Hospitality Business Plan Winner Gets Ready to Launch His Concept

Some time in the next few years, you’ll have the opportunity to stop at a restaurant for a quickly served, high quality Mediterranean meal, thanks to Martin Andonov ’13, who has created Agora Hellenic Grill, a concept that he has developed over the past year with the support of the Pillsbury Institute of Hospitality Entrepreneurship. Andonov’s proposal was chosen as the best one in a strong field of competitors at this spring’s Hospitality Business Plan Competition (BPC), produced by the Pillsbury Institute for Hospitality Entrepreneurship (PIHE). The competition’s $15,000 prize will help him prepare the concept for presentation to potential investors, and he is now moving forward to launch the concept.

Andonov built his concept on the same idea that made Chipotle successful—make the food good and make it fast. But his insight was that although Mediterranean-style food is healthful, tasty, and gaining in popularity, it’s often not well presented. Andonov was able to use the resources of PIHE and the School of Hotel Administration to assist in developing the concept based on this insight.

“The Pillsbury Institute has been instrumental in helping me develop, research, and test my concept,” he said. “Professor Neil Tarallo has been an amazing mentor, sharing ideas and suggestions and challenging me to better understand my concept. Without his guidance, I wouldn't have gained the in-depth understanding of the opportunity and the market that I did in preparing for the presentation.” Tarallo is a senior lecturer and the PIHE’s academic director.

Andonov added: “The school helped me fund and execute menu tastings at the food labs, which involved over 100 students and yielded insights into student acceptance of my menu. Also, I have used the school's alumni network extensively in my market research.”

Andonov said that the Hospitality Business Plan Competition was a tremendous learning opportunity that helped him understand how to effectively explore, prove, and capitalize on a market-driven opportunity. Presenting his proposal to the BPC judges gave him experience in synthesizing ideas and presenting them in a succinct, well-organized, and investor-oriented format. “The competition is a worthwhile learning experience for any student entrepreneur,” he concluded.

Following his successful presentation at the Business Plan Competition, Andonov conducted a proof of concept in conjunction with Cornell University Dining, at its busy Trillium cafeteria, which is located across campus in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. “The food was very popular and received tremendously positive feedback from students, faculty, and administration,” Andonov said. Perhaps the greatest tribute to Andonov’s research is that CU Dining will adapt the concept to put in a permanent Mediterranean station at Trillium in the fall.

Andonov developed the Agora concept when he was living in London during a study-abroad year. At this time, he saw a gap in the quick-service lunch offerings. A native of Bulgaria now residing in the United States, Andonov comes from a family of entrepreneurs. “When I went to study at the London School of Economics, I noticed that most quick-lunch offerings were not especially fresh or highly customized,” he said. “That was quite a change from what I had become accustomed to in the U.S.” He chose Mediterranean cuisine because it’s becoming increasingly popular—particularly such foods as hummus and Greek yogurt—and it will work well with the increased popularity of fast-casual food. The key to the concept is his idea of redefining Mediterranean cuisine as high quality and easily customized.

Andonov plans to launch his concept in London, and has begun to research possible sites. Having shown that the concept works and that there is a market for it, Andonov will focus on finding an investor and bringing Agora to life. He feels that investors will respond positively because the concept was validated by the best hospitality school in the world, and the idea also has the credibility of the BPC as he approaches potential investors. Overall, he found the BPC to be a “humbling and gratifying experience,” and another step in the right direction towards making this concept a reality.

To read more about Martin Andonov and his work with Cornell Dining, visit here.