time, but as soon as I got into it, I fell in love.”
Some twenty years after making that leap, Gerstenfeld finds himself at Slim Chickens (Slims), a founder-owned, fast-casual restaurant chain known for its made-to-order Southern cuisine. Gerstenfeld leads real estate and construction across the organization’s network of over 200 restaurant locations—a number soon to rise as Slims continues its rapid growth trajectory.
With prior experience at QSR mainstays like Burger King and Dunkin’ Brands, Gerstenfeld brings a wealth of industry knowledge to his latest role. Still, he admits that there has been a bit of a learning curve since he joined Slims in September 2022. “It’s been getting an understanding of where they are, where they want to go, and how we can get there—and then putting that vision and plan in place,” he says. “As a growing company, we don’t want to create processes that bog us down; we want to create processes that speed us up.”
In addition to fine-tuning development, design, and construction processes internally, the team has focused on streamlining back-of-house restaurant operations. The need to accommodate a higher volume of orders through different sales channels has created the need to evolve to drive efficiencies that will deliver fresh, cooked to order meals for our guests.
“We rolled out our newest prototype at our conference in February which will allow us to drive more sales through the kitchen efficiently,” he says. “We’ve also included a couple of new pieces of equipment and optimized our walk-in and our storage to account for the increases in volume,” Gerstenfeld says. He notes that Slims is always looking to innovate when it comes to kitchen equipment and other technologies.
That said, Gerstenfeld must balance the goal of driving efficiency across all stages of food preparation and ordering against a commitment to preserving the brand identity. “We are always thinking ahead to anticipate changes in the industry and customers behaviors and make the necessary adjustments to the business while keeping the fabric of who we are, which is Southern hospitality and fresh food,” he says. “We don’t want to drive costs down at the expense of the customer experience or the look and feel of the building.”
Over the past few years, the customer experience has broadened to include online ordering, an evolution that Gerstenfeld now factors into each Slims design. His challenge in that regard is again one of balance.
“Cost is such a major factor for the franchisees, so it’s about figuring out the right size building for the volume we’re doing now and for the volume we’re going to do as we continue to grow, all while accounting for various sales channels and customer habits,” he says.
To navigate those complexities, Gerstenfeld collaborates with not only his own team, but also fellow leaders throughout the organization, franchisees, and industry experts. A believer in getting out in front of problems before they arise, he never hesitates to step in and support his team, even as he trusts in their ability to execute independently. “I’m hyper focused on elevating my team, giving them more responsibilities, and helping them grow their careers,” he says. “To me, that’s the most satisfying thing you can do as a leader.”
As Slims continues to expand, Gerstenfeld will have plenty of opportunities to build up his team, his department, and the organization at large. “I plan to deepen my knowledge of leading a development and construction organization and to keep working closely with leadership to accomplish our goals,” he emphasizes. “Development is only ever as strong as the company as a whole.”
CaptiveAire’s Josh Ferguson highly values his nearly 10-year partnership with Slim Chickens. Rob Gerstenfeld of Slim Chickens and his highly skilled team understand the challenges of restaurant ventilation and have leaned on CaptiveAire’s expertise to source CaptiveAire’s Fresh Air Restaurant System for their new locations. This system provides unmatched indoor air quality, comfort, and humidity control in the dining and kitchen areas, while providing a worry-free operation and a healthy indoor environment. Learn more: CaptiveAire.com/FARS