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Mark Kelnhofer of Return On Ingredients

Meet Mark Kelnhofer, founder of Return On Ingredients, a cloud-based software company for the restaurant industry.
What is your company and what does it do?
Return On Ingredients is a cloud-based software company that takes a manufacturing and cost accounting approach to restaurants and other foodservice operations.
How did you come up with the idea?
I came from a managerial accounting background with a variety of manufacturing industries. In 2002, I was hired by a Columbus-area restaurant group as their cost accounting manager and implemented manufacturing cost controls to their operations. I was able to reduce costs five consecutive years resulting in millions of dollars in savings. I knew at that point that the manufacturing approach to cost controls was proven to produce great results.
What was the biggest surprise in starting your business?
We spent the first several years programming the product. What was surprising at first was where we sold our software initially--not in Ohio. We were able to sell the software in 11 other states before we sold the first software license in Ohio. As CEO, I speak at many restaurant and food related tradeshows. Nearly every event that I have spoken at was not located in the state. As a result we were able to close business outside the state first.  
Where did you find your first employee?
When starting the company, we were in need of a quality programmer. Through networking I was introduced ultimately to our current software architect. It’s amazing sometimes what you may glean from your networking connections and various events. 
What does a typical day in your business look like?
Being a small business, personnel have many hats to wear. Everyone needs to manage their use of time in all the areas they are responsible. As the founder, not only am I involved in the management of the company, but also on business development, social marketing and accounting. All small businesses start off with personnel with multiple hats only to eventually grow and reduce the number of tasks and responsibilities. 
What are some of the advantages to doing business in Ohio?
Being located in the Columbus area, we found that the market is a hotbed for the restaurant industry. There are so many successful restaurant companies located here in Columbus, including Cameron Mitchell Restaurants, Bravo Brio Restaurant Group, Bob Evans Farms, White Castle, Piada Italian Street Food and many others. Being located near so many success stories is a huge asset to us.
What resources or organizations in Ohio did you take advantage of
and how did they help?
In 2011, we were selected to present for pre-seed funding through TechColumbus. We were assigned an Entrepreneur In Residence, and as part of the process we produced a full-blown business plan, created a technology roadmap, and financial projections for five years. Although we did not get funded, the process that Tech Columbus put us through was invaluable. They remain today a great asset to us and the community.
What inspires you?
There is a challenge every day to continuously grow the company. Knowing that what you do not only affects your customers, but also your employees and their families. There is quite a bit riding on what I do as president and CEO that affect many people. Due to that, I take the position very seriously, and I am solely focused on the growth and sustainability of the company.
Can you share some of your favorite off-time activities or hobbies?
I spend quite a bit of time with my son, Daniel, outside of work. He loves both baseball and soccer and does a great job wearing me out. Other than that, we both enjoy watching the Cleveland Indians, Cleveland Browns and the Columbus Clippers. 
What founders do you admire and why?
A book that I have read recently that I have enjoyed is Conscious Capitalism by the founder of Whole Foods John Mackey. It is interesting how his view of the business changed over time. He has really become a true supporter of the free enterprise system and entrepreneurship. Any time I can, I support the entrepreneur and the free capitalist society in which we live.
What’s next for you?
I speak at approximately 20 different tradeshows during the year. I have started another company to create my own seminar touring educational events called Restaurant Institute. Restaurant Institute will conduct its first event later in the year in New York City. Other cities will be planned for later in 2013 and into 2014. I am also very close to publishing a book later this year about the whole Return On Ingredients methodology and experience. It’s an exciting time for both Return On Ingredients and Restaurant Institute.
Interview by Joe Baur

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