Episode Summary

Justin Keenen, CTO of the hot new plant-based QSR, Hart House, is redefining the role of tech in restaurants with his burn-it-down, fail-forward fast mentality. Justin’s willingness to embrace change in tech and use it to create remarkable experiences establishes him as a titan in the industry. 

Hear how Justin is building Hart House’s restaurant tech stack from the ground up to align with the brand’s vision and high-growth goals. 


🍽 Name: Justin Keenen, CTO, Hart House 

🍽️ Fun Fact: Justin’s grandfather owned some of the earliest food trucks; he grew up around the business and the original scratch kitchen. 

🍽️ About Hart House: A new quick service restaurant founded by Kevin Hart and committed to making healthy, plant-based food more affordable and accessible for all.

Key Insights

🌱 What does “legacy technology” really mean? Legacy is a popular topic in the industry. Specifically how it affects the future innovation of restaurant tech. But what is legacy technology?  5-year-old tech? The systems that the person before you used? An old way of doing things? According to Justin, it’s a convenient excuse to shift blame. “It’s not legacy’s fault that your restaurant tech hasn’t been updated in 25 years. Don’t blame legacy for not making a change you should have.” 

🌱 Don’t be afraid to “burn it all down.” Previously, tech changes and implementations have had a long lead time. Justin advocates for adopting a start-up mentality. Being in the moment, implementing, and reacting quickly.  Most importantly, you can’t be afraid to fail. “If your tech isn’t working, burn it down and start again. Don’t be afraid to fail forward fast.

🌱 Building your tech stack from the ground up. Justin is focused on building remarkable experiences for employees and guests and employees through the best-of-breed technology stack. “I wanted to build a system that’s fun, interesting, attention-grabbing, funky, and as useful as possible.”

He started by selecting cloud-based POS, online ordering, and KDS, and is now working on modern, touch-less order-ready boards, machine vision, and employee rewards programs.

🌱 Best of breed vs. all-in-one. An all-in-one solution was appealing to many restaurant operators in the past but oftentimes an all-in-one solution means they do everything, but not well. “I choose best-of-breed because I like when a company stays focused on its principles and doesn’t spread itself too thin. You can’t be good at everything.”

🌱 Technology roles have moved to the center of the restaurant business. Unlike many CTOs in the restaurant industry, Justin was hired 10 months before Hart House opened its first location. “Tech has moved from an afterthought to the center of the restaurant business,” says Justin. Technology leaders used to report to the CFO but that is finally changing. Hart House’s foresight and Justin’s expertise have made aligning the tech and brand vision easier. 

Connect with Justin on LinkedIn

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