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Restaurants / Openings

California Cult Favorite Jumps Into Houston’s Burgeoning Gourmet Sandwich Wars

It’s All About the Bread, the Salads and Off Menu Secrets at This Rice Village Newcomer

BY // 07.30.18

California-based Mendocino Farms is making moves beyond the Golden State with a brand new restaurant in Houston. The fast casual mini chain, known for its creative chef-inspired sandwiches featuring uber fresh locally-sourced ingredients, plans to open in Rice Village at 5510 Morningside Drive in May/June 2019.

Expect to see the Cali chain’s distinctive white and blue spotted cow statue, a huge menu board and employees toting iPads to help take orders.

“This is the first location outside of California. I’m so excited and so is our team because we’ve read about Houston and how it’s become the epicenter of food in Texas,” Mendocino Farms VP of marketing Fabiola del Rio tells PaperCity.

The California restaurant stuffs sandwiches with unique combinations of ingredients that appeal to meat-eaters and vegans alike.

With the recent opening of two locales of Dallas’ East Hampton Sandwich Co. (River Oaks District and Montrose), the gourmet sandwich game in Houston is heating up. What is Mendocino Farms counting on to set it apart from the pack?

“We aspire for people to come in, gather, and learn about new ingredients,” del Rio says. “We spend a lot of time training our team members and encouraging them to talk about it. They’ll tell you how we take it from basic to spectacular.

“We have different categories on the menu including classic and adventurous. It’s ‘approachably adventurous’ because we’ll teach you about the ingredients so that you feel safe trying something like the elevated banh mi.”

Along with the huge sandwiches, there’s also a list of salads on Mendocino Farms’ menu. For those of you counting, calories are listed next to each item.

The roster of sandwiches includes mainstays such as the “Not So Fried” Mary’s Chicken with roasted chicken breast, Rice Krispies-style rice and herb aioli; the Mendo’s Smokehouse Tempeh with barbecue-smoked organic tempeh, mustard pickle slaw, tomatoes, pickled red onions and vegan aioli; and the Mendo’s Original Pork Belly Banh Mi with braised and caramelized pork belly, pickled daikon and carrots, cilantro, cucumber, jalapenos and chili aioli.

Salads range from an avocado and quinoa salad to the Impossible Taco Salad with plant-based chorizo-spiced Impossible Burger meat.

Expect weekly specials and a rotating menu that changes four times per year. An off-menu secret that regulars know, and now so do you: You can request that any sandwich be made into a wrap or salad.

The Mendocino Farms’ Story

The sandwich chain is owned by husband-wife duo Mario Del Pero and Ellen Chen. Chen studied economics at University of California San Diego and then worked at Andersen Consulting and Accenture, while De Pero, an international relations major at the University of Southern California, started his career at Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, eventually becoming the director of operations.

Their business plan brought in investment money from Whole Foods, which has helped fuel the rapid growth.

“Our owners are really good at food and really good at people. That’s where we win because we’re authentic in how we treat our guests. You want to come back,” says del Rio.

Houston will be the 25th Mendocino Farms sandwich shop. Future locations in other Texas cities are also part of the master plan.

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