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Business Observer Thursday, Jun. 17, 2021 1 month ago

Restaurant-focused tech company targets a smorgasbord of opportunities

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Omnivore capitalizes on several trends with one main target: a bigger piece of market share.  
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

In two decades of leading sales teams that produce lightning-fast results, Shane Whitlatch says he’s found one thing to be a certainty. “It’s addictive and intoxicating,” he says, “to be part of rapidly growing company.”

That’s one of the reasons Whitlatch recently joined a fast-growing business in Clearwater-based Omnivore, a back-end and point of sale technology firm for the restaurant industry. In achieving, and then handling, super-fast growth, Whitlatch says one of the biggest lessons he’s learned is to keep the company’s North Star front-and-center.   

That’s simply stated, but not always effortlessly executed. “You can easily get distracted,” says Whitlatch, chief revenue officer at Omnivore, “so you have to have crazy focus and you have to have crazy discipline on your plan.”

Whitlatch, 52, and Omnivore CEO Dan Singer, 37, will lean on that philosophy and other wisdom as the firm readies itself to move from busy amid the pandemic to what could be even busier post-pandemic. Named CEO in March after 15 months as COO, helping guide the firm through the pandemic, Singer says the rest of 2021 is primed to be a buffet of potential business.

“We are thinking about this as a growth opportunity versus a recovery opportunity,” Singer says. Annual revenue at Omnivore increased 30% in 2020 over 2019, and Singer projects revenue will grow around 70% in 2021. Executives decline to disclose specific revenue figures, only to say the company does in the range of $5 million to $10 million a year.

Omnivore’s niche is in connecting restaurants’ point of sale systems with technologies that improve efficiency and increase profitability. More than 24,000 restaurant locations currently use the technology to solve operational challenges ranging from third-party delivery to pay-at-the-table methods.

Singer hopes to be in 30,000 restaurant locations by the end of 2021, and 100,000 within three years. “The company is making great progress” toward the goal of 30,000 locations, Singer said in late May, adding that it recently added a trio of clients: Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Brazilian steakhouse Texas de Brazil and Miami chain Casavana Cuban Cuisine.

Founded in 2013 in Hayward, California, outside San Francisco, Omnivore relocated its headquarters to Clearwater in December 2019. It’s backed by some considerable entrepreneurial heft — in both local and national investors.

The chairman is former Outback Steakhouse co-founder Chris Sullivan, who has a stake in several hospitality businesses, including Metro Diner. Sullivan joined Tampa commercial real estate entrepreneur Lee Arnold, area tech investor Arnie Bellini and insurance executive Lowry Baldwin in investing $3.6 million in Omnivore in May 2020. And that investment followed a late 2018 Series A funding round, where the company received $13 million from some A-list entities, including The Coca-Cola Co. and Performance Food Group. Tampa Bay Lightning owner Jeff Vinik also participated in that funding round.

Another boost for Omnivore? Timing. That partially stems from the proliferation in delivery for restaurants of all sizes, which has not slowed down as the pandemic eases. The online restaurant food delivery segment is expected to reach $28.4 billion in revenue in 2021, according to an analysis from Statista. That’s expected to rise 5.8% in 2022, the data firm adds. People are eating out again in greater numbers as well. Spending at U.S. restaurants, for example, is not only up 118.8% through May over the same time frame as 2020, but it’s up 5.7% over 2019, according to a report from Mastercard.     

Problem solvers

Sullivan had his sights set on something like Omnivore more than a decade ago, when he founded casual dining Mediterranean chain Carmel Café and Wine Bar, with locations in Tampa and Manatee County. The hook was customers could order with a tableside tablet-ordering system — an especially futuristic offering in restaurants back in 2010. Carmel Café failed to gain traction, and Sullivan says not having the technology totally right was a key factor in the downfall. (Sullivan also cites management issues at Carmel Café as a major issue.)

Sullivan invested in Omnivore in 2013, aligned with its goal: to build software and other technologies that could connect restaurants’ point of sale systems. In 2015 Outback parent Bloomin’ Brands became the first major national chain to use the Omnivore system, its application programming interface (API.)

Omnivore co-founders Mike Wior and Mike Taczak, with experience in app development, software and cloud-based programs, started Omnivore to solve what was then a big problem for restaurants: The technology in point of sale systems was singular, and didn’t communicate well with other vendors and suppliers. Developers had to build a database and program multiple times, one for each system in most cases — what the founders called a “disconnection of disparate” systems.

“App developers want the ability to communicate directly with diverse POS systems,” Wior said in a statement when the company was founded. “Restaurants want a seamless end-to-end solution. Suppliers want real-time consumer engagement opportunities. Omnivore was designed to bridge those gaps.”

Wior exited the company last summer. Taczak remains with Omnivore, where he’s director of infrastructure operations.

The second innovation Omnivore launched, which debuted in 2019, is its Menu Management System. The genesis behind its MMS, like its first product, is to make things smoother for restaurants — in this case when managing numerous digital menus, online ordering systems, kiosks and third-party delivery apps. Omnivore developed its MMS in conjunction with The Coca-Cola Co., according to a statement.

The Omnivore MMS, according to the firm’s website, has since injected more than $200 million in digital orders into restaurants’ point of sale systems. Restaurants that use the system, the company adds, have seen a 20 to 30% lift in average check size for online and delivery orders.

Mark Wemple. Omnivore CEO Dan Singer and Chief Revenue Officer Shane Whitlatch are leading the Clearwater-based company through a major growth spurt.

Both of Omnivore’s offerings, executives say, go back to the company’s North Star: make it easier for restaurant clients to embrace and utilize technology. “We allow operators to go back to what they do best,” Singer says, “which is operating the restaurant.”

Spread the word

Both Singer and Whitlatch joined Omnivore after executive roles at FairWarning, a Clearwater data privacy and protection firm. Singer worked with the executive leadership team at FairWarning to help prepare the company for a $60 million growth equity investment from Mainsail Partners in June 2018. He stayed with the firm, now part of global data security conglomerate Imprivata, for 18 months. 

Whitlatch oversaw sales and partnership efforts at FairWarning, then was general manager of its health care business. It grew from 20 customers to more than 350 enterprise customers globally, including 35% of U.S. health systems, under Whitlatch’s leadership.

Both executives say the biggest challenge Omnivore faces is to fend off competition while continuing to spread the word about what its products can do for restaurants. That’s particularly true with the increase in delivery, Singer says, where there are dozens of point of sale cloud and software firms but few with Omnivore’s financial backing that focus solely on restaurants. “We need to get our story out there,” Singer says. “We need to make sure people know us as the Omnivore of 2021, not 2018.”

‘You can easily get distracted, so you have to have crazy focus and you have to have crazy discipline on your plan.’ Shane Whitlatch, Omnivore

Whitlatch says the plan to spread the Omnivore word includes going to industry tradeshows and hiring five or six additional people for marketing and sales roles. Another avenue is to utilize brand ambassadors on social media, using real stories of how restaurants saved time and money through Omnivore. 

Whitlatch heard those success stories when he called some Omnivore customers prior to taking on the position at the firm.  “After talking to some clients,” he says, “it was obvious our products provide a hard dollar return on a company’s investment.”

That’s why Whitlatch and Singer consider getting in front of every potential Omnivore client as their North Star challenge — and opportunity. “Are we doing everything we can,” Whitlatch asks, “to be in every conversation,” about the drivers for new clients? “That’s what really scares me.”

 

 

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