To Our Loyal Subscribers:

On behalf of me and my American Recruiter Associates, we want to wish you and your staff a Happy, Safe and Prosperous 2019. Many of the current economic indicators are currently not tracking the way we may all wish; however, as with most economic reports, there is always “another side.” It will be an interesting ride for sure. One thing that is not open to debate is the number of employees seeking new opportunities. According to a study conducted by RecruitLoop and reported on by Co-Founder Paul Slezak 42Million employees left jobs in 2018 and it cost $600 Billion to get back to speed. So why are employees leaving? According to the research here are the top two reasons: (and I bet it is not what you think!!)

* Number one on the list is Career Development. 70% of respondents to the survey said they left because the organization Did Not offer a clearly defined Career Development plan for them. Does your firm have a clearly defined plan for each employee you want to keep?

* The Second major reason employees leave is Work Life Balance. Those of us (like me) who have been around awhile never even considered this many years ago. Today, however, the new employee takes this very seriously and if you as an employer don’t you will be one of the firms spending part of the $600 Billion to replace key workers.

To get details on the full study, contact me or any of my American Recruiter Associates. We will be happy to work with you to detail a plan to help your organization retain the best and find you key replacements if necessary. Again, have a great 2019 and enjoy the first edition of our Global Foodservice News.

Craig Wilson


Food Packaging Design Tips, and why it Matters

We all have days when we want a delicious dinner delivered right to our door. Luckily, many restaurants and meal delivery kit services are ready and waiting to fulfill that dream. But, poor packaging design decisions can ruin the experience. Let’s take a closer look at why food packaging is important and how you can improve your own packaging to stand out in a crowded marketplace.

Why food packaging is important. Whether your hot soup arrives cold, your cold sushi arrives warm, or the packaging is just an unattractive mess, the wrong packaging makes a meal less appetizing. Food packaging serves a number of important purposes. It protects food from outside contamination. It ensures that the meal arrives at the right temperature. And, it serves as a tactile brand ambassador your customers can see and touch. Packaging for food items has the ability to create fantastic associations between your audience and your business. Your food packaging contains delicious food! So, that’s half the battle right there. Packaging is important in selling any product, and especially food products. As we pointed out previously: … attractive packaging design motivates people to make impulsive choices, bypasses reflective thought and leaves the purchaser with a feeling of having been rewarded. That’s a powerful impact. Don’t miss out on this opportunity to deliver a quality customer experience and help to strengthen your brand’s positive bond with its audience. Here’s how: What’s in the packaging? A lot. Choose the right packaging material. Using the right material is the first step to product packaging design success. Food package containers come in a variety of materials—cardboards, corrugated boxes, boxboard, paperboard cartons, plastics, paper bags, and styrofoam are most common. And, each of these materials has strengths and weaknesses. For example: Styrofoam is great at insulating hot and cold foods so that they maintain their temperature. But, it’s non-biodegradable and bad for our environment. Plastic is sturdy and prevents leakage when designed properly. However, many plastics are non-biodegradable. And, some plastics can leach toxic materials into your food. Cardboard is biodegradable and easy to print on. But, wet foods can turn it to mush. And, it’s not very good at insulating to maintain temperature. There is also a growing variety of biodegradable and sustainable food packaging containers to choose from—more about those later.

For an in-depth look at all of the factors you should consider when choosing packaging for food items, take a look at this article from the Dairy Technologist. So, what are your business’s food delivery needs? Think about the distance your food needs to travel, how long it will remain in its packaging, temperature requirements, as well as what type of foods you will need to transport. Then work with your packaging designer to create custom packaging that will best suit those needs. Keep the packaging compostable. Most food packaging is disposable. And, consumers are growing increasingly aware of the growing impact that disposable packaging has on our shared global environment. Restaurateurs and meal delivery kit services need to be mindful of this as well—lest your environmentally unfriendly ways alienate customers. And, prioritizing recyclable, reusable and biodegradable packaging materials is a great step toward running an ethical, environmentally-conscious business. Some food delivery businesses have gotten this message loud and clear.  Meryl Pritchard of Kore Kitchen, a meal delivery service in Los Angeles, explains: There is an unbelievable amount of waste that goes into delivery service, and once I was aware of the effect that this waste had on our planet, I knew I couldn’t let my business contribute to it. Kore Kitchen uses compostable containers made from corn and sugarcane, along with recyclable glass bottles and reusable ice packs and bags. Your business would do well to follow Kore Kitchen’s example.

So, look for ways that you can use re-usable packaging as well as biodegradable food packaging containers. Products like “Nanowood”—a new, biodegradable Styrofoam substitute, disposable bamboo, and tree-free recyclable containers are all worth considering. Brand your packaging to raise awareness. Once you’ve determined what types of packaging materials are the best fit for your needs, and hopefully prioritized environmentally-friendly disposable and re-useable containers, you can start to think in earnest about packaging branding. Your packaging will interact with hundreds of people. It’s a huge missed opportunity if that packaging is not branded and properly designed. London-based food photographer Stephen Conroy explains: The packaging is the physical representation of a brand’s personality and one of their key identity tools. It helps to draw the consumer’s attention to a specific product in a crowded retail space, and differentiate a product from its competitors. Your custom package graphics design presents the opportunity to create a bond between your brand and every customer who purchases from you. People like to get presents. People like ease-of-use. Food delivery provides both. And, in addition to contributing to the happy feeling that accompanies the arrival of a food delivery, over time and repeated interactions, seeing a branded food package can elicit a Pavlovian hunger response. That response can impact the customer who bought the food… as well as anyone else who sees the food in transit. Ever seen a McDonald’s bag and been unable to shake your subsequent craving for McDonald’s? Yeah. Me, too. So, put your branding on your food packaging and make it visible and crisp. Make sure your business name is readable and your company logo is prominent. Use your package design to communicate. Packaging can do more than tell people where the food came from. Packaging can also be used to communicate a message to your audience. You just need to decide what that message is. Remember that your packaging should be an extension of your brand. So, the message you share should be on track with your brand identity and promise. Then let that message guide you toward creating a unique food packaging design. And, don’t be afraid to seek out professional packaging design help for this important task.Unique food packaging provides a novel experience and sets your brand apart from the competition—two valuable missions.

So, let’s take a look at what this might look like in practice. Buffalo Wild Wings is a sports bar and restaurant specializing in—you guessed it—wings. And they have mastered sharing their branding message on their food packaging. Buffalo Wild Wings’ packaging tells a story. All BWW packaging is emblazoned with their bold, yellow, black, and white color scheme. The container your wings arrive in features their logo as well as confident messages relating to their product like “It’s All About the Wing.” No opportunity is missed. Even their napkins and wet naps are designed to communicate brand identity. So, take a page from B-dub’s playbook and use every opportunity to spread your restaurant’s brand identity and message. Meal delivery kit services should use their packaging to communicate, too. But, instead of branded napkins and food containers, create an amazing unboxing experience. Part of the fun of a meal kit is the anticipation of the meals the customer is about to enjoy. Heighten that experience with a well-organized delivery package and beautifully-designed printed recipes and marketing materials. Brand the box your kit arrives in and everything inside it. For more on effective packaging design, read 6 Proven Tips for Successful Food Packaging. The Last Course. The food you serve should always be the star. But your food packaging should never be an afterthought. Make packaging choices that will serve their function well. Select packaging containers that will ensure that your food arrives looking and tasting as amazing as it should. And, make design choices that will enhance your customer’s meal and be a visual ambassador for your brand. – Source:

Fogo de Chão Promotes Barry McGowan to CEO

Barry McGowan, the president of Dallas-based churrascaria chain Fogo de Chão, will take on the added role of CEO at the end of the year, when Larry Johnson retires from that position after holding it for 11 years, the company said. Johnson, who led the chain’s 2015 initial public offering and also took it private again earlier this year with its sale to funds affiliated with Rhône Capital, will be chairman of the board of directors for the 51-unit chain, effective Dec. 31, 2018, the company said. “Larry Johnson is an exceptional leader who has guided Fogo through extraordinary growth from a local Brazilian steakhouse to a world-renowned restaurant brand,” Rhône Capital managing director and chief investment officer Eytan Tigay, said in a statement. “In that time, he also developed the foundation for long-term success, building an enduring brand and an outstanding leadership team that is poised to continue delivering superior performance. On behalf of the board of directors and everyone at Fogo, we want to thank Larry for his leadership and look forward to his continued contributions as chairman.”

Johnson praised McGowan for his experience and knowledge of Fogo de Chão. “The time is right to pass the reins to Barry to continue to execute our shared strategic vision for this tremendous brand,” Johnson said in a statement. “Barry’s vast operating experience and deep understanding of Fogo and its people make him the ideal choice to lead Fogo into its next phase of growth.” McGowan said in a statement that he was “pleased and honored” to take on the role of CEO. “It has been my distinct pleasure these past five years to work alongside a high-performing team of people who care about delivering an authentic, Brazilian churrasco experience that makes Fogo what it is,” he said. “I thank Larry for his leadership and our collaboration, and I am confident that we are going to build upon our existing accomplishments to further elevate this iconic brand.” Fogo de Chão specializes in all-you-can-eat churrasco-style dining derived from the customs of southern Brazil, where cowboys, known as gauchos, traditionally share their choicest cuts with other camps. In recent years the chain has introduced alternative dining options, including Bar Fogo, rolled out in 2017, that allowed visitors to the chain’s bars to have lighter, less expensive meals. Earlier this year, the chain introduced premium items, including a dry-aged rib eye and seafood tower, that can be added to the churrasco meal for an additional fee. – Source: NRN.

Evolving Famous Dave’s Plots a Virtual Future

The behavior of a third-party delivery user typically plays out as follows: Sort by proximity, or sort by cuisine. Where does that leave a restaurant that doesn’t box its food into a single category? This was a question Famous Dave’s chief operating officer Geovannie Concepcion found himself asking. “One of the classic marketing riddles we’ve struggled with as a brand is yes, we are a barbecue joint, we have great barbecue, but the other stuff here is really good, too,” Concepcion says. “And how do we emphasize that?”

That’s a general marketing challenge faced by brands nationwide, in all segments and directions. But it becomes an entirely separate dilemma when you consider how future models might offset some of the sector’s top challenges. There are no shortages of concerns in terms of cost structure, Concepcion says. Real estate is expensive and getting more pricey. Prime locations are tougher to land than ever. Cost is rising in labor and goods. Meanwhile, traffic keeps falling as the marketplace saturates and additional channels, like grab-and-go, steal customer share. The challenge and opportunity then becomes: how can restaurants find creative ways to get more out of the physical assets they already have? “Because the reality is restaurant business is capital intensive,” Concepcion says. “You need a kitchen. You need space. You need a lot of things to make it hum.” Here’s where the third-party anecdote resurfaces. Famous Dave’s has enjoyed a strong response to the delivery side of its business, Concepcion says. And what are future models that can help the brand court that incremental business? Concepcion says there are two major paths they’ve debated: The first is offering virtual concepts within the four walls of Famous Dave’s restaurants. The second is presenting Famous Dave’s as a virtual concept of another brand.

Here’s what that could look like: Famous Dave’s is contemplating the notion of multiple virtual concepts that exist within its own restaurants. So there could be a burger-themed or salad-themed concept. This way, when a third-party delivery user swipes over burgers or salads, they’ll see a restaurant with high ratings that serves the product they’re looking for. It just happens to also be housed in Famous Dave’s, whether they realize it or not. It will be delivered out of the same kitchen and handled by the same staff. And because that virtual concept was of little to no cost to Famous Dave’s, it’s a much swifter path than opening, say, a spin-off burger chain. “I think, because the virtual space has this low startup cost, maybe we can just focus on our burgers virtually, and see how that does,” Concepcion says. “And so I think that opens up a way for us to connect with the consumers and then solve that business issue of getting more out of our existing assets without all the really expensive equipment and other stuff that goes into launching a new concept.” “I call it latent capacity,” he adds. “For us, we have latent capacity in the kitchen, especially during lunch time. The ways we can figure out how to be creative and figure out what to do there the better off we are.” The other possible model Concepcion mentioned is the idea that Famous Dave’s could team up with a different concept and feature a Famous Dave’s branded menu out of a shared space, or operate from a non-branded kitchen, like a delivery-only spot. Famous Dave’s decided against opening a planned location with Kitchen United recently, but the company is still looking at that segment, Concepcion says. The brand is measuring a couple of iterations.

No matter how Famous Dave’s ends up growing, you can expect it to be an exploratory process. Concepcion and CEO Jeff Crivello, who assumed the role last February, weren’t restaurateurs by trade when they joined Famous Dave’s. “We came at it with a blank slate of, what are the key issues we need to solve here? And how do we make the organization itself more entrepreneurial and able to deal with exploring all these different types of paths?” Concepcion says. Essentially, Famous Dave’s evolved into a restaurant chain comfortable operating like a technology company. This past quarter, the chain’s franchise-operated same-store sales declined 1.8 percent (135 of 151 restaurants are franchise run). Total revenue for the third quarter was $14.1 million. It was down 12.4 percent versus the prior-year period due to the closure of nine company-run stores. Famous Dave’s has made significant strides when it comes to profitability following a rough stretch where it posted one positive same-store sales quarter in six years.

It earned $1.4 million in the period that ended July 1. For perspective, Famous Dave’s lost roughly the same amount of money in the year-ago segment. Famous Dave’s launched its first “founder inspired” refresh project at a Coon Rapids, Minnesota, location. The store reunited Famous Dave’s with its founder, Dave Anderson, who split with the company in 2015 under previous management, to design a unit with a new look and menu that paid homage to its past. The store reported double-digit sales growth in early reports. Even after tailing off somewhat, sales are up 10 percent with a traffic lift of 12–13 percent. The new design also featured 23 new menu items developed by Anderson. In late October, the chain rolled out a menu refresh at all 151 restaurants system wide. Franchisees implemented four core items that were picked from the update—cheese curds, build-your-own burgers, 3-meat combo, and hand-breaded chicken tenders. Five changes were also asked of operators with the idea that, no matter where guests went in the country, they’d see about 10 new items on the menu. The program is spearheaded by Famous Dave’s new head of culinary, Sylvia Matzke-Hill, who came to the brand from Buffalo Wild Wings earlier in the fall. Matzke-Hill says the goal was to simply make Famous Dave’s menu more relevant to today’s customers. That meant capturing trends, like the chain’s new Brussels sprouts, fried and tossed in a bacon and onion glass. Or Texas Beef Brisket Bowl and George Pork Bowl, which pile ingredients into a one-stop meal. Famous Dave’s also wanted to infuse some bold and international flair, like the jalapeño Sweet & Sour sauce that accompanies its new chicken tenders. “Analyzing the current menu and taking a look at some of the items that we had and how could we elevate that and make it more relevant to today’s consumers,” she says. “That was really the backbone behind it. And then kind of put the little founder’s twist on it.” Anderson was the guiding light. He brought in recipes and approved new items. “He’s got an amazing palate,” Matzke-Hill says. “He knows flavors and knows combining different flavors and different seasonings together to create some really, really tasty products.” One of the challenges Famous Dave’s has always faced is trying to balance barbecue with scale. A burger joint might have three minutes to mess up an order. At Famous Dave’s, the window can be 24 hours, maybe more, depending on the dish. Matzke-Hill says it’s always in the back of her mind—how to balance from-scratch items with operational success. Famous Dave’s tries to repurpose ingredients in new products to keep kitchen complexity down. But at the end of the day, it comes down to culture and training. “The kind of fun thing is the teams know that’s who we are,” she says. “And I would say that our teams have really put a lot of energy and focus, our managers have been just fantastic at just trying to work to make sure that everybody understands the processes and procedures and checks and balances to make sure that we can deliver that quality product.” “Obviously you want the menu made the same every single day. But giving employees a little bit more autonomy to help with the process and help to it what it is—they’re not just short-order cooks who are just dropping things in the fire,” Matzke-Hill adds. “They have some ownership and I think that’s helped as well.” – Source: Fsrmagazine.

Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group is Considering a Sale

Amid activist pressure, Del Frisco’s Restaurant Group said it has “commenced a comprehensive review of strategic alternatives.” This review will consider a full range of options, the company said, including a possible sale of DFRG or any of its dining concepts. There’s no guarantee a deal will take place, however. “The board believes that conducting a strategic review process is in the best interests of shareholders,” Ian R. Carter, Del Frisco’s chairman of the board said in a statement. “The board continues to support the company’s existing strategic priorities and believes that Del Frisco’s exceptional collection of dining concepts will serve as the foundation for continued growth. We believe that pursuing these complementary paths is in the best interests of our shareholders and is designed to maximize value.” DFRG said it is “proceeding expeditiously” on the process, which includes Piper Jaffray & Co. as financial advisers and Kirkland & Ellis LLP as legal advisers. The company has also formed a transaction committee to assist in its evaluation of strategic alternatives.

The company operates 73 restaurants across 16 states, including Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steakhouse, Barcelona Wine Bar, bartaco, and Del Frisco’s Grille. “While the board conducts its review, Del Frisco’s management team and employees will continue delivering world-class dining experiences, executing our ongoing initiatives, increasing operational efficiencies, improving financial performance, and attracting and retaining extraordinary talent,” DFRG chief executive officer Norman J. Abdallah added in a statement. Activist investor Engaged Capital LLC, which at the time owned just under 10 percent of the company’s shares, sent a December 6 letter to DFRG urging the company to consider a sale, either of the entire DFRG or of its individual concepts. A day earlier, Del Frisco’s board of directors unanimously adopted a shareholders rights plan “to protect the best interests of all Del Frisco’s shareholders.” “The environment for M&A in the restaurant industry has rarely been more active than it is today,” Engaged principal and chief investment officer Glenn W. Welling wrote. “… It is imperative that the board takes advantage of this window by forming a strategic review committee of the independent directors, hiring advisors, and beginning a process to explore strategic alternatives immediately.”

That process is now underway. Del Frisco’s shareholders rights plan, or “poison pill,” is designed to allow, “Del Frisco’s shareholders to realize the long-term value of their investment by reducing the likelihood that any person or group would gain control of Del Frisco’s through open market accumulation without appropriately compensating the company’s shareholders for such control or providing the board sufficient time to make informed judgments.” It would come into play if a shareholder accumulated 10 percent of more of Del Frisco’s common stock. It’s set to expire on December 4, 2019. Engaged had no shortage of criticism considering DFRG’s recent performance, calling its sales “abysmal,” since its IPO in 2012. The company said DFRG declined 47 percent in the six years that followed, while its closest peer (Ruth’s Chris) has nearly quadrupled in value. “Over any reasonable short- or long-term time frame, DFRG has underperformed its peers, the restaurant industry, and the broader market,” Engaged wrote. Even with that said, Engaged saw shareholder potential in DFRG’s concepts. Double Eagle it called “one of the premiere high-end dining concepts in the U.S. with [average-unit volumes] in excess of $14 million per restaurant, restaurant-level EBITDA margins of 25 percent, and the potential to triple its unit count. Of its newest restaurants, Barcelona and bartaco, which were closed June 27 for $325 million, Engaged said the first’s beverage mix of 46 percent and consistently positive same-store sales “provide the foundation for an extended runway of profitable growth.” The company labeled bartaco as a brand with the potential to be a “blockbuster concept.” Engaged also claimed that DFRG had “multiple parties interested in acquiring DFRG today, either in pieces or in its entirety.” In the third quarter, Del Frisco’s came out with a quarterly loss of $0.07 per share compared to last year’s loss of $0.03. Del Frisco’s posted revenues of $105.30 million compared to the year-ago figure of $73.34 million. On a concept-by-concept basis, three of the four chains in Del Frisco’s lineup reported red same-store sales. The same was true of customer counts. It broke down as follows:

Double Eagle: –2.4 percent comps/–4.7 percent traffic/average check 2.3 percent

Barcelona Wine Bar: 2.5 percent comps/1 percent traffic/average check 2.3 percent (the lone brand to report positive)

Bartaco: –7 percent comps/–5.9 percent traffic/average check 1.5 percent/average check –1.1 percent

Del Frisco’s Grille: –0.4 percent comps/–9 percent traffic/average check 8.6 percent. – Source:

Apprenticeships Prove a Bright Spot in the Struggle to Secure Restaurant Managers

The industry’s struggle to meet the demand for future restaurant managers hasn’t exactly been a tale of triumph and delight. But one component is emerging as a model system for cultivating the next generation of leaders, with benefits that go beyond enlarging the pool of candidates. And the only limitation may be a lack of awareness of how to participate. Since the National Restaurant association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) launched the industry’s new apprenticeship curriculum in July 2017, about 1,000 line-level restaurant employees have entered the program to become managers. Through a combination of classroom-type instruction and practical experience, the initiative cultivates the skills that research has identified as being crucial to managerial success. The apprentices earn a paycheck while they learn. The program even provides participating employers with an outlay of $1,000 per apprenticeship to cover the costs, drawing on a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL).

Everything is geared to the real and practical, says Rob Gifford, EVP of the NRAEF; the ideal skill set is based on what the association learned from such operators as Chili’s Grill & Bar, whose parent company, Brinker International, has since enrolled 250 employees as apprentices. Apprentices who complete the program are given a certificate verifying they’ve learned and practiced the skills needed to run restaurants successfully. Gifford stresses that the program is still in its early stages. “We’re just starting to hit our stride,” he says. Yet the industry is embracing the program more eagerly than had been anticipated when the NRAEF conceptualized the program under seed funding from DOL. “We’re 10% to 15% ahead in terms of our numbers,” Gifford told Restaurant Business. “It’s important to point out that 14 groups were initially funded by the Department of Labor. Only eight are still funded.” The NRAEF was one of those whose financing was renewed. In addition to steering 1,000 industry members toward management careers, the program has delivered some unexpected results, according to Gifford. For one thing, the retention rate for enrollees is 94%. In addition, “two profiles of participants have emerged,” he explains. One category consists of large restaurant and hotel brands that already have employee development programs in place and might need some customization to match apprentices’ skills to the operation’s peculiar needs. In the other camp are operators too small to support their own development programs, Gifford continues. “They want to groom their employees, they want to keep them longer, but don’t have the infrastructure. Our program serves as their program.” Size is irrelevant, he adds. “We can make a commitment for one apprentice.”

The first restaurant chain to participate in the program was Taco Mac, a 27-unit regional casual-dining chain. The challenging part of the program for some employers is meeting strict training and performance standards. “You have to conform to and comply with our apprenticeship standards,” Gifford explains. “There may be some companies that want to be more free-flowing and unstructured in how they do things, so that could be difficult for some.” In addition, “Apprenticeship is perceived as somewhat of a foreign thing, and some people don’t understand what it is,” he says. Indeed, he says, the biggest impediment to growing the program has been a lack of awareness. But as word spreads and more restaurant companies participate, any preconceptions are likely to wane, Gifford contends. He notes that an operator’s offer of management apprenticeships will likely become a recruitment tool as well as a means of bolstering retention. Offering a career route has been particularly attractive to women, who make up 57% of apprentices to date. About 40% are non-Caucasian, according to the association. The NRAEF is also exploring ways of dovetailing the apprenticeships to other association programs aimed at drawing and retaining industry talent. For instance, participants in ProStart, the foundation’s program for high school students who’d rather pursue a career in foodservice than a traditional precollege education, can now go directly into the apprenticeship curriculum with a six-month head start on fellow enrollees. So what might the apprenticeship program look like a year from now? “I think we’ll be discussing how the best and most forward-looking brands are increasingly embracing apprenticeships as a key recruitment and retention and tool,” says Gifford. – Source: Restaurant Business.

Ordering a burger? Hold the American Cheese — 6 Great Chicago Burgers that go a Different Route

I promise I’m not here to take down American cheese. Sure, as a millennial (just barely), I’m supposed to have a vendetta against the stuff (along with golf, paper napkins and soap). But I’m proud to report that I regularly fulfill my patriotic duty by purchasing packs of plastic-wrapped cheese slices. In fact, I’ve been one of the processed cheese’s biggest boosters, proudly waving the flag of the old-fashion double cheeseburger. But just because American cheese is great on a burger (it is!) doesn’t mean that it’s the only cheese that works. It’s just that right now the majority of Chicago’s best burger contenders are all using the stuff — from Au Cheval to The Loyalist, Edzo’s to Top Notch Beefburger. Even newcomer Mini Mott, where the burger comes topped with hoisin aioli and miso butter, features a slice of American cheese. Of course, it’s never been especially hard to find other kinds of cheese for your burger. Hundreds of establishments do that. In particular, Bad Apple, Kuma’s Corner, DMK, and Butcher and the Burger all make sure to offer a number of cheese options.

My goal here was not to seek variety for its own sake, but to look into why certain restaurants have decided to break out of the American cheese mainstream. Often chefs want to use a cheese that pairs well with the food they serve on the rest of their menu. Mark Chowaniec, co-owner of Chow Bros., which is in the Wells Street Market food hall (205 W. Wacker Drive, No. 100), spent two months workshopping his burger. “I think (American cheese) has its place, but we serve Central European and Polish food,” says Chowaniec. “I wanted (the burger) to capture something about that area.” He concedes that “there aren’t many cheeses from Poland that would melt well,” so he decided to go with Gouda cheese, which both melts and pairs with the other ingredients he uses. That includes a surprisingly soft marble-rye bun instead of the standard white bun, pickled chow chow (which contains fennel, cabbage and sweet peppers) and a tangy yogurt-based “secret sauce.” Chowaniec isn’t the only chef hoping to conjure the feeling of another place. Pacific Standard Time (141 W. Erie St.), a restaurant dedicated to bringing “the warmth and authenticity of California farms and artisans to the heart of downtown Chicago,” uses Holey Cow cheese, made by Central Coast Creamery in Paso Robles, Calif., for its Slagel farm burger ($15). It’s a subtle choice, one that doesn’t stand up and scream for attention, but it does add a creamy, buttery note to each bite. Sometimes even a local cheese can be used to transport you to another country. To help lend his Le French burger ($13.95) a French accent while still using Midwest ingredients, Bistronomic (840 N. Wabash Ave.) chef Martial Noguier settled on Pleasant Ridge, an Alpine-style cheese crafted by Uplands Cheese Co. in Wisconsin. “I was looking for a cheese that is more like a French cheese,” says Noguier. “The Pleasant Ridge has a taste similar to Comte and Beaufort, two very popular cheeses that French people love.” According to Noguier, a French-style burger isn’t quite as strange as you might think. “In France, any good restaurant in Paris now has a burger on the menu,” says Noguier. His is proving popular too. “I had to add it to the prix fixe menu. People are coming just for the burger now.”

The cheese adds a tanginess that plays extremely well with the other French-inspired components. The Angus beef patty arrives topped with house-made country pate and roasted shallot marmalade. That’s not to mention the cognac sauce spread on the Brioche bun. But it’s the gooey Pleasant Ridge cheese that you’ll notice first. (He also sometimes uses Everton cheese, another Alpine-style cheese produced by Jacobs and Brichford in Indiana.) If one cheese works, why not two? California chain 25 Degrees (736 N. Clark St.), in River North, uses blue cheese and Fontina for its Number 1 burger ($14). That turns out to be a good trick, because you get the salty, funky flavor of the blue, along with the melting properties of the Fontina. Using two types of cheese is also how the two-Michelin-starred Acadia (1639 S. Wabash Ave.), in the South Loop, stands out. Its burger ($15) is covered with a generous layer of complex Gruyere cheese, along with a mornay sauce, a classic French cheese sauce, spiked with Taleggio and truffles, which lends each bite a luxurious creaminess. On the opposite end of the price spectrum is Fatso’s Last Stand (2258 W. Chicago Ave.). There’s no Gruyere, but the stand does serve the Midwest peculiarity called Merkts cheddar cheese spread. For the uninitiated, the Wisconsin cheese spread is extra sharp and very salty. It doesn’t so much pair with food as give it a great big bear hug. You could order a single, but I like the double fatso with Merkts cheddar ($8) because it’s such an unruly, grease-saturated creation. There’s little question that American cheese would have taken you nearly there, but only by using Merkt’s is it able to go the full distance. That’s the power of a well-chosen cheese. – Source: The Chicago Tribune.

Cheesecake Factory vet joins Stonefire Grill as EVP

Stonefire Grill has named former Cheesecake Factory executive Scott Thomas as EVP, according to a company press release. “Bringing Scott to Stonefire Grill was an important strategic decision for us as we continue growing the brand throughout Southern California and beyond,” said Justin Lopez, Stonefire Grill CEO. “His experience, insights and vision are invaluable and we’re thrilled to not just have him join us, but also for the impact he will undoubtedly make.” Thomas spent 26 years at Cheesecake Factory, most recently as senior global director of operations. During his tenure, he led the opening of 10 restaurants domestically and nine internationally, according to the release. The initial foray of the brand’s first three international restaurants was in the Middle East. During this time, Thomas helped to develop systems and best practices for the brand’s global expansion. Thomas’ earlier industry years were spent with Hillstone Restaurant Group where Thomas worked with the Houston’s brand in Arizona, Texas and Southern California. “I’m really looking forward to working with the Stonefire Grill team, building on the great operations they’ve created, and fine-tuning and scaling the brand across the US,” Thomas said in the release. “For me, it wasn’t only the opportunity to grow the brand from a business economics position, it was about the people. To have the chance to join a group with such a deep-rooted culture of taking care of people just made sense. Our core values aligned and that meant a lot to me.” Stonefire has locations in Valencia, West Hills, Fountain Valley, Irvine, Chatsworth, Pasadena, Thousand Oaks, Lakewood, Rancho Cucamonga, Torrance, Ventura and Brea, California. – Source: Fast Casual.

Four Corners Property Trust Buys Red Lobster Properties for $25.9M

Four Corners Property Trust, a real estate investment trust engaged in the ownership of high-quality, net-leased restaurant properties, announced the acquisition of six Red Lobster restaurant properties in Delaware, Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota, Mississippi, and North Dakota for $25.9 million. The six newly acquired properties are under a single, triple-net master lease, which includes two other Red Lobster properties previously acquired by FCPT in November 2017. The 8-unit master lease has approximately 21 years of term remaining and annual rent escalations of 2 percent. The transaction was priced at a similar going-in cash capitalization rate as previously announced transactions. Red Lobster operates over 700 restaurants across the country and is the largest casual dining seafood brand in the U.S. Bill Lenehan, CEO of FCPT, stated, “This transaction marks over $510 million in closed deals since our investment platform launched in July 2016. To date, FCPT has closed $449 million of acquisitions across 197 properties and sold seven Darden-leased properties for $63 million.” – Source: Fsrmagazine.

The 22-year-old Chain was Sold in 2016

Citing high rents, changing customer demographics, and increased competition, Scotty’s Brewhouse filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and will shutter Indiana restaurants in Carmel, Muncie, and Downtown Indianapolis. The Muncie store is Scotty’s original location. According to documents filed December 12 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Indianapolis, the company, which also operates Thr3e Wisemen Brewing Company, will close another store in Waco, Texas. It said seven additional profitable locations would remain open and are generating enough cash flow to keep the company afloat. The locations included in the bankruptcy filings are all company run. The chain has a total of 17 restaurants, seven of which are operated under management agreements and not part of the bankruptcy filings. Thr3e Wise Men Brewing Co., which has locations in Broad Ripple and Muncie, Indiana, and A Pot & Pans Production LLC, which provides management services for the Scotty’s restaurants, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection as well. Founder Scott Wise sold the chain to Arizona-based Due North Holdings LLC in December 2016. Wise founded Scotty’s in 1996. Due North, at the time of the purchase, said it planned to expand the brand to 100 locations in the next five years, in the U.S. and abroad. The deal included all 15 brewhouses at the time and two Three Wisemen locations. According to the IndyStar, Wise turned down other offers to buy the company “because he didn’t think their vision matched his.” Wise wrote this on a Facebook post following the deal that said: “Twenty years ago when I started this restaurant and worked alone as the cook, waiter, bartender, bouncer and accountant—I dreamt about this day when I could, not only, sell my company; but, find a partner that believed in my vision to keep my team in place, allow me to continue to guide and lead the ship and give me the resources and capital to continue our growth across the country and even internationally.” Due North was not named in the filings. Due North vice president Berekk A. Blackwell was identified, however, as the sole manager of each of the debtors. Blackwell is also listed as manager of Scotty’s Holdings LLC, according to Indiana Secretary of State records, per the Indianapolis Business Journal. In the bankruptcy declaration, documents said: “The Scotty’s Brewhouse brand is strong and has a successful track-record of 22 years. The goal of these Chapter 11 cases is to close the four struggling locations.” The company said it is filing for bankruptcy to end the leases at the underperforming restaurants so they can close. “After a thorough analysis of our corporately owned locations as well as a shift in the overall business strategy, the company made the difficult but necessary decision to close underperforming restaurants,” the company said in a statement to the Indianapolis Business Journal. The company credited cannibalization from its own Carmel location as hurting the Downtown unit. The original location was “no longer viable and profitable enough to maintain” due to a shift in area demographics. Waco was troubled from a previous “criminal incident that has impacted its business significantly more than we anticipated.” The struggles of these four restaurants led to Scotty’s falling behind on rents with certain landlords, the documents said. The Downtown store owes $292,340 in back rent to Indianapolis-based Jefferson Plaza LLC, according to court papers. In February, an announcement said Wise was joining Luke Family of Brands as vice president of restaurant operations. As part of his new responsibilities Wise would assist in opening a minimum of 10 Scotty’s Brewhouse locations in major Midwest college town markets.This past June, the company announced the launch of a comprehensive national franchise program with ZGrowth Partners. – Source: Fsrmagazine.

Denny’s Opens in Northern Triangle of Central America

Denny’s Corporation, one of the world’s largest full-service family dining chains, announced the opening of the eighth Denny’s restaurant by franchisee Grupo Comidas in the Northern Triangle of Central America comprised of the countries of El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras. Grupo Comidas has established a strong presence of Denny’s restaurants since becoming a franchisee in 2009.  In addition to operating a number of pizza and quick service restaurants in the region, Grupo Comidas now operates six Denny’s restaurants in Honduras, one in El Salvador and one in Guatemala. Steve Dunn, Denny’s Senior Vice President & Chief Global Development Officer says, “Denny’s is one of the fastest growing family-dining chains across the globe, and we are excited by the demand for Denny’s in Central America.  We look forward to an experienced operator like Grupo Comidas building upon their strong and growing base of Denny’s restaurants through an active pipeline of development commitments in the region.” – Source: Fsrmagazine.

Second Quarter Improve

Focusing on “being brilliant with the basics” in its restaurants helped drive strong second-quarter results at Darden Restaurants, Inc., the company’s chief executive officer said on Dec. 18. Net income in the second quarter ended Nov. 25 totaled $115.6 million, equal to 93c per share on the common stock, up 36% from $84.7 million, or 69c per share, in the same period a year ago. Sales increased 4.9% to $1,973.4 million from $1,881.5 million. “As industry sales continue to improve, we made the strategic choice to further reduce our incentives during the quarter, recognizing it would likely put pressure on our same-restaurant sales and traffic,” Eugene I. Lee, president and c.e.o., said during a Dec. 18 conference call with analysts. “This resulted in our gap to the industry narrowing; however, it enabled us to build a stronger guest base and contributed to our margin improvement. “We continue to focus on the relentless execution of our ‘Back to Basics’ operating philosophy anchored in food, service and atmosphere, and strengthening and leveraging our four competitive advantages.” Darden’s Olive Garden concept had an especially strong quarter, as segment profit increased 10% to $184.5 million from $167.6 million. Sales rose 4.9% to $998.1 million from $951.6 million. Mr. Lee attributed the gains at Olive Garden to several factors, including the flawless execution of two of the chain’s most popular and strongest value promotions, the strength of the chain’s off-premise business, which grew 10.3% during the second quarter, and investments made to strengthen everyday value. “First, they redesigned their menus to more prominently showcase two everyday value platforms: Unlimited Soup, Salad, and Breadsticks; and the Cucina Mia! Create Your Own Pasta,” Mr. Lee said. “Second, they enhanced the value of one of their highest-preference entrees, chicken alfredo, by adding 50% more chicken. And finally, they launched their 5-for-$5 beverage platform. I remain excited about the strategic investments the Olive Garden team is making to compete effectively while continuing to highlight their everyday value proposition.” LongHorn Steakhouse also had a solid quarter for Darden, as segment profit increased nearly 9% to $65.9 million from $60.5 million, and sales improved 6.4% to $412.6 million from $387.7 million. Mr. Lee said the LongHorn executive team continues to make the right investments in the business focused on quality, simplicity and culture. “This quarter, they worked to reduce complexity in their recipes and improved culinary processes to ensure their team members are able to execute every time,” he said. Elsewhere in Darden’s portfolio, the Cheddar’s Scratch Kitchen concept failed to deliver progress on the top line, Mr. Lee said. Total sales for the concept declined 1.4% during the quarter, which was driven by a same-restaurant sales decline of 4%, partially offset by sales growth of new restaurants of 2.6%. Mr. Lee said Cheddar’s made a significant operational realignment in the quarter that he expects will position the chain for better long-term success. Source: Food Business News.

New Execs at Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc.

Two executives have been promoted at Dunkin’ Brands Group, Inc. Tom Manchester has been named senior vice-president of integrated marketing for Dunkin’ U.S., and Jonathan Biggs has been promoted to vice-president of operations for Baskin-Robbins U.S. and Canada. Additionally, Rick Gestring has joined the company as vice-president of operating systems and restaurant experience for Dunkin’. Mr. Manchester has been with Dunkin’ for 17 years, leading the brand’s sports marketing initiatives. In his new role, he will be responsible for culinary innovation, consumer insights, brand marketing and field marketing for Dunkin’ U.S. Prior to joining Dunkin’, Mr. Manchester held management roles at The Gillette Co. and Ocean Spray Cranberries, Inc. A 10-year veteran of Dunkin’ Brands, Mr. Biggs will assume operational responsibility for more than 2,600 Baskin-Robbins locations in the United States and Canada in his new role. Since he joined the company in 2008, he has assumed increasing responsibility as a leader on the Dunkin’ U.S. operations team, including roles as operations project manager and senior director of operating systems. Prior to Dunkin’ Brands, Mr. Biggs worked at Southern Company as a project engineer. Mr. Gestring joins Dunkin’ after nearly a decade in various roles at Arby’s Restaurant Group, most recently as vice-president of restaurant experience. Earlier in his career, Mr. Gestring held leadership positions at Starbucks, Taco Bell, Peet’s Coffee, Aramark and Don Pablo’s. In his new role with Dunkin’, Mr. Gestring will lead, manage and support the integration of improved and enhanced restaurant level execution and guest satisfaction. He has been tasked with developing, implementing, managing and improving the restaurant management systems, equipment, procedures and tools. – Source: Food Business News.

2018 Key Issues in the Foodservice Industry

A look at the most read stories from SmartBrief’s Restaurant and ProChef newsletters over the past year reveals a few key themes. Stories about restaurant revamps — whether that meant a new look or even a new name — caught readers’ attention. In culinary news, many of the dishes that garnered headlines in 2018 fell into one of two camps: plant-based cuisine or hearty comfort food. Here’s a look back at some of the stories that stood out this year.

Restaurants got new looks, menus and monikers. McDonald’s debut of a new, modern store design at its Chicago flagship was the most clicked restaurant story of the past year. Previously known as the Rock ‘n’ Roll McDonald’s, the restaurant’s new look includes a glass, timber and steel structure with sustainable features such as solar panels and walls covered with living plants. Wendy’s also made a splash with its refreshed store design, one of many recent restaurant redesigns driven in part by the addition of self-serve kiosks and other tech features. Sandwich chain Schlotzsky’s grabbed readers’ attention with its new look and name change that added Austin Eatery to its title. Dunkin’ dropped the Donuts from its name this year in a move that won big news coverage for the chain. Earlier in the year, IHOP issued a name change announcement that turned out to be a media stunt. While the chain didn’t change its name to IHOb, it has increased the focus on burgers on its menu. Other big menu news from 2018 includes McDonald’s launch of fresh beef burgers and its first new breakfast item in five years – the Triple Breakfast Stack. #MeToo sparked changes in restaurant leadership, culture.Allegations of sexual harassment led to shakeups in the restaurant world this year, causing changes in leadership and culture at several big-name restaurant companies. Lidia Bastianich and Nancy Silverton stepped up to leadership roles at Batali & Bastianich Hospitality Group this year after several women accused chef and partner Mario Batali of sexual misconduct. At Besh Restaurant Group, new CEO Shannon White has spent the past year revamping the culture after 25 employees accused former CEO John Besh of sexual harassment. Last week, Washington, D.C., chef Mike Isabella became the “first big-name chef to have his company completely collapse in the wake of a #MeToo scandal,” Washingtonian reported. The chef, along with his business partners Nick and George Pagonis, are faced with a sexual harassment lawsuit. Isabella’s restaurant company, which filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy on Dec. 12, will go out of business by Dec. 27. The dishes that defined the year. Diners craved both hearty comfort food dishes and lighter, plant-forward fare this year, based on the most popular stories in ProChef SmartBrief. Le Bernardin in New York saw high demand for its vegetarian testing menu, which chef Eric Ripert called a “creative challenge.” Another popular plant-based dish was the smoked watermelon at Ducks Eatery in New York City, which was in such high demand that there was a months-long waiting list.

In the comfort food category, a feature on modern bread pudding and a story about the puffy pancake known as the Dutch Baby were a hit with SmartBrief readers. Remembering those we lost. The obituaries of several famous chefs were among this year’s headlines. French chefs Paul Bocuse and Joel Robuchon both passed away in 2018, at the ages of 91 and 73, respectively. News of Anthony Bourdain’s’s tragic death by suicide in June shocked and saddened many in the culinary world and beyond. The 61-year-old chef, author and television host was a celebrated storyteller, known for his books and travel shows. “He presented such a fascinating doorway to so many other things that aren’t within your narrow doorway of what you do,” Josh Homme, composer of the theme song for Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” TV show, said in a recent GQ article. – Source: Restaurant Smart Brief/ProChef Smartbrief.

Taco Bell is Taking on Manhattan

Taco Bell is coming to Manhattan, and it’s bringing the beer.The Irvine, Calif.-based fast-food chain is making a big move into New York City with three new Cantina-style locations by the end of this year.

In the process, the company has partnered with Blue Point Brewing Co. to create the Big City Bell Pilsner, which will be available at all three of the Manhattan locations in the coming months. To Taco Bell, the move into New York is an important milestone in its urban development. The company has traditionally opened in suburban locations and some smaller communities with stand-alone locations with drive-thrus. But in the past couple of years it has targeted more urban locations with a different version of its concept. The company has opened 19 Cantinas and 16 urban, inline locations across the country in cities such as Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. Earlier this year, Taco Bell opened six new urban restaurants in the boroughs of New York, and 10 additional urban concepts were opened elsewhere. It also released a local beer at a Cantina in Newport Beach, Calif. The partnership with Blue Point marks the second such local brew. Taco Bell said that its New York Cantinas will be “tailored to the fast-paced lifestyle of the typical New Yorker,” with technology such as mobile ordering and self-order kiosks and delivery. “The research we’ve done in New York tells us that our fans want an experience that parallels their lifestyle,” Mike Grams, Taco Bell’s general manager of North America and global chief operating officer, said in a statement. He said that the use of technology in the locations “allows guests to spend less time waiting for their food and more time enjoying our new beer with their loved ones.” The location set to open this month at 500 8th Ave. in New York City will feature street-side digital window displays and five methods for customers to order: mobile app, website, kiosks, register or the Seamless delivery app. The location “will have more order touchpoints than any other Taco Bell,” including six kiosks and three registers, the company said. The location will roll out a new Cantina Nachos menu, including a Chicken Enchilada Nachos Box, Fiesta Taco Salad Nachos Box and Steak & Cheddar Nachos Box for $5.59 each. There will also be a custom mural by New York artist Greg Lamarche and a retail section that includes an exclusive T-shirt. – Source: Restaurant Business.

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