To Our Valued Subscribers:

I hope you all had a safe and happy holiday. On behalf of the entire American Recruiters Team we would like to wish you and your team a Happy and Successful 2020. The beginning of the year always brings the New Year Resolutions. Here is the Top 5 for 2020 based on a New York Times Survey:

  • Learn a new skill or hobby
  • Quit smoking
  • Read more
  • Find another job
  • Drink less alcohol

As you can see number 4 on the list is where I and my colleagues can be of real value to you and your organization. Our number 1 Resolution has not changed since the day we opened: match the most talented people to the best organizations. Enjoy the first 2020 edition of American Recruiters Global Foodservice News and have a great year. I’m off to break number 5 with my family and friends.

Wishing you a Happy New Year and a Happy New Decade as well!

Craig Wilson



4 Ways Restaurants Can Fend off a January Sales Slump

It’s official: January is indeed the worst month of the year for restaurants. Between 2013 and 2019, traffic during the month of January was 6% lower than the average month and 11% lower than the peak month of June, according to The NPD Group’s latest Seasonality Index for Total Restaurant Traffic. To overcome the slump, operators will need to offer incentives or promotions that draw consumers out of their homes and through restaurants’ doors, said David Portalatin, vice president of foodservice for NPD. Below, Portalatin outlines four key areas focus to boosting January traffic, along with examples of operators who have had — or hope to have — success with such tactics.

Capitalize on all those gift cards

Gifting is huge in November and December and restaurants often get a big piece of that pie.  According to NPD data, 46% of consumers plan to purchase tangible items or experiences for the upcoming holiday season. The No. 1 choice of gift? Food and beverage, as in restaurant gift cards, wine tastings and other similar experiences. Additionally, NPD found that customers redeeming gift cards, tend to spend a little more on those visits. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop, a fast-casual chain specializing in Baja-style Mexican cuisine, will once again run a program that incentivizes consumers to redeem holiday gift cards in January.  For every $25 gift card purchased now through the end of December guests receive a bonus $5 gift card to spend in January. Fuzzy’s, which has about 150 locations, is hoping the incentive will generate similar success to 2018, the first year of the bonus card program. Total gift card sales during the 2018 promotional period increased by 51% over 2017; the average activation value increased by 7% over the rest of the year; and bonus card redemption accounted for more than 4,400 guest visits in January 2019. “By offering the $5 bonus card, [guests] can choose to keep it for themselves or add to the gift they’re already giving,” said Laura Purser, Fuzzy’s vice president of marketing. “It’s a win-win for the brand because it allows us to be able to reward our loyal fans while also introducing the undeniable greatness of Fuzzy’s Taco Shop to new guests.”

Promote resolution-friendly foods

Consumers resolving to eat more healthfully in the new year, often tend to eat more meals at home, Portalatin said, adding that restaurants could offset this behavior by promoting their healthful offerings in January. To capture resolution-focused, healthier eaters and re-engage year-round dieters, Mooyah Burgers, Fries & Shakes is planning a big push around Lifestyle Burgers, a line of gluten-free, Paleo, vegetarian and other burgers designed to meet a variety of dietary preferences and goals. “We have featured our Iceburgers and Loaded House Salad in January of previous years with good results, but we expect the Lifestyle Burgers to be even more popular during this time when consumers are focusing on health goals and achieving resolutions,” said Natalie Anderson-Liu, Mooyah vice president of brand. As part of the push to highlight healthier burger builds, the fast-casual concept will also introduce The Vegan Burger.  A Dr. Praeger’s brand Black Bean Burger, The Vegan is topped with avocado, grilled onions, sautéed mushrooms, lettuce, tomato and barbecue sauce and served on a potato bun. Mooyah has about 70 domestic locations and 25 units in the Middle East.

Focus on a fresh holiday

Other than New Year’s Day, there are no other festive, national holidays in January. With reasons to celebrate noticeably absent, Portalatin suggests operators create their own events to get people to dine out. Sunda New Asian, a creative Asian fusion restaurant with locations in Chicago and Nashville, seizes January as an opportunity to celebrate events that have a connection to its brand, such as the Chinese New Year. “Sunda embraces events that align with and celebrate the brand — Chinese New Year is a great example,” said Billy Dec, founder and CEO of Rockit Ranch Productions, the hospitality company behind Sunda. “We have live lion dances, special menu items and more.” Among the dishes on Sunda’s Chinese New Year menu this January 25 to February 13 will be dishes with traditional or symbolic ingredients, such as Hong Kong Steak Lo Mein, Lion’s Head Meatballs and Almond Jelly Pudding. Additionally, Rockit Ranch Productions has had success driving January traffic by appealing to fellow hospitality and service industry colleagues who will be coming off a busy holiday season. “Whether we are dropping off personalized gift certificates for their staff or working with them on a bigger partnership, industry relationships are a big part of our business and we make sure to make it a priority,” Dec said.

Double down on delivery

January traffic and sales are often soft because of bad weather in much of the country. But consumers’ need for a convenient meal doesn’t go away just because it’s cold and wet. “There’s an opportunity to further accelerate delivery,” Portalatin said. “Help people stay snug and cozy.” To fight against consumers cutting back on going out in January due to colder temperatures or the over-indulgence of the holidays, Mooyah has made the development of a robust third-party delivery program a key initiative this year. “When guests can access us in ways that are convenient for them, it will lessen the impact of those seasonally slower times,” Mooyah’s Anderson-Liu said. – Source: Restaurant Hospitality.

Granite City Files for Bankruptcy to Facilitate Sale

After “an intensive review of strategic alternatives,” Granite City Food & Brewery Ltd., the parent company of its eponymous concept and sister brand, Cadillac Ranch All American Bar & Grill, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in an effort to reorganize its business and facilitate a structured sale. The company said it has a “going concern sale” to KRG Granite Acquisition LLC for aggregator consideration of $7.5 million in place, a deal that includes certain liabilities. But this restructuring could only be accomplished by declaring bankruptcy, Granite City said in a release. It expects the transaction, still subject to bankruptcy court approval and an auction process, to conclude in February 2020. Granite City’s filing revealed it shuttered seven restaurants ahead of Chapter 11.

There are now 25 locations, as well as four rock-and-roll-inspired Cadillac Ranch restaurants. The company also owns a centralized beer production facility in Ellsworth, Iowa, which enables each unit to brew beer on-site (the production facility generates the “wort” that’s transported to fermentation vessels at Granite City locations). The company, which employs more than 2,200 employees over 15 states, secured a $5 million debtor in passion loan to fund operations through the auction and sale process in hopes of stemming further closures. It continues to operate as a “debtor in possession” subject to the supervision of the court. Granite City said it expects to continue operations without interruption during the Chapter 11 case. “The Granite City Board of Directors and management team have thoroughly assessed our strategic options and financial situation and unanimously agree that this structured sale process represents the best possible solution for the company,” said Richard H. Lynch, chairman of the board and CEO of Granite City, in a statement. “We believe pursuing this path will provide value to our creditors, enable one or more future restauranteurs to operate our locations, and preserve hundreds of jobs.” During the proposed auction process, interested parties could submit binding offers to acquire sustainably all of Granite City’s assets, free and clear of the company’s indebtedness and liabilities. Granite City Restaurant Operations, Inc., Granite City of Indiana, Inc., Granite City of Kansas Ltd., and Granite City of Maryland, Inc. all filed voluntary petitions under Chapter 11 as well.

The company filed a motion seeking to bring all of those bankruptcy cases together. In an affidative filed December 17 by Lynch, the company credited “increased competition in the casual-dining sector” for negatively impacting its operating performance and margins. “In addition to longstanding casual-dining chains with somewhat similar menu offerings [i.e. Applebee’s, Ruby Tuesdays, Houlihan’s, Outback Steakhouse, etc.], the [brand was] forced to compete with emergent and inexpensive fast casual outlets such as Chipotle Mexican Grill, Inc. and Panera Bread Co.,” Granite City wrote. Additionally, “the number of new entrants into the craft beer and brew pub space exploded during the second decade of the new millennium.” Granite City, founded in 1999, was an early entrant into the craft beer market sector, but now it “suddenly faced competition from hundreds of new brewpubs and craft brewers.” Many of Granite City’s locations were located in or near shopping malls and locked into long-term leases the company said appeared favorable at the time, typically with options to renew. It simultaneously spent heavy capital building out restaurants “in a manner that featured those distinctive characteristics associated with the brand.” Units are typically 9,800 square feet with interior finishes that incorporate granite and other rock materials and natural woods and glass. Granite City restaurants are open-concept and have outdoor patios. “As a result of the Great Recession that began in 2008, consumer income growth stagnated for nearly a decade. This led to an overall decline in consumer spending, including retail spending and spending to eat out,” the company said. During that same period, consumer preference shifted toward online shopping, Granite City said. That lead to more consumers eating takeout or ordering delivery, “as opposed to spending time for a sit-down meal at a casual-dining location.” The result: declining foot traffic in shopping malls and retail outposts where most of Granite City’s locations are or were located. “The confluence of these factors: increased and evolving competition, the proliferation of brew pubs and eating establishments featuring craft beer offerings, and changes in spending patterns and consumer preferences, all negatively impacted the profitability [of Granite City],” the company said. In-store sales and revenues shrunk in response. As foot traffic in malls dropped, so did Granite City’s guest counts such “that seemingly favorable long-term rental rates the [brand] had negotiated gradually morphed into above-market rates.” Granite City said its same-store sales declined in 2018 and year-over-year comps fell similarly during the first quarter and half of 2019, exacerbated by severe winter weather in the Midwest. Today, the company owes Citizens Bank $40 million in principal together with accrued interest, fees, and other amounts payable under the Citizens credit facilities. It also owes Great Western Bank more than $1 million. Granite City has tried to reroute traffic and sales declines this year. In February, it introduced a menu and guest experience relaunch in six of its markets. By July, it expanded to 17 additional locations. It also attempted to improve financial performance and enhance liquidity by pursuing lease concessions and seeking extensions of the time afforded to pay food and beverage suppliers. Consultations with advisers and discussions with Citizens led the company to explore strategic alternatives. Granite City closed its Downtown Indianapolis location on August 21 and then shuttered six more on October 25 (Carmel, Indiana; Orland Park, Illinois; Northbrook, Illinois; Peoria, Illinois; Lyndhurst, Ohio; and Mishawaka, Indiana). Source: fsrmagazine.

Dinex Group Picks Sebastien Silvestri as First CEO

The Dinex Group Tuesday announced the appointment of Sebastien Silvestri as its first Chief Executive Officer. A respected authority in the hospitality industry, Silvestri comes to Chef Daniel Boulud’s award-winning restaurant group with more than 25 years of proven experience focused on development of bold marketing strategies, effective partnerships and branding tactics.  In this newly formed position, his focus will be on defining the next era for The Dinex Group’s entire collection of restaurants and brands and expanding the brand portfolio through strategic acquisitions. Silvestri comes from Disruptive Group (a division of sbe), where he served as Chief Operating Officer, overseeing all of the food and beverage operations for venues across the sbe portfolio globally, including culinary concepts, nightlife venues and Umami Burger.  Prior to joining sbe, he was the Vice President of Food & Beverage at The Venetian and The Palazzo Casino Hotel and Resort in Las Vegas. It was there that he met and worked with world renowned chefs including Thomas Keller, Wolfgang Puck, Charlie Trotter, Emeril Lagasse and Daniel Boulud. Boulud and Silvestri have long had professional admiration for each other, and a friendship over many years. Says Boulud of the appointment, “With the opening of our new dining concept as well as our fourth Épicerie Boulud both at One Vanderbilt in Fall 2020, the multiple opportunities that have been presented to us for consideration in other parts of the world, our existing portfolio of 19 locations globally and a successful catering business, the time was right to engage the expertise of a veteran industry executive to help both fuel and manage our growth, as well as to ensure the level of excellence within our existing operation. Sebastien has a tremendous track record for assisting some of the most revered hospitality businesses’ experience remarkable growth, and I could not be more thrilled to have him by my side as we begin an exciting new era of Daniel Boulud restaurants.” Adds Silvestri, “Daniel Boulud is considered a true a pioneer of the revolution and evolution of fine dining and to nurturing emerging talents, and despite the many additions to the list of most celebrated fine dining chefs we see today, Daniel remains one of the most highly-awarded and recognized chefs in America and the world. I am honored to now be working with him so closely. As we look to the future for the group of brands that fall under The Dinex Group, and finalize our plans to move forward with several new hospitality projects with developers in Asia, the Middle East and on the West Coast, we are also looking closely at what’s most important to the new generation of gourmands today and determining how that will inform our approach to both our existing dining experiences and new concepts.” – Source: fsrmagazine.

Why Investing in the Community Pays Off for Restaurants

When it opened last year, the Lynchburg, Virginia, location of East Coast Wings + Grill launched with a charity day instead of a grand opening. Franchisees Mike and Leah Morrell donated 10 percent of their sales from the day, and the corporate office in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, matched their gift. The result? A $2,000 donation to two local charities, Court Appointed Special Advocates (casa) and Patrick Henry Family Services. “We’re the first location of this brand in Virginia and want to spread the word and be a model of family-friendly restaurants. What better way to do that than by embedding ourselves in the community?” Mike Morrell says. Since then, the store has supported other charitable causes. In May, it ran the special Wags and Wings event on its patio, and the local Humane Society brought several adoptable dogs to the store. The event attracted a crowd and generated $300, thanks to the Morrells’ donation of 10 percent of their sales during the four-hour affair. Moving forward, the Morrells hope to turn Wags and Wings into an annual event. In March, the restaurant raised $1,350 for the local high school football team’s championship rings by donating 10 percent of sales back every Tuesday of the month. At the awards banquet for the team, the Morrells were called out and thanked. “That’s one of the coolest things we’ve done,” Morrell says. The Morrells select some of the charities they support, but more often the organizations seek them out. They’d like to help them all, “but we have limits,” Morrell says. “You can’t give as much as you want to from a business standpoint, but we try to pick the most impactful ones.” They pick what aligns with their values.

Over the past year, Morrell has also learned he needs to budget for the store’s charitable efforts more strategically; by this summer he’d already overspent for the year. The amount will be the same in 2020 but more spread out. At Houston-based Luby’s, each of the 78 stores in Texas offers “Fun’Raising” opportunities so any local charity, school, church, or nonprofit can apply to hold an event at a store. On the night the event is held (usually 4 p.m. to 7 p.m.), 15 percent of sales from orders accompanied by a coupon or flyer from the charity is donated. Typically the donated amounts start at $50. The company receives five to 10 requests for these types of events daily, says director of marketing Dana Rogers-Yates, and almost all are approved. Another advantage to the events: Stores see sales boosts on event nights. “Some of our Fun’Raising guests are visiting Luby’s for the first time, and this is a great way to introduce them to what Luby’s offers,” Rogers-Yates says. The head office participates in the brand’s philanthropic efforts, too. In the summer it ran a school supplies drive. The department that gave the most won a prize, and the company ended up donating a total of 50 boxes of collected school supplies to two schools near the office. Luby’s team members also support causes through volunteering. Employees sign up to work in their community, such as helping at soup kitchens and repairing fences, which, Rogers-Yates says, also helps with employee bonding. “These events show we care. They show we want to be part of a community,” she adds. Josh Harris, owner of Trick Dog bar in San Francisco, is regularly involved in local giving. He changes the menu at Trick Dog every six months. The menus feature not only listings of culinary offerings, but also various creative components that are sold as artworks. The most recent menu sold for $20 or $40 for a screen print. All proceeds from the current menus will be donated to Harris’ new charity, Bon Vivants Scholarship. His scholarship fund supports ScholarMatch, an organization that helps send the children of hospitality workers to college. Bon Vivants has committed to donating $150,000 over the next five years to this charity. “We wanted to create the type of items that people would purchase,” Harris says. Other items he’s sold for charity include a dog calendar and books. One, a cocktail book, benefited La Cocina, a local charity that supports primarily women and immigrant-run entrepreneurial food businesses. Trick Dog also hosts a philanthropic birthday party for itself every year. It seeks sponsorship for the event and guests pay to attend, though once inside everything is free. Harris donates all proceeds from that evening to Seven Tepees Youth Program. Throughout it all, he’s worked to support causes “that have felt natural to the concept and that inspire me.” Harris himself researches and selects the charities the bar will support. The charitable work also benefits the bar. “The changing menus give us a chance to stay engaged with our business. But it’s hard; we set a standard for ourselves that can be challenging, and it can be frustrating to be creative on a timeline,” Harris says. – Source: fsrmagazine.

JAB Holding to Combine Jacobs Douwe Egberts and Peet’s Coffee and Explore International IPO

JAB Holding Company is combining two of its coffee brands — Dutch beverage group Jacobs Douwe Egberts and Berkeley, Calif.-based Peet’s Coffee & Tea — and exploring an initial public offering outside of the United States with the merged company, JDE Peet’s. Jacobs Douwe Egberts announced the merger Dec. 17, adding Berkeley, Calif.-based Peet’s Coffee to its portfolio of international beverage brands, including Maxwell House, L’OR, Jacobs Coffee, Douwe Egberts, Senseo, Tassimo, Moccona, Kenco, Pickwick and Pilão. With the combination of the two companies, JDE Peet’s will have a footprint in 140 countries. The company did not specify in which market or on which exchange it planned to list the company, though a legal statement did specify that JDE Peet’s, “does not intend to conduct a public offering of any securities in the United States.” According to a report in the Financial Times, it is eyeing an IPO in “Amsterdam or elsewhere in Europe.” As part of the deal, Peet’s Coffee CEO Casey Keller will be promoted to CEO of JDE Peet’s, starting in January 2020, and JDE CEO Frederic Larmuseau has stepped down and will join the board in a special advisory status. “JDE Peet’s is an exceptional business with some of the most beloved coffee brands in the world, and I am excited to lead the company in its next phase of growth,” Keller said in a press statement. “With our leading positions in many important markets, supported by all the great people in our organization, we are well-positioned to continue achieving strong long-term growth.”

Although the companies have not formally announced an IPO, the merger represents a partnership between Mondelēz International Inc. (which owns a significant stake in JDE) and Acorn Holdings B.V. (the umbrella beverage group majority-owned by JAB Holding, which includes the recently combined Keurig Dr. Pepper, JDE and Peet’s).  Rumors that JAB would be taking its coffee division public began in Jan. 2019, when it was announced at the time that the IPO would apply only to the Acorn coffee and beverage division and would happen sometime in the next couple of years. The IPO is expected to be completed sometime in 2020. JAB’s portfolio also includes Panera, Krispy Kreme and Pret A Manager, among other restaurant and retail brands. – Source: NRN.

San Diego Unified School District Plans to Lease Back the Building to the Chain

Jack in the Box has sold its San Diego headquarters to the city’s local school district for $21.5 million.San Diego Unified School District approved the purchase of the property last week after initially making an offer to the quick-service chain on March 12. The property, at 9330 Balboa Avenue, includes a 15,000-square foot building on roughly 7.8 acres. The district, using Measure YY bond money approved last year by voters, is converting the property to a new district administrative facility, according to the board agenda approved Dec. 10. Escrow is expected to close Dec. 20. Jack in the Box representatives could not be reached for comment about the sale, which was approved the day before CEO Lenny Comma announced plans to leave the company Comma’s pending exit follows other executive departures in recent months.  The district, according to the terms of the sale, plans to lease back the facility to Jack in the Box for 18 months. The lease is $1,000 a month. The agreement will allow Jack in the Box “to continue its operations at the site while [the company] transitions to its new facility,” according to district documents. During the lease period, the board will review options for the property which include developing “some district administrative” facilities on the site, a district spokesman told Nation’s Restaurant News. Last year, Jack in the Box announced plans to explore a sale of the company, and a proposal to downsize its San Diego headquarters.  In May, the quick-service chain said it was taking itself off the market. – Source: NRN.

Inside Look: Chipotle Mexican Grill Debuts Modern Prototype Store

Chipotle Mexican Grill recently remodeled a store near the fast-casual chain’s Newport Beach headquarters, a major top-to-bottom overhaul that features pick-up shelves at the front entrance, a mix of barstools and community tables and a lower glass partition along the dine-in queue. Does this store represent the look of Chipotle’s next generation of stores? It’s unclear. When asked, the chain did not provide details about the makeover. The location often serves as a temporary test kitchen for the chain, which is currently building a training and food lab called Chipotle Cultivate Center a few miles from its offices. – Source: NRN

The Dark Side of Plant-Based Food: It’s More About Money than you May Think

If you were to believe newspapers and dietary advice leaflets, you’d probably think that doctors and nutritionists are the people guiding us through the thicket of what to believe when it comes to food. But food trends are far more political—and economically motivated—than it seems. From ancient Rome, where Cura Annonae—the provision of bread to the citizens—was the entral measure of good government, to 18th-century Britain, where the economist Adam Smith identified a link between wages and the price of corn, food has been at the centre of the economy. Politicians have long had their eye on food policy as a way to shape society. That’s why tariffs and other trade restrictions on imported food and grain were enforced in Britain between 1815 and 1846. These “corn laws” enhanced the profits and political power of the landowners, at the cost of raising food prices and hampering growth in other economic sectors. Over in Ireland, the ease of growing the recently imported potato plant led to most people living off a narrow and repetitive diet of homegrown potato with a dash of milk. When potato blight arrived, a million people starved to death, even as the country continued to produce large amounts of food—for export to England. Such episodes well illustrate that food policy has often been a fight between the interests of the rich and the poor. No wonder Marx declared that food lay at the heart of all political sructures and warned of an alliance of industry and capital intent on both controlling and distorting food production.


Many of today’s food debates can also be usefully reinterpreted when seen as part of a wider economic picture. For example, recent years have seen the co-option of the vegetarian movement in a political program that can have the effect of perversely disadvantaging small-scale, traditional farming in favor of large-scale industrial farming. This is part of a wider trend away from small and mid-size producers towards industrial-scale farming and a global food market in which food is manufactured from cheap ingredients bought in a global bulk commodities market that is subject to fierce competition. Consider the launch of a whole new range of laboratory created “fake meats” (fake dairy, fake eggs) in the U.S. and Europe, oft celebrated for aiding the rise of the vegan movement. Such trends entrench the shift of political power away from traditional farms and local markets towards biotech companies and multinationals. Estimates for the global vegan food market now expect it to grow each year by nearly 10% and to reach around $24.3 billion by 2026. Figures like this have encouraged the megaliths of the agricultural industry to step in, having realised that the “plant-based” lifestyle generates large profit margins, adding value to cheap raw materials (such as protein extracts, starches, and oils) through ultra-processing. Unilever is particularly active, offering nearly 700 vegan products in Europe. Researchers at the US thinktank RethinkX predict that “we are on the cusp of the fastest, deepest, most consequential disruption” of agriculture in history. They say that by 2030, the entire U.S. dairy and cattle industry will have collapsed, as “precision fermentation” – producing animal proteins more efficiently via microbes—“disrupts food production as we know it “. Westerners might think that this is a price worth paying. But elsewhere it’s a different story. While there is much to be said for rebalancing western diets away from meat and towards fresh fruits and vegetables, in India and much of Africa, animal sourced foods are an indispensable part of maintaining health and obtaining food security, particularly for women and children and the 800 million poor that subsist on starchy foods. To meet the 2050 challenges for quality protein and some of the most problematic micronutrients worldwide, animal source foods remain fundamental. But livestock also plays a critical role in reducing poverty, increasing gender equity, and improving livelihoods. Animal husbandry cannot be taken out of the equation in many parts of the world where plant agriculture involves manure, traction, and waste recycling—that is, if the land allows sustainable crop growth in the first place. Traditional livestock gets people through difficult seasons, prevents malnutrition in impoverished communities, and provides economic security.


Often, those championing vegan diets in the west are unaware of such nuances. In April 2019, for example, Canadian conservation scientist, Brent Loken, addressed India’s Food Standards Authority on behalf of EAT-Lancet’s “Great Food Transformation” campaign, describing India as “a great example” because “a lot of the protein sources come from plants”. Yet such talk in India is far from uncontroversial.The country ranks 102nd out of 117 qualifying countries on the Global Hunger Index, and only 10% of infants between 6–23 months are adequately fed. While the World Health Organization recommends animal source foods as sources of high-quality nutrients for infants, food policy there spearheads an aggressive new Hindu nationalism that has led to many of India’s minority communities being treated as outsiders. Even eggs in school meals have become politicized. Here, calls to consume less animal products are part of a deeply vexed political context. Likewise, in Africa, food wars are seen in sharp relief as industrial scale farming by transnationals for crops and vegetables takes fertile land away from mixed family farms (including cattle and dairy), and exacerbates social inequality. The result is that today, private interest and political prejudices often hide behind the grandest talk of “ethical” diets and planetary sustainability even as the consequences may be nutritional deficiencies, biodiversity-destroying monocultures, and the erosion of food sovereignty. For all the warm talk, global food policy is really an alliance of industry and capital intent on both controlling and distorting food production. We should recall Marx’s warnings against allowing the interests of corporations and private profit to decide what we should eat. – Source: Fast Company.

Taco Bell isn’t Shying Away from its Low-Cost Menu

The Mexican fast-food chain Tuesday said it will expand its dollar menu with the return of one of its most successful $1 offerings, Double Stacked Tacos. The company will offer three flavors of the taco: Nacho Crunch, Chipotle Cheddar and Reaper Ranch. The item features both a hard shell and a soft tortilla. The tacos bring to 21 the number of items on Taco Bell’s $1 menu as it emphasizes its unique ability to offer innovative low-priced items. The Double Stacked Tacos will be available for a limited time starting Dec. 26. “It’s more important than ever that we give fans the craveable food they not only want, but can afford, and we’ve built our menu with some of our most innovative items from $1 to $5 to ensure there is something for everyone,” Melissa Friebe, senior vice president of brand marketing and consumer insights for Taco Bell, said in a statement. “Committing to the $1 is a priority for us.” Taco Bell launched its Cravings Value Menu in 2014 as part of its effort to satisfy consumers searching for low-priced meals. The expansion of that menu the day after Christmas gives Taco Bell a jump-start on what is typically the fast-food value season. With sales tending to dropping off after the holiday, many chains push value items to get customers in the door. – Source: Restaurant Business.

Expanded Plant-Based Options, Elevated Kids’ Fare and Alcohol-Free Beverages are on the Menu for 2020

Here’s a look at three of the top trends you can expect to see in foodservice and food retail in 2020. Plant-based, the next generation: plant foods — especially meat alternatives like the Impossible Burger — were one of the biggest trends in food this year. In 2020, chefs and food brands will continue to highlight vegetables in ways that substitute them for animal protein, and the applications will go way beyond plant-based burgers, Nation’s Restaurant News editor Bret Thorn predicted. “Expect to see more tacos, sausage, meatless balls, plant-based loaf, chili and so on incorporated into menus as chefs become more accustomed to using these products as normal items in their walk-ins,” he writes in a recent round-up of 2020 trend predictions. He also forecasts that plant-based substitutes for eggs, cheese and seafood will show up on more menus next year. In addition to dishes that put plants in the spotlight as a replacement for meat, the coming year will also bring more plant-forward dishes that use vegetables and grains to supplement smaller portions of animal protein. Whole Foods included meat-plant blends on its list of top 10 food trends for 2020, and Baum + Whiteman likewise named the trend among its 11 hottest trends for restaurant and hotel dinning. Meat-and-plant products currently on menus and store shelves include blended beef and mushroom burgers a la the Blended Burger Project, but Baum + Whiteman predicts 2020 could bring a new twist to the blended approach. “Quite possibly, the next generation of these products will be part plant-based and part cell-based,” the consultancy predicts. “They’re all aimed at a mass market of Americans who seek flexitarian ways of cutting back…but not giving up…on meat.”

Booze-free cocktails continue to bubble up

Another trend that’s been brewing for the past few years and is gearing up to take over 2020 is low- and no-proof cocktails. Baum + Whiteman and Whole Foods both included alcohol-free drinks in their trend forecasts, noting that the newcomers to this category often imitate the flavor profiles of spirits and classic cocktails. Kimpton called out “all buzz, no booze” as one of its top beverage trends for 2020, naming coffee spritzes and botanical-infused sparkling drinks among the non-alcoholic drinks it thinks will take off next year. For those who still want to imbibe but like their drinks to pack less of a punch, cocktails that feature lower-proof spirits will be widely available, Nation’s Restaurant News editor Joanna Fantozzi predicted.  “Watch for ‘softer liquors’ to become more popular on restaurant menus at independents and chain restaurants alike, and expect liqueurs, sherries and port to become ingredients of choice for the bartender who wants to create low-ABV libations that are just as creative as the harder stuff,” she writes.

Kids’ menus mature

Many of the trends that have been growing on mainstream menus over the past several years — plant-forward cuisine, global flavors and whole grains, to name a few — will trickle down to children’s menus in 2020. “We’re predicting more availability of healthy items on children’s menus that allow kids to explore new flavors,” the National Restaurant Association’s Senior Vice President of Research Hudson Riehle told Business Insider. “We can expect to see kids’ menus incorporating more global flavors — from Mediterranean cuisine to West African dishes.” Millennial parents want their children’s food to have the same flavor, nutrition and carefully chosen ingredients as what they buy for themselves, and their grocery carts will reflect this, Whole Foods predicted. The retailer mentioned non-breaded salmon fish sticks, fermented foods and pastas made from alternative flours as some of the emerging products in this category. – Source: Smart Brief.

Fazoli’s, Impossible Foods Develop Plant-Based Meat Sauce

Fazoli’s has joined forces with Impossible Foods, Inc. to offer spaghetti dishes featuring plant-based meat sauce. The Italian fast-casual chain is debuting Impossible meat sauce, made with ground Impossible Burger, and testing it at five locations near its headquarters in Lexington. Fazoli’s will incorporate the meat alternative, made with soy protein, into two Italian menu items: Impossible Spaghetti and Impossible Baked Spaghetti. The Impossible Spaghetti features a bed of spaghetti topped with Impossible meat sauce, tomatoes, garlic and basil. The Impossible Baked Spaghetti includes spaghetti topped with Impossible meat sauce, tomatoes, garlic and basil all topped with mozzarella cheese and baked. “Fazoli’s worked on developing a plant-based meat that tastes great to everyone, including meat lovers,” said Rick Petralia, director of culinary innovation at Fazoli’s. “Impossible meat sauce both responds to guests’ ever-changing lifestyle needs and stays true to delivering on the craveable flavors our brand is known for.” The Impossible Burger is a plant-based and bioengineered meat alternative that is designed to rival ground beef from cows in taste, nutrition and versatility. The burger’s crucial ingredient is leghemoglobin, or “heme,” which gives the Impossible Burger its bleeding attribute and creates the flavor in raw and cooked product. Heme reacts with the proteins, amino acids, sugars and vitamins in the blend. Made with soy protein and free from gluten, animal hormones and antibiotics, the burger is both kosher- and halal-certified. With as much bioavailable iron and protein as a comparable serving of ground beef from cows, a 4-oz serving of Impossible Burger contains 0 mg of cholesterol, 14 grams of total fat, 8 grams of saturated fat and 240 calories. – Source: Food Business News.

Restaurant Gift Cards Appeal to 72% of Consumers

Restaurant gift cards appeal to 72% of people, according to a new survey from the National Restaurant Association. About 47% of U.S. adults say they plan to give a restaurant gift card this season, according to Hudson Riehle, the Washington, D.C.-based trade association’s senior vice president of research and knowledge. That number rises to 60% among consumers with children in the household, he said. “Ninety percent of people tell us they enjoy going to restaurants, so a gift card is pretty much one size fits all,” Riehle said. “They are also a good choice for someone who wishes to give an experience rather than a material item.” The National Restaurant Association’s gift-card survey was conducted online Dec. 2-4 by New York City-based Engine Group and included 1,004 adults. The survey also found: More than half of consumers (56%) said they would want a gift card from their favorite restaurant. Nearly a quarter (22%) would like to use a gift card to try a new restaurant they haven’t been to before; and More than one in five (21%) would like a gift card for a restaurant they wouldn’t otherwise get to visit. As for when consumers use their cards, 20% said they would use the gift as soon as possible, while 40% planned to save it for a special occasion. When they do use them, more than a third (35%) said they would splurge and order more expensive items than usual. Paytronix, the digital guest-experience platform, found gift cards sales among 220 surveyed brands, increase 10% year-over-year in 2018. This year, between Black Friday and the following Sunday, overall gift card sales for the surveyed brands rose nearly 4%, the company said in an early report. “Restaurant gift cards are a perfect gift for anyone on your shopping list,” Riehle said. “They’re quick and easy to purchase and your friends and loved ones get to pick the meal they want most.” The National Restaurant Association was founded in 1919 to advocate on behalf of foodservice outlets. – Source: NRN/ The National Restaurant Association.

Buddy’s Pizza Aims to Take Detroit-Style Pizza National

Buddy’s Pizza lays claim to creating Detroit-style pizza in 1946. Now, the brand is looking to take its signature pies beyond its 16 units—all of which are in Michigan—and recently named Nando’s veteran Burton Heiss chief executive officer. Heiss is expected to oversee the goal of transforming Buddy’s into a 50-plus unit brand within the next five years. After spending five years in the corporate offices at fast casual Baja Fresh, Heiss was the CEO of Nando’s U.S. footprint for about eight years, until his departure in 2017. He sees parallels between Nando’s—a purveyor of South African-inspired peri-peri chicken—and Buddy’s. “At Nando’s, we were trying to take a signature product and leverage that in new markets,” Heiss says. “We spent a lot of time exploring thoughtful growth, and how do you pick markets and sites and get those right, because if you miss on the location of a store, that’s a mistake that’s very hard to reverse.” He inherits a similar challenge at Buddy’s Pizza: Outside of Michigan, who has heard of Detroit-style pizza? Heiss admits he hadn’t until six months ago, when he began exploring the brand before coming on board. Baked in square blue steel pans, Heiss says Detroit-style falls somewhere between the deep-dish staple associated with Chicago and the more ubiquitous New York offering. Sitting at a medium between the two is something the brand plans to leverage when it enters new markets. It won’t polarize either side of the pizza faithful. “I think the authenticity and realness of the brand really sets it apart,” Heiss says. “We have a great product and story, being the originators of Detroit-style pizza, which is starting to get some attention around the country, and I think rightfully so. It offers a lot in taste and the unique profile of the item. It’s a bit crunchier around the edges with sauce and cheese in every bite.” In early 2018, CapitalSpring bought Buddy’s Pizza for an undisclosed amount, adding to the $1.5 billion the firm has invested across 60 restaurant brands, including Taco Bell and Popeyes. At the time it was sold, Buddy’s was a 12-unit chain with all stores residing in Michigan. Though it has added four more Michigan locations in the past two years, much of CapitalSpring’s development of the brand has been an investment in back-of-house technology, adding in tech solutions for staff scheduling and recruiting, a new point-of-sale system, and an upgraded accounting system. “Overall, the changes we made were all around the edges, but we really strived to keep the fundamentals of the brand the same,” says Jim Balis, the head of CapitalSpring’s Strategic Operations Group. “The product, the service standards, a lot of how we deliver against the guest experience, we wanted to really leverage that and if anything, just make it better.” Another major tweak has helped the brand grow over the past two years—though 35 percent of Buddy’s business is carry-out, there was no delivery program until CapitalSpring acquired the brand. Delivery added a new revenue stream, and there is a plan in the works to add catering, too. Despite the robust off-premises sales, Buddy’s occupies a unique space in the world of pizza restaurants: 13 of its units are full service, while three are quick-serves. That stands in stark contrast to a fast-food giant like Yum! Brands’ Pizza Hut, where 90 percent of sales are off-premises and there’s a staunch commitment to the newer “Delco” model that focuses on take-out and delivery. “That’s really part of the Buddy’s story that we think is so unique,” Heiss says. “Whereas much of the industry in the past two years has moved to the ‘Delco’ model, Buddy’s has been around for 70 years and there’s something to that. Growing up I remember mom and dad ordering a whole pizza, giving us quarters, and we would go play Pac-Man while they waited for the food to arrive. That’s something that doesn’t exist as much anymore outside of Buddy’s.” Still, the brand won’t be plunging into the New York market any time soon. The initial plans for expansion involve “adjacent markets.” Tight-lipped about specifics, Heiss and Balis, who served as acting CEO before the hire, did offer that they are looking for areas similar to Michigan, meaning other Midwestern states like Ohio, Indiana, and possibly Illinois. All existing units are corporately owned, but Heiss indicates franchising is something the brand is willing to explore, especially in the limited-service capacity. For now, the brand is focused on what it calls thoughtful growth, saying that the offered target goal of 50 units in five years is less important to them than the overall health of Buddy’s. “We aren’t going to open up new stores just for the sake of building new stores and meeting some number,” Heiss says. “We are comfortable where we are, but we also want to become a bigger brand.” – Source: fsrmagazine.

IHOP Plans to Open 25 Restaurants in Peru

Dine Brands International announced the first IHOP restaurant opening in Lima, Peru through an agreement with Percapitals S.A.C., which calls for 25 IHOP restaurant openings in Peru through 2028. The openings are projected to bring more than 600 new jobs to the regional economy. “South America is an important growth market for Dine Brands and we’ve seen great success there so far this year,” says Steve Joyce, CEO and president, International, Dine Brands Global, Inc. Earlier this year, IHOP made its debut in South America with the opening of three restaurants in Ecuador. The new opening in Peru marks the 62nd restaurant in the Latin America region. “IHOP’s friendly, come as you are philosophy expands borders and cultures,” adds Joyce. “It’s the place where people can simply come together to enjoy world famous pancakes and a wide variety of breakfast, lunch and dinner items at affordable prices, any time of day.” Dine Brands International continues to place emphasis on growth in markets including Central America, Colombia and Chile. – Source: fsrmagazine.

S&S Restaurant Looks Back at a Century of ‘What Works’

It was November 1919 when Gary Mitchell’s maternal great grandmother Ma Edelstein opened S&S Restaurant in Cambridge, Mass. The name was a not-so-veiled reference to the Yiddish maternal expression “es and es,” or “eat and eat.” The warm sentiment set the welcoming tone for what has become an institution that has spanned five generations in the Mitchell-Wheeler family. For a century, S&S has dished up Ma Edelstein’s matzo ball soup and other comfort foods, but the menu has evolved with the times. Now there are egg white omelets with turkey bacon and seven-grain toast, local seafood and burgers. Over the years, S&S has grown to include more than 300 seats. It’s open seven days a week for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night, and it does a brisk takeout business. They also deliver, but using their own staff and vehicles, not the third-party players  more commonly used today. Mitchell, who is in his 60s, said he began moving the restaurant into the modern age four decades ago, using more contemporary production systems for portion control, purchasing and sourcing. When asked what has given S&S its staying power, Mitchell said there are clear advantages his restaurant has over the competition: “We own the site and we have no debt service,” he said. “We have free parking because we bought parking.” The restaurant also has “huge storage facilities,” so Mitchell is able to purchase more efficiently in large quantities, often direct from manufacturers. And the restaurant has had little to no turnover. “We have very loyal employees and customers,” said Mitchell. “There’s no reason to work at another restaurant once you’ve joined our company. Most of the people who were there when I started out of grad school are still there today.” Mitchell is proud of the fact that the restaurant has a history of women in leadership, including his mother Doris Mitchell, now 92, who ran the restaurant for years with her husband Chester Mitchell, who died in 2018. Now Gary Mitchell’s 40-year-old nephew is on deck to lead S&S into the next generation. What fundamentally has given the restaurant staying power is “the dedication of my family,” he said. “One of us is there all the time. Not only is this our business, it’s our home; it’s our life.” On Nov. 16, S&S unearthed a time capsule that was buried 25 years ago, at the time as part of the restaurant’s 75thanniversary celebration. In the time capsule was an edition of Restaurant Hospitality — which is also celebrating its 100th anniversary this year — along with family photos, a VHS copy of the movie “Schindler’s List” wrapped in a Blockbuster Video bag, as well as letters from family members. “My father wrote me a beautiful note. It made me cry,” said Mitchell. Attending the time capsule reveal ceremony was Doris Mitchell — who in 1994 wrote that she wasn’t sure she’d be at the 100th anniversary — but whose time capsule letter was poignantly prescient. I hope the world is at peace and that Israel survives,” she wrote. “That we clean the environment and find a cure for cancer and all other diseases. That the violence in the streets is no more, and that guns are gone from our society. And that all men and women live in harmony.” – Restaurant Hospitality. CORRECTION: This story has been updated to correct the movie title in the time capsule.

Impossible Burger Ingredient Keeps F.D.A. Safety Status

The Food and Drug Administration continues to assert that soy leghemoglobin remains safe for use as a color additive in ground beef analogue products, which includes plant-based Impossible Burgers. The F.D.A. on Dec. 17 said it concluded objections raised by the Center for Food Safety did not justify a hearing or provide a basis for revoking the safety assessment. Impossible Foods, Inc., Redwood City, Calif., in 2018 filed a color additive petition for the safe use of soy leghemoglobin as a color additive in ground beef analogue products such that the amount does not exceed 0.8% by weight of the uncooked product. The F.D.A. in the Aug. 1 issue of the Federal Register published a final rule that added soy leghemoglobin to the list of color additives exempt from certification. Impossible Burgers are sold in more than 17,000 restaurants nationwide and are found in grocery stores, too, according to Impossible Foods. Burger King worked with the company to offer the Impossible Whopper.

The Center for Food Safety, a national non-profit public interest and environmental advocacy organization based in Washington, raised six objections to the final rule. “After a thorough review of the objections submitted in response to the final rule, we have concluded that they do not provide any substantive evidence to cause us to change our determination of safety for the use of soy leghemoglobin as a color additive in ground beef analogue products,” said Dennis Keefe, Ph.D., the F.D.A.’s director of the office of food additive safety, on Dec. 17. The F.D.A. responded to all six objections. The First, the F.D.A. should have sought additional safety testing and public comment before approving the color additive for ground beef analogues that are not plant-based, according to the Center for Food Safety. The F.D.A. responded that Impossible Foods addressed the safety of soy leghemoglobin, including any potential allergenicity, by using the weight-of-evidence approach, which is based on several elements such as the known function of the protein and its history of exposure, whether the protein is from a toxigenic or allergenic source, and the digestibility of the protein. “Furthermore, we are not aware of any scientific evidence that suggests a food matrix, whether plant-based or animal-based, would modify the structure, function, or safety of soy leghemoglobin under the conditions of its intended use,” the F.D.A. said. Second, the Center for Food Safety said the F.D.A. should require labeling the color as soy leghemoglobin/P[ichia] pastoris yeast protein, saying that such information would be vital for consumers who have allergies to soy products or yeast products. The F.D.A. said foods that contain soy leghemoglobin must be labeled accordingly since soybeans are a major allergen. Yeast protein, however, has not been identified as a major allergen. Third, the F.D.A. should have required additional testing of the raw product. The F.D.A. in response noted submitted safety studies were conducted using raw soy leghemoglobin preparations. Fourth, the F.D.A. independently should have verified the safety of soy leghemoglobin. The F.D.A. said it disagreed that the F.D.A. should conduct its own safety studies. Manufacturers or their paid contract laboratories mostly conduct studies that demonstrate the safety of food ingredients. Fifth, the F.D.A. should have required separate testing of P. pastoris since it is genetically engineered. The genetic engineering of P. pastoris produces soy leghemoglobin. The F.D.A. responded that all the safety studies contained both the soy leghemoglobin protein and the P. pastoris proteins. Thus, no additional testing of a P. pastoris strain was needed. Finally, the F.D.A. violated the National Environmental Policy Act by failing to prepare an environmental assessment or environmental impact statement, according to the Center for Food Safety.

The F.D.A. responded that the Center for Food Safety provided no data or information to support the contention that approving soy leghemoglobin as a color additive would lead to an increase in the cultivation of genetically engineered soybeans, that such cultivation would result in an increase in pesticide use such as dicamba, or that cultivation would result in significant adverse impacts to threatened or endangered species or their habitat. – Source: Safety Monitor.

Landry’s Wins $40M Bid for Houlihan’s Assets; Final Price May Fall

Landry’s was the sole bidder for the assets of HRI Holding Corp., the parent company of Leawood-based Houlihan’s Restaurants Inc. The company owns and operates 47 restaurants in 14 states and its brands include: Houlihan’s Restaurant + Bar, Bristol Seafood Grill, J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Grill, Devon Seafood Grill and Make Room for Truman. Eight of its restaurants are located in the Kansas City metro. Houston-based Landry’s, known for eateries such as Morton’s The Steakhouse and Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., bid $40 million for substantially all of HRI’s assets. The final purchase price, however, will be adjusted, according to court documents. Per the agreement, the price will be reduced based on pro-rated unpaid property taxes, pro-rated unpaid utilities and other items. Landry’s also will accept assumed liabilities such as worker’s compensation, accounts payable and as much as $3 million in gift card obligations. Bankruptcy judge Mary Wrath approved the agreement Saturday, and the sale is expected to close on Dec. 30. Landry’s owns and operates more than 600 restaurants, hotels, casinos and entertainment destinations. Some of its restaurant brands include Saltgrass Steak House, Joe’s Crab Shack and McCormick & Schmick’s. OpenTable’s top 20 Kansas City-area restaurants. – Source: Kansas City Business Journal.

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