Terra Mediterrania: Taking On The Big Guys In NYC

Food & Drink

Entrepreneur Rani Sharir, who is Israeli, was savvy about the Mediterranean food served at fast-casual restaurant chains like Cava. He knew that it served whole grain food, salads, vegetables, fruits, often with a protein. And he recognized that it was a formidable competitor.

But that hasn’t stopped him from taking them on. When he opened Terra Mediterrania on 7th Avenue in Chelsea in September 2023, his goal was to open a “premium“ fast-casual eatery, whose food was superior to his entrenched rivals. Sharir is 45-years-old, and previously ran Titan, a high-end catering company in Israel, before moving to Los Angeles and eventually New York City.

Sharir identified one key financial backer, who supplied the bulk of capital to open his eatery, but added a couple of seed investors and some private equity funding, and formed the Better Food Group.

Its space amounts to 2,200 square feet, with an additional 1,000 square foot basement area, so it’s rather spacious, by New York City cramped standards.

An independent restaurant serving Mediterranean food, Terra Mediterrania, is looking to expand via its healthier diet and modern design.

Everything served at Terra Mediterrania revolves “around the Mediterranean diet, which is considered healthier than average due to our emphasis on fresh vegetables and quality ingredients,” he says. Guests can choose a variety of salads or, “splurge on our high-quality crispy chicken,” he notes.

Taking on Cava, a Public Company

Asked how he can compete with Cava, which went public in June 2023 and has surpassed 300 locations in late 2023, and whose stock price has nearly doubled from its $22 IPO to closer than $40, Sharir praises Cava for setting an example of serving accessible Mediterranean food. But he’s also critical saying that it “compromises quality” and says that Terra Mediterrania does a much better job of “plating our food, serving a modern service style, with a very diverse menu.”

Its Three Most Popular Menu Items

The three most popular menu items ordered are: shawarma bowl, crispy Caesar salad, and Mediterranean crispy chicken salad wrap. All, one assumes, offer healthier alternatives to the burger, pizza and tacos, that many Americans gravitate towards.

Yet Sharir acknowledges that it hasn’t worked with a nutritionist and doesn’t know exactly how many calories are served in each dish.

To get the word out, it hired an advertising agency but Sharir thought the messaging was too general. Now it’s launching a marketing campaign revolved around the slogan “Eat Better Food,” starting in 2024. This new approach will specialize in search engine optimization.

Appealing to a Diverse Target Audience

Asked to identify its target market, Sharir says they expected that 20-to-30-year-olds would provide the bulk of its audience, but finds that it’s appealing to a wider audience, all of whom are seeking “better food.”

Currently about 65% of its sales are from in-store purchases, but 50% of those sales are to-go, and 50% to stay. About 35% of its total sales are third-party deliveries, but Sharir expects that number to rise. In-house, it accommodates 34 patrons and, weather permitted, it adds 20 seats outside.

Yelp reaction was decidedly positive. Jimmy from Paris, France found it to be “one of the best Mediterranean spots in the city, if you like a well-balanced meal with proteins, vegetables and grains.” And Allison from Brooklyn praised the counter-guy Aira for answering her several questions and thought the food was delicious and filling, and liked the falafel, hummus and cauliflower.

Sharir’s goal is quite clear: expansion. He recognizes that it needs to “perfect this location, develop our brand and we still have a lot to learn,” but his goal is to open five locations in New York and then proceed from there.

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