Archive for October, 2011

Mimi’s Café Expands Value Positioning

Monday, October 31st, 2011

Mimi’s Café is extending its “Value Revolution” positioning with the debut of Mimi’s My Way 1-2-3.

The offer lets customers build a two- or three-course meal consisting of one full-price entrée with soup or salad for an additional $2, or a soup or salad with a Petite Dessert for an additional $3.

Two-course meal options include garden or Caesar salad or a cup of soup: café corn chowder, French onion, roasted tomato and basil bisque, or one of seven soups that change daily.

Petite Dessert options for the three-course meal include bread pudding, apple cinnamon crisp, a triple chocolate brownie or chocolate mousse.

“Our guests know and love us for a variety of dinner favorites,” said Mark Mears, president and chief concept officer of 145-unit Mimi’s Café. “We also know times are tight and that dining out at dinner has become more challenging in this economy. While other restaurants lure guests with meal deals that offer only limited selections of appetizers, entrees and dessert combinations, Mimi’s My Way 1-2-3 offers ultimate guest flexibility.”

Mimi’s My Way is just one value offering the chain has deployed to compete with other casual-dining discounts, like Chili’s and Applebee’s $20-for-two offers.

Earlier this year, Mimi’s rolled out Family Meals to Go, a menu of 10 meals for $25 that serve four to five people and intended to drive the chain’s carryout business. Mimi’s Café Express Lunch offers a soup and salad for $6.99, or a half sandwich and soup or salad for $8.49, delivered within 15 minutes.

Other value offers include $8 wine flights during happy hour and Seasonal Tour de France options, like a two-course lunch for $10.99 and a three-course dinner for $13.99.

The company initiated the “Value Revolution” to reverse falling same-store sales at Mimi’s Café. For the most recent first quarter of fiscal 2012, same-store sales fell 4.8 percent at Mimi’s, after declining 4.5 percent for all of fiscal 2011.

Irvine, Calif.-based Mimi’s is a subsidiary of Columbus, Ohio-based Bob Evans Farms Inc. Mimi’s Café restaurants are located in 24 states.

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Lynyrd Skynyrd Restaurant to Open in Vegas

Monday, October 31st, 2011

A restaurant and entertainment concept based on the 1970s Southern rock band Lynyrd Skynyrd is scheduled to open on the Las Vegas Strip later this year.

Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ & Beer is scheduled to open in the Excalibur Hotel & Casino in early December, offering breakfast, lunch, and dinner and live music at night.

Multi-concept operator Drive This! Entertainment developed the restaurant.

The menu will feature barbecue from the 111-year-old Kreuz Market in Lockhart, Texas, which is known for its brisket and sausage.

The barbecue will be served “carvery style,” with guests moving down a service line, said Craig Gilbert, managing partner at Drive This!

Beverages will include handcrafted, freshly made cocktails, as well as a “shot menu” and specialty drinks made with Jack Daniels brand liquor, which matches the concept’s Southern barbecue theme, Gilbert said.

The average dinner check will be about $25 with beverages.

The concept is the third from Drive This!, which plans to open a fourth restaurant next to Lynyrd Skynyrd BBQ, also in December, called American Burger Works, or ABX, a fast-casual burger concept with Belgian-style fries, shakes and floats.

The group first opened Tacos & Tequila at the Luxor Hotel and Casino in 2008, a Mexican-theme concept, followed by RHUMBAR, a stylized cocktail lounge and patio with a Caribbean feel at The Mirage.

Drive This! aims to bring the Lynyrd Skynyrd concept to other cities, Gilbert said, a first for the group.

Although the band’s heyday was in the 1970s, Gilbert said the music has lived on and still appeals to younger audiences around the world, thanks in part to contemporary artists like Kid Rock, who brought back the Skynyrd classic “Sweet Home Alabama.”

“People of all ages have an affinity for their songs, which epitomize the Southern rock lifestyle,” Gilbert said. “And you still hear people in a crowd yelling out ‘Freebird.’ I don’t know if they even know what the song is, but yelling that is really popular.”

A plane crash in 1977 killed three band members, and other original members have since died over the years, but the band has continued playing with the core musicians Johnny Van Zant on vocals and Gary Rossington and Rickey Medlocke on guitar.

Gilbert said band members, who will occasionally perform at the venue, helped design the concept. The atmosphere is meant to evoke the backwoods cabin named “Hell House,” where the band wrote many songs, with walls of reclaimed barnyard wood, concrete floors and aged brick.

“It’s the kind of place that we’d like to hang out at,” Van Zant said. “With Southern-style barbecue and great music, this will be the perfect spot for rock and barbecue fans to kick back and have a great time in Vegas.”

Lynyrd Skynyrd “relics,” such as original album covers, guitars, artwork and photos will be on display, and the staff will be trained to perform choreographed routines and sing-alongs to the Southern rock music, Gilbert said.

Later at night, the 8,000-square-foot venue will serve as a rock club featuring music and entertainment.

Gilbert said the concept is designed for a “mid-market,” audience, what Drive This! sees as about 80 percent of the current Las Vegas tourist population.

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Fast-Casual Restaurants Inspire Competitors

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Fast-casual restaurants represent only about 6 percent of all eateries, but their growth is outpacing other segments and inspiring new menu, service and décor innovations across foodservice, a new Technomic report finds.

The distinctions between fast casual and other segments are beginning to blur, the industry research firm said, as quick-service and full-service brands adopt many features and price points that have fueled the growth of such chains as Panera Bread and Chipotle Mexican Grill.

“Watching the success of fast-casual concepts, quick-service restaurants have adapted by improving menu items and adding fresh positioning,” Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic, wrote in an email to Nation’s Restaurant News. “Leading QSRs, like McDonald’s and Wendy’s, are upgrading to fast-casual-like décor, and Chick-fil-A is testing table delivery.”

Casual-dining and family-dining brands also are adopting fast-casual elements, sometimes in new restaurant concepts, such as Pizza Inn’s recently launched Pie Five Pizza Co. and Denny’s new variant Denny’s Fresh Express.

Bagger Dave’s Legendary Burger Tavern, a five-unit full-service brand in Michigan, has adopted create-your-own and specialty burgers at price points similar to Five Guys Burgers and Fries and The Counter, but differentiates itself with a waitstaff that serves tableside.

Flat Out Crazy Restaurant Group’s forthcoming SC Asian unit in San Francisco begins with a fast-casual experience, with guests ordering and paying at a cash register, and then enlists waitstaff to serve guests, as Bagger Dave’s does.

Even with other segments appropriating its service elements, fast casual continues to push forward, Tristano said.

“Innovative fast-casual concepts continue to evolve, adding full-service elements like table service in the evening and quick-service convenience like drive-thrus and delivery, defying the typical fast-casual definition,” he said.

Mama Fu’s Asian House, a 13-unit chain based in Austin, Texas, is one such brand that has moved toward a “flex casual” model. It operates as a typical fast-casual brand by day and adds full service for dinner.

Several sub-segments of fast casual in particular are growing rapidly, including bakery-café and “better burger.” An earlier “Consumer Trends Report” from Technomic found that the bakery-café segment, led by Panera, has seen total sales increase 12 percent and unit counts rise 4.2 percent in the past three years.

Quickly-growing burger purveyors, like Smashburger, Five Guys and Mooyah Burgers & Fries, now account for more than half of the top 75 limited-service burger chains in the United States, Technomic found.

Overall, the segment is performing strongly when it comes to popularity among consumers and sales growth compared with others in the foodservice industry, Technomic said.

The sector has outpaced both quick service and full service in terms of overall sales growth over the past decade, with recent growth rates between 4 percent and 5 percent, Tristano said.

Technomic expects the fast-casual sector to continue growing through 2020, and the firm’s newly launched Fast Casual Insights Group will provide ongoing data and forecasts about the segment, following its Foodservice Planning Program scheduled to be presented in January.

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Restaurants Use Halloween Promos to Scare Up Business

Tuesday, October 25th, 2011

Restaurateurs are rolling out assorted tricks and treats to drum up business on Halloween, which this year falls on a Monday.

Ranging from the ghoulish and creepy to the downright fun, the many bar, menu and party promotions are designed to raise business on a night that is often dead.

“It’s always best when Halloween falls on a Friday or Saturday,” said Chris Mullins, owner of McGillin’s Olde Ale House in Philadelphia.

Still, many operators are calling on spirits to bring in the evening’s revelers. Among them, Station 4 in Washington, D.C., is offering $6 cocktail called the True Blood Martini, which is colored with raspberry liqueur and served with a red sugar rim.

The restaurant also is relabeling a wine from Moldova as “Transylvania wine” and selling it for $4 per glass, and offering guests in costume a chance to win a $100 gift certificate.

Hank’s Oyster Bar and Lounge, also in Washington, D.C., will be offering a special cocktail called Hard Candy. The $11 drink is made from vodka, Concord grape syrup, soda water and a dash of phosphoric acid — used to make classic phosphate sodas.

In Boston, 606 Congress is serving up the Ghost of Mary cocktail — its interpretation of a Bloody Mary.

A number of cocktail specials are also being linked to the Day of the Dead, a Mexican Holiday that predates Christianity in that country but that has come to be associated with the Catholic All Saint’s Day, Nov. 1, and All Souls Day, Nov. 2.

Ten-unit, New York-based Rosa Mexicano is offering a special Picosita cocktail for $11. A take on the Margarita, the Picosita has muddled red bell pepper added to it, and it’s topped with a combination of cayenne pepper and cumin and garnished with a charred red pepper slice.

At Maya and Pampano restaurants in New York and Tamayo in Denver, all owned by restaurateur Richard Sandoval, special cocktails include the Medianoche, made with añejo tequila, sweet vermouth, lemon zest and hibiscus purée; and the Margarita del Diablo, made with reposado tequila, blood orange purée and sour mix, served in a glass rimmed with black mole.

La Petite Abeille, a Belgian eatery in New York City, doesn’t let the fact that Belgians don’t typically celebrate Halloween keep it from celebrating this uniquely Anglo-Saxon holiday all weekend long, as it tries to attract both families and enthusiastic grown-up partiers.

On Saturday the restaurant holds an annual costume contests. The winner of the kids’ competition will get an iPod, while the team that takes the prize for the family/group-themed costume contest gets treated to free dinner.

Then on Sunday the restaurant is holding a pumpkin carving and decorating contest, the winner of which gets a giant nine-liter bottle of Belgian beer, which it normally sells for $450.

FarmBloomington in Bloomington, Ind., is offering pumpkin-oriented “Creepy Food Specials” all weekend, including curried pumpkin soup with candied pumpkin seeds, African chicken and pumpkin stew with coconut rice, and pumpkin flan with spiced pumpkin seed brittle. It will also offer pumpkin pancakes during regular brunch hours.

Many large chains are getting into the Halloween spirit with weekend specials. On Friday, IHOP is giving free Scary Face Pancakes to anyone under age 12 from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Served with a whipped topping mouth and a strawberry nose, chocolate cookies and candy corn are served on the side for kids to decorate the pancakes as they wish.

Chipotle is using Halloween as a fundraiser to bring attention, as the chain says, to “the scary realities facing family farms.”

During the Boorito fundraiser, customers visiting Chipotle restaurants in the United States, Canada or Great Britain dressed in a costume inspired by the family farm are treated to a burrito, order of tacos, salad or burrito bowl for $2, and Chipotle will donate the proceeds, up to $1 million to Farm Aid and the Chipotle Cultivate Foundation.

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Growth Opportunities in BRIC Countries

Monday, October 17th, 2011

The quickly emerging BRIC countries — Brazil, Russia, India and China — provide significant opportunities for restaurant chains looking to grow internationally, provided those companies tailor their menus to local tastes.

Chicago-based industry research firm Technomic Inc. said striking a balance between maintaining brand identity and building country-specific menu innovations can allow restaurant brands to gain a foothold in these growing markets. Menu items like chicken and coffee will be growth areas for BRIC countries.

“[U.S. restaurant chains] can take advantage of the worldwide recognition they’ve established, but in order to gain loyal customers in new markets, they need to innovate on the menu and introduce items specifically adapted for local consumer preferences,” Darren Tristano, Technomic executive vice president, said. “Chains are also leveraging their international experience and applying lessons learned to improve domestic operations and innovation.”

Some of the largest U.S. restaurant brands have already begun rolling out such products, sometimes by importing them from the United States or other foreign markets, Technomic said.


McDonald’s recently launched a Chicken Bacon Onion sandwich in Brazil, which was originally developed for its European division. The sandwich combines a breaded chicken breast with bacon, bacon-spiked cheese and bacon-flavored sauce on a bun dotted with sesame seeds and bacon bits.

Restaurant securities analyst Mark Kalinowski of Janney Capital Markets noted this summer after meeting with McDonald’s chief financial officer Pete Bensen that market-to-market menu sharing would become more common for McDonald’s. Not only could popular items overseas show up in U.S. McDonald’s restaurants, but domestic sales drivers, like McCafé Real Fruit Smoothies, could soon appear on menus in Brazil and beyond.

Burger King has also announced growth plans in Brazil, Technomic said, with a master franchise agreement with an affiliate of private-equity firm Vinci Partners in a joint-venture deal. Burger King currently has 110 franchised locations in Brazil.

Additionally, Wendy’s said it’s renewing its international growth push, with Brazil and China as key targets. The quick-service chain currently has only a few hundred international units, but projects a potential 8,000 overseas restaurants.

Companies including Yum! Brands Inc. and McDonald’s Corp. see China, with a population of more than a billion people, as the top prize in international expansion.

In the first half of the fiscal year, Yum generated an operating profit of $397 million from its nearly 4,000 Chinese restaurant locations, or 48.4 percent of its total $820 million operating profit. While McDonald’s generates only 3 percent of its total operating profit from its 1,400 China restaurants, the brand increased its same-store sales there by 14 percent in the second quarter. McDonald’s plans to open 175 to 200 units in China this year.

Yum is also planning to expand in China with native concept Little Sheep, which specializes in “hot pots,” Technomic said. Yum already owned 27 percent of Little Sheep before making an $863.5 million offer for the rest of the brand this summer.


In Russia, Yum made a similar move by taking over its Rostik’s-KFC joint-venture in 2010 from Rostik Group, which controls Russia’s largest restaurant chain, Rosinter.

Chicken will be a huge market in Russia in the coming years, Technomic noted. One of the country’s largest poultry processors, Cherkizovo, has broken ground on a new production facility that can process 500,000 metric tons of live poultry per year, a significant upgrade from Russia’s total current capacity of 15,000 to 20,000 metric tons annually, Technomic research showed.


In India, coffee will have a large potential for foodservice brands, based on the growth of the country’s largest native coffee chain, Café Coffee Day. That brand, with more than 1,100 locations, is beginning to spin off brands, including Coffee Day Lounge, which it hopes to grow from 19 current units to 100 by the spring of 2013.

India has 1,200 restaurant franchisors, about 25 percent of which are from outside India, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Commercial Service. The service valued India’s current restaurant franchise market at $3.3 billion across all sectors, and pegs its potential to reach $20 billion by 2020.

Baskin-Robbins, Pizza Hut, KFC, Papa John’s Pizza, Ruby Tuesday, Pizza Hut, Subway, McDonald’s and Domino’s Pizza all have a presence in India. Domino’s Indian master franchisee, Jubilant Foodworks, had 339 restaurants across 79 cities at the end of 2010 and planned to open 70 units there in 2011. Jubilant’s same-store sales growth has averaged 18 percent over the past five years.

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Argonne Capital Buys 40 Applebee’s Units

Monday, October 17th, 2011

Private-investment firm Argonne Capital Group LLC has purchased 40 Applebee’s restaurants in the Atlanta area from Apple Restaurants Inc., a franchise group operated by Applebee’s founder Bill Palmer, Argonne officials said Friday.

Atlanta-based Argonne, which last year founded franchise group Neighborhood Restaurant Partners LLC, will retain Palmer as the group’s chief executive.

Terms of the sale were not disclosed.

Argonne, through affiliates, is also the largest franchisee of IHOP restaurants. DineEquity Inc. owns both the Applebee’s and IHOP brands.

In December 2010, Neighborhood Restaurant Partners purchased eight franchised Applebee’s locations in Texas, along with development rights for the region.

At the time, Argonne said it had sights set on growing Applebee’s, as well as IHOP.

With this latest deal, Neighborhood Restaurant Partners will franchise a total of 48 Applebee’s units. Combined Applebee’s and IHOP holdings for Argonne affiliates will total nearly 300 units.

Based in Glendale, Calif., DineEquity operated and franchised 2,011 Applebee’s locations at the end of 2011’s second quarter, as well as 1,512 IHOP restaurants, which are almost all franchised.

Bringing back the brand

Palmer said DineEquity’s efforts to revitalize the Applebee’s brand in recent years are taking hold.

“After 30 plus years, I am still extremely passionate about the Applebee’s brand,” Palmer said in a statement. “Current initiatives in both facility and product development will energize the concept to achieve a new level of prominence in the marketplace.”

Palmer added that Neighborhood Restaurant Partners would continue to expand “through ground-up development and new acquisitions.”

Julia Stewart, DineEquity chairman and chief executive, said: “Today’s announcement serves as confirmation of our franchise community’s confidence in our efforts to revitalize Applebee’s and the strength of the brand.

“We are thrilled, not only at the growth of Neighborhood Restaurant Partners, but that we will continue to benefit from Bill’s involvement in the brand,” she said.

Since acquiring Applebee’s in 2007, DineEquity has refranchised corporate locations, with the goal of becoming 95 percent franchised by early 2012.

Earlier this week, the company announced an agreement to sell 17 corporate locations to a franchisee for nearly $16 million. When that and other pending deals are closed, company officials said they will have reached their goal of being 95-percent franchised.

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Charley’s continues to grow at military bases

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Charley’s Grilled Subs opened its 100th onsite restaurant at a military base this week through the Army-Air Force Exchange Service, or AAFES, and shows no signs of slowing growth, said chief operating officer Bob Wright.

With the opening of the unit at Joint Base Lewis-McChord near Seattle, Charley’s continued its 12-year partnership with AAFES. It is the second-largest brand in AAFES’s nearly $1 billion portfolio.

The Columbus, Ohio-based Charley’s, known for its Philly cheese steaks, has nearly a quarter of its restaurants on bases in the United States and around the world. The strategy aims to permit future growth in areas with an American military presence and beyond.

Long before Charley’s opened its first military-base unit in July 1999, the company sought to work with AAFES, Wright said. Not only did AAFES’ mission to serve American service members align with the Charley’s philanthropy-oriented values, but the brand’s cooked-to-order platform enabled growth primarily in onsite settings like mall and military-base food courts.

Charley’s partnership with the military has allowed it to gain a foothold in markets it had previously never entered, Wright said. It now has 440 units in 46 states and 15 foreign countries.

“A lot of people’s first exposure to us has been on bases around the world,” Wright said. “I’ve been on the line in a mall restaurant of ours, and a former service member will tell me that our brand was a taste of home when he was stationed in Germany or South Korea.”

Expansion with AAFES will continue at the pace of eight to 10 locations per year the partnership already produces, Wright said.

Charley’s also will look to expand internationally and in the United States by branching out beyond the bases into those markets. The chain is in discussions to add locations in Germany and South Korea, and has signed deals in Asia and Central and South America. The brand already has 16 units in the United Arab Emirates.

“We have a great chance to take advantage of expanding capitalism around the world and the consumerism that comes with it,” Wright said. “Even in a worldwide slow economy, there are growth opportunities.”

Charley’s also plans to start growing domestically in a more traditional sense with its Charley’s Philly Steaks prototype, a freestanding location with a full dining room and a drive-thru. The first such unit opened this year, with three more planned for 2011 and four for 2012.

As for base expansion, even if the U.S. military draws down its troop presence over the next several years in Iraq and Afghanistan, Charley’s Grilled Subs still will have room to grow through the AAFES partnership, Wright said.

“We remain flexible to their needs,” he said. “We already closed one AAFES unit this year in Kuwait, and that was because of troop movement. We’re still underserved in the larger military population. AAFES’s motto is that they go where the soldiers are, and we’ll grow where they grow.”

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Famous Dave’s to Open First International Unit in Canada

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Famous Dave’s of America will open its first international location in Canada in Winnipeg, Manitoba, next June, the company said.

The casual-dining barbecue chain has signed a deal with Canadian franchisee Famous Ribs of Canada Inc., a subsidiary of Tribal Councils Investment Group of Manitoba Ltd., or TCIG. TCIG is a private-investment holding of First Nations, or Canada’s native tribes.

Famous Dave’s chief executive Christopher O’Donnell said the company chose TCIG because of its growth and operations infrastructure resulting from a diversified business.

“The strength of their internal business operations gives us a lot of excitement for Canada,” O’Donnell said. “Canada gives us the opportunity to manage the process and learn from it. It’s close enough to really understand the challenges and opportunities.”

Famous Dave’s has also received serious franchise inquiries from Australia, Brazil, France, Spain and Russia. While the company currently does not have plans to expand to those countries, it would look to those markets once it learns from its Canadian experience, O’Donnell said.

“This is a good opportunity to sharpen our skills, learn the purchasing element and see our cultural fit,” he said. “The world has changed dramatically in the last three years. There was a process once where you have to saturate the United States before you go international. But now restaurant brands can take their blinders off and ask where else the opportunities are.”

Famous Dave’s still has room for as many as 400 restaurants in the United States, O’Donnell said. Expanding to 37 states, where regional preferences for barbecue are intense and styles vary significantly from the South to the Midwest to Texas, made O’Donnell confident that Famous Dave’s could expand to foreign markets with its menu.

“Many organizations have tried to embrace barbecue as a concept and grow it, but for us it’s a culture,” he said. “Our flavor profile is very bold. We embrace smoke flavors and bold seasonings that [our founder] Dave Anderson has perfected. That’s why Australia, Spain and Brazil interest me.”

The brand is 75-percent franchised in the United States, and O’Donnell said the chain would look to keep the same percentage in Canada and other international markets.

TCIG also shares a cultural synergy with Famous Dave’s, as its First Nations heritage aligns with that of founder and chairman Dave Anderson, who is Native American.

In addition to now franchising Famous Dave’s, TCIG owns and operates the master franchise of Wok Box, a quick-service Asian concept. TCIG also owns Arctic Beverages Limited, the only Pepsi bottler in the world operated by a native tribe, and which services the largest territory in Canada with Pepsi and Frito-Lay products.

Minneapolis-based Famous Dave’s was founded in 1994 and operates or franchises 184 barbecue restaurants in 37 states.

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