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A growing franchise, specializing in fresh, flavorful, and healthy food, Roti Mediterranean Grill operates under a management as unique as their food. Openly gay Chief Executive Officer, Edward Berg, started at Roti as the senior director of operations, but after a few short months took the helm as CEO.
Berg hailed from Chipotle Mexican Grill, where he was the operations director for 13 years. Having no plans to return to the restaurant industry, Berg, and his partner, Joel, of 24 years, were taking a travel hiatus, when Roti reached out to the restaurant expert. Unsure if he was ready to start back into the industry, Berg was sold after enjoying a festive and lighthearted dinner with the board of directors, Larry Lessans, Mats Lederhausen, Eric Becker, and Larry Macks.
Boasting with bold and fresh flavors, the Mediterranean essence can be traced back to the roots of co-founder Larry Lessans’ homeland of Israel, who wanted to bring back the taste of his mother’s cooking.
“The food that I grew up with, what made it so special, was its simplicity and its freshness. I remember my mother going to the market every day, picking up fresh fruits, fresh vegetables, fresh proteins, and she would prepare that night the food that she had purchased that day,” Lessans’ said in a video on the Roti website.
He continued, “It was healthy, it was spicy, it was flavorful, that was the way food was prepared and eaten.”
Lessans is also the CEO of Chesapeake Spice Company, where he travels around the world, collecting new spices and flavors that influence the taste of Roti.
Coined with the mantra, “Food That Loves You Back,” Roti serves high quality food from humane and free range farms only. The food is freshly prepared daily, with no “run over” the next day. Any leftovers are to be donated to a local food shelter, which was an initiative set-up under the guidance of Berg, and will be starting soon.
“If you can’t have a sustainable culture you are not going to be successful, at least in my opinion,” Berg said in an interview with 429Magazine.
Roti’s food is simple in ingredient but complex in flavor. Berg explained that Roti uses exclusive ingredients which are found across the country. As any well-versed foodie should know, quality olive oil is imperative in creating any Mediterranean dish wishing to thrive. There really is no alternative for olive oil when it comes to perfecting a smooth yet palette tantalizing hummus.
Roti’s olive oil comes from California: “we can trace it back to the grove of trees that it came from.” It is “cold pressed after [only]four hours” of being picked, Berg explained.
And the salt. Well, it is most certainly not your average table salt, to say the least. The salt comes from Redmond Utah, “not white, not processed, salt from the ground,” said Berg. Roti’s salt is pink, and lives underground, never seeing the light of day. This is what sets Roti apart from their competitors.
“Honest food” is the concept at Roti, which recently introduced salmon as their new element to their filling yet healthy cuisine. Understanding where food comes from is of high importance at Roti and they are even able to “trace [a filet]back to the mother of the fish,” Berg said.
“We serve food, not product,” which is indicative of the work atmosphere at Roti. “Our people, more than anything else, [is what]makes our business work. Because without great people [the company could never thrive],” Berg explained. Roti understands the importance of making sure employees are happy: “great people will give you great results and that’s a fact,” said Berg.
To that end, Roti treats their employees equally, providing domestic partnership benefits to everyone, regardless of who they love. “I wouldn’t work for a company that didn’t provide those things,” Berg said. He continued, “we have room for everybody and who you love makes no difference and who you are makes no difference as long as you want to help the person you are working next to.”
Roti participated in Chicago’s Pride parade this year where they rode down the street in a double decker bus, throwing falafels to people (well, not really… but maybe). They did, however, make LGBT-equality t-shirts, which their employees sported during Pride week. A picture of their t-shirts was displayed on Roti’s Facebook page with the tag line: “Some chickpeas love falafel. Some chickpeas love other chickpeas. And some falafel love other falafel. The important word? #LOVE.”
Berg spearheaded Roti’s participation in the parade. “We got to get into the Chicago Pride parade… I want a big bus, one of those big double decker buses,” he told an associate. Berg’s wish was granted and it was a definite success. “It was a ball, it was so heartwarming,” he said.
Berg, who has taken the culture in a new direction, expressed Roti’s mission: “to develop a culture that provides opportunity for its people while sourcing and serving sustainably raised and grown food in an environment where we can provide great customer service and an experience that they want to come back for.”