Mendocino Farms, a Hollywood Desk Lunch Staple, Sees Sales Rebound After Pandemic Plunge

Mendocino Farms
Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa USA

From TV writers’ rooms to executive offices to on-site productions, there are certain Los Angeles eateries that seem to have a ubiquitous presence at group work lunches across Hollywood: Joan’s on Third, Tender Greens, Sweetgreen.

For group-order staple Mendocino Farms, over 50% of its Los Angeles business revolves around the entertainment industry. But once COVID-19 hit the U.S. in March 2020, prompting the major studios, entertainment law firms and accounting firms to go remote, the restaurant chain’s catering business cratered.

Pre-pandemic, catering accounted for a “decent portion” of Mendocino Farms and had been steadily increasing year over year, said Sarah Cavalier, Mendocino Farms’ director of sales and catering, who has been with the company for seven years.

“We got a lot of cancellations, one after another — we had just opened a brand-new location in Dallas the day before pretty much the world changed. And it was just kind of shocking how quickly everything changed,” she told Variety. “Over the course of the pandemic, our catering [business] went down about 80 to 85%.”

Opened by husband-and-wife team Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen in 2005 (its first location was on Bunker Hill in downtown L.A.), the restaurant chain now has 37 locations across the country, the majority of which are in California. In Los Angeles, where there are 17 locations, the entertainment industry is a “huge component” of its business, said Cavalier, declining to get into the dollar specifics of Mendo’s annual revenue.

“To see that come crashing down is hard, because a lot of our locations are really situated close to the studios,” said Cavalier. “We have a Studio City location, we’re by Fox Studios, we just opened in Culver City in December, right across from the Culver studios. So not only from a catering — but also just from a general restaurant — perspective, a lot of our business is from the entertainment industry.”

Instead, the sandwich and salad purveyor began working with hospitals, first responders and emergency services.

Business gradually started flowing again in April, when vaccinations began rolling out across the county and state. Cavalier has begun to observe Mendo’s shelves fill up again with larger pickup orders and purchases of its catering trays after many months of individual box lunches. But some protocols have changed post-pandemic: with catering orders, the company has begun individually wrapping the sandwiches and utensils in its Foodie Package, which includes half sandwiches, salads, sides and cookies. The eatery has also added its popular “Not So Fried” chicken sandwich to the catering menu.

“I really think we’re going to see another big spike in September, right after Labor Day, when I know a lot of the bigger offices are coming back,” said Cavalier. “And I think that production will continue to ramp up by then.”