Fast-casual Honeygrow expands in DC, uses VR to train employees

WASHINGTON — Philadelphia-based fast-casual restaurant Honeygrow plans several more D.C.-area locations — and it’s using virtual reality to recruit employees and train them.

The restaurant, which specializes in stir-fry and salad has two locations in the D.C. area — in Chinatown and Pentagon City. Overall, Honeygrow has 17 locations, including in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Delaware. It plans to expand to other markets including Boston and Chicago. The company has plans for at least 25 locations by the end of the year.

In D.C., Honeygrow is actively negotiating for more leases, and has already signed deals to open in Tysons Corner, Reston Town Center West and Rockville Pike next year.

That’s a lot of new employees to recruit and train in the coming months, and the company has moved to a virtual reality model to do it, producing one standard orientation and training experience that keeps the training and messaging consistent across all stores.

“So you get to see what it looks like. You get to see how to make the food. And we ‘gamified’ it because food safety is that important and we want to make sure they know about it from day one,” founder Justin Rosenberg told WTOP.

“It really is a first impression of everything we are doing: How to cook noodles. How to do a stir-fry. How to make a perfect salad,” he said.

And because VR is fun, it keeps the new employees’ attention. Being immersed in the experience also eliminates distractions.

The VR presentations also include a greeting and introduction from Rosenberg.

Honeygrow already uses technology in its customer-facing model with custom-designed digital ordering kiosks.

Rosenberg said his goal has been to set the restaurants apart from the other Chipotle-style fast-casual assembly lines by focusing on ingredients and on locally sourcing as much as possible.

“I didn’t want to be just another fast-casual concept,” he said. “Especially in Washington, D.C., there is just competition and so much fast-casual. It’s like a Chipotle version of this or a Chipotle version of that.”

“I wanted to do something different and I don’t know anyone else doing stir-fry or salad using technology for the ordering process or sourcing how we’re sourcing,” he said.

Honeygrow sells about 70 percent stir-fry and 30 percent salad, and the business is split 50/50 between lunch and dinner crowds, according to the menu.

You can see the Honeygrow menu here.

Jeff Clabaugh

Jeff Clabaugh has spent 20 years covering the Washington region's economy and financial markets for WTOP as part of a partnership with the Washington Business Journal, and officially joined the WTOP newsroom staff in January 2016.

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