Archive for May, 2009

Pinkberry readies for growth with funding, partners

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

LOS ANGELES (May 3, 2009) Pinkberry on Friday said it is poised for rapid expansion with a new $9 million infusion from investors, as well as the chain’s first international franchise agreement and new partnerships for domestic growth that include HMSHost.

Officials at the 73-unit frozen yogurt chain refused to offer details about the $9 million in new funds — or the company’s growth plans — except to say that the new funding comes from both current and new investors.

News of Pinkberry’s expansion plans comes just weeks after Red Mango, a 45-unit frozen yogurt chain based in Dallas, announced that it was ramping up its franchising efforts with a goal of opening 40 new units this year.

Early last week, a Wall Street Journal blog reported that Los Angeles-based Pinkberry in March received $5.8 million in venture capital funding as part of a round totaling $15 million.

The $9 million the company confirmed is the first known significant injection of cash since the privately held company received $27.5 million in 2007 from private-equity firm Maveron LLC, which was co-founded by Starbucks Corp. chairman Howard Schultz.

“Raising capital and forming partnerships of this caliber in the face of a tough economy are significant milestones,” said Ron Graves, Pinkberry chief executive, in a statement. “Our current as well as new investors have reiterated their confidence in Pinkberry and provided funding that will continue to fuel our growth.”

In addition, Pinkberry announced a partnership with M.H. Alshaya Co. to open 35 stores in nine countries in the Middle East, the first of the 73-unit chain’s locations to open outside of the United States.

Alshaya is a franchise retail operator of more than 45 retail brands throughout the Middle East, including restaurant concepts such as Starbucks, Le Pain Quotidien, Pizza Rustica and Noodle Factory.

Graves described the Alshaya group as “clearly the recognized leader in international, multi-unit operations with a very impressive brand portfolio.”

In addition, Pinkberry officials said they have signed an agreement with HMSHost, based in Bethesda, Md., to open locations in airports across the country. The first airport location planned is at Los Angeles International Airport, or LAX, in late summer, said Susan Goyette, a spokeswoman for HMSHost.

Goyette said the company would not reveal the number of Pinkberry locations planned or where, for competitive reasons.

It is HMSHost’s first agreement with operators of what Goyette described as “the new style of frozen yogurt,” referring to Pinkberry’s tart flavors, though HMSHost operates some TCBY locations that offer more traditional frozen yogurt.

Additional domestic expansion is planned for the San Francisco Bay area and Sacramento, following what company officials described as the success of the first Northern California unit, which the company opened in San Jose in January.

At least 30 franchised stores will be opened in those markets, though company officials would not elaborate on the agreement.

Meanwhile, a third Pinkberry location reportedly closed in the Los Angeles area last week. The shuttered unit was in the Westwood neighborhood near UCLA. Earlier this year, Pinkberry stores were closed in Brentwood and Santa Monica, Calif.

Company officials declined to comment on the reasons for the closures.

FDA advises halting use of alfalfa sprouts

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

WASHINGTON (May 2, 2009) The U.S. Food and Drug Administration last week advised consumers to stop eating raw alfalfa sprouts and blends containing them until further notice because of possible salmonella Saintpaul contamination.

The advisory, overshadowed in some media coverage by the H1N1 flu outbreak, was issued after public health authorities linked consumption of such products in restaurants and homes to 31 illnesses in six states, the FDA said.

According to officials at the Washington-based FDA, an investigation indicates that the problem may be linked to contamination of seeds for alfalfa sprouts. They said they and their counterparts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta are advising people to halt all consumption of raw alfalfa sprouts because suspect lots of seeds may have been sold nationwide and may account for a large proportion of the seeds now being used by growers.

Illnesses related to the salmonella Saintpaul outbreak in Michigan, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Utah and West Virginia were first detected in mid-March, but were still being reported as recently as April 26. The FDA said the latest salmonella Saintpaul outbreak “appears to be an extension” of one detected in February and early March in Nebraska, South Dakota, Iowa, Kansas and Minnesota.

The FDA said it would work with the alfalfa sprout industry to help identify which seeds and alfalfa sprouts are not connected with this contamination, so that it can update its advisory as quickly as possible.

CDC and FDA officials long have recommended that people at risk for complications, such as the elderly, young children and those with compromised immune systems, not eat raw sprouts because of the risk of contamination with salmonella or other bacteria. Such individuals risk serious and sometimes fatal infections from the bug, which may cause healthy people to suffer from fever, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and abdominal pain, those agencies said.

A separate outbreak of listeria monocytogenes infections was also linked to sprouts this year, the FDA said.

A number of pathogen outbreaks in the 1990s related to sprouts, including some that prompted restaurant chains, such as Carl’s Jr., to stop using raw sprouts on some menu items, led the FDA to issue production safety guidance to growers that the regulatory body said greatly reduces the likelihood of salmonella contamination.

NYC operators say flu’s effect minimal

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

NEW YORK (May 4, 2009) Operators of Mexican and barbecue restaurants in this city say they have so far evaded consumer backlash stemming from the swine flu outbreak that has riveted attention on Mexico for nearly a week.

Even as the outbreak of the type A influenza virus now known as H1N1 continues to grow, the public seems to understand that the illness is not spread through eating pork and that there is no need to shun all things Mexican, operators said, noting that so far the event’s impact to business has been negligible.

“[April 26] was really slow,” said Zarela Martinez, owner-operator of Zarela’s, an upscale Mexican restaurant in midtown Manhattan. “We did, like, 60 covers, when normally we do around 130. But it also was a gorgeous day and very hot, so that could have contributed as well.”

Martinez said that by April 30, sales at her restaurant had returned to normal levels. She noted, however, that the uptick occurred following a radio broadcast she did with show host Brian Lehrer on WNYC.

“Interestingly enough, it has totally bounced back,” she said. “But I don’t know if that’s because of the way Brian handled it, [assuring everyone] there is no cause of panic. That helped in part.”

Victor Medina, general manager of Toloache, a fine-dining Mexican restaurant in midtown Manhattan, said business has been growing every day and that no one has expressed fear about catching the flu.

“No one has made any comments,” Medina said. “I was expecting a question or something, but so far no one has asked anything.”

In addition, he said, none of his customers have shied away from pork dishes.

“We’re doing well with steak, chicken and pork,” he said. “I think most people know it’s not related to the meat. Also, we only use American meats; there’s nothing from Mexico, and [our guests] know this.”

Martinez noted she had seen no decline in pork orders and that a recent pork special at her restaurant had sold out.

Business had also held steady at Union Square Hospitality Group, the operator of El Verano tacqueria at Citi Field, home stadium for the New York Mets, and the Blue Smoke barbecue concept.

“We have not seen any negative effect at all,” said USHG spokeswoman Michelle Lehmann. “At Blue Smoke, we’re selling lots of pulled pork, ribs, etc., and at El Verano, the carnitas taco is selling very well.”

Some operators distanced themselves from the unfolding event. Representatives for B.R. Guest Restaurants, owner-operator of such upscale-casual concepts as Dos Caminos Mexican restaurant and Wildwood Barbeque, declined to comment on whether the flu was having any affect on business, and calls to officials of Real Mex Restaurants, a company in Cyprus, Calif., with nearly 200 restaurants operating under such brands as Chevy’s Fresh Mex, El Torito and Acapulco, were not returned.

A representative for the New York-based, upscale casual Rosa Mexicano chain said managers had not noticed any difference in business following news of the outbreak.

A spokeswoman for the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene said the agency has been proactive in letting the public know it is safe to eat pork products and that the outbreak should not dissuade people from dining out in restaurants. Still, she added, it’s important for restaurant employees to make sure they are even more careful about hygienic practices at their respective establishments.

“Swine flu is here and it is spreading like seasonal influenza,” spokeswoman Jessica Scaperotti said. “It is important to wash your hands, and if you sneeze or cough to cover your mouth. If you are feeling sick, stay home.”

On Monday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta had confirmed 280 cases in 36 states, and the World Health Organization said that the worldwide tally of confirmed cases had reached 1,085 in 21 countries.

Martinez said her biggest concern is whether tourism to New York will be hurt as a result of the scare. That, she said, would negatively affect her sales.

“Where it could be a problem is that Europe is telling people not to come to the city, not to travel to New York,” she said. “That could really hurt a lot of us who are firmly established — we’re listed in the travel guides and books as places to go to — and we depend on that tourism in the summer.”

NYC restaurants take top honors at Beard Awards

Tuesday, May 5th, 2009

NEW YORK (May 5, 2009)

Nate Appleman, chef of A16 in San Francisco, was named “Rising Star” chef of the year, while New York City establishments nearly swept the restaurant honors at the 2009 James Beard Foundation Awards.

New York City restaurants won big at Monday night’s awards ceremony here, with Momofuku Ko taking the prize as best new restaurant. Jean Georges was named outstanding restaurant, and Dan Barber, executive chef and owner of Blue Hill in New York and Blue Hill at Stone Barns in Pocantico Hills, N.Y., won the outstanding chef award.

Gina De Palma of Babbo in New York was named outstanding pastry chef, and the outstanding service award went to restaurant Daniel, also in New York. Drew Nieporent of the Myriad Restaurant Group was named restaurateur of the year.

Appleman’s “Rising Star” award recognizes a chef aged 30 or younger who is deemed likely to make a significant impact on the restaurant industry.

“Being recognized by my peers is one of the greatest honors ever,” a teary Appleman said at the awards ceremony.

The outstanding wine service award went to Aldo Sohm, wine director of Le Bernardin.

Dale De Groff of Dale DeGroff Co. was named outstanding wine & spirits professional.

The outstanding restaurant design award went Thomas Schlesser, a New York-based designer from the firm Design Bureaux Inc., for The Publican in Chicago.

Boston-based designers Denise Korn, Javier Cortes and Bryant Ross of Korn Design won the outstanding restaurant graphics award for The Corner Office in Denver.

In the regional chef awards, Douglas Keane of Cyrus in Healdsburg, Calif., won in the Pacific region, which includes California and Hawaii.

Paul Bartolotta of Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at Wynn in Las Vegas won in the Southwest region — Arizona, Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Oklahoma, Texas and Utah.

Maria Hines of Tilth in Seattle was named best chef in the Northwest region — Alaska, Idaho, Montana, Oregon, Washington and Wyoming.

John Currence of City Grocery in Oxford, Miss., was named best chef in the South region — Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Louisiana and Mississippi

Tim McKee of La Belle Vie in Minneapolis was named best chef in the Midwest region — Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, the Dakotas and Wisconsin.

Michael Symon of Lola won for the Great Lakes region — Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Ohio.

Mike Lata of Fig in Charleston, S.C., won for the Southeast region — Georgia, Kentucky, the Carolinas, Tennessee and West Virginia

Jose Garces of Amada in Philadelphia won in the Mid-Atlantic region — Delaware, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.

Rob Evans of Hugo’s in Portland, Maine, won in the Northeast region — New England and New York state.

Gabriel Kreuther of The Modern was named best chef in New York City, which has its own regional category.