Archive for November, 2011

Yum Inks Deal With Gas Stations in China

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Yum! Brands Inc. has struck a deal with China Petroleum & Chemical Corp. that will allow additional restaurant openings for KFC, Pizza Hut and Yum’s proprietary East Dawning brand in Sinopec gas stations.

Yum currently has seven restaurants located in Sinopec stations in Shanghai, Shandong, Fujian, Guangdong and Shenzhen. The deal would allow the Louisville, Ky.-based company to open 50 more restaurants in Chinese gas stations over the next five years. There are more than 30,000 Sinopec stations in China, and Yum has more than 4,000 restaurants in that country, mostly KFC units as well as Pizza Hut Delivery and Pizza Hut Casual Dining.

“The cooperation between Yum! and Sinopec will propel the development of a new commercial service model in gas stations and expressway service stations,” Mark Chu, president of Yum’s China division, said in a statement. “Different from previous cooperative models, the collaboration between Yum and Sinopec is a flexible and diversified framework agreement open to our various brands. Yum will select appropriate brands for different gas stations according to their unique features, so that the newly-built restaurants can meet the needs of Sinopec locations.”

In addition to locations of its American brands and the East Dawning quick-service concept, Yum’s China division also owns a stake in the 480-unit Little Sheep casual-dining brand, which specializes in “hot pot” cuisine. Yum submitted a formal bid to acquire Little Sheep from its founders for $682 million on May 13, and Chinese regulators approved the bid Nov. 8.

China has been the strongest performing division of Yum Brands’ portfolio for the past several years. For the Sept. 3-ended third quarter, same-store sales in the country rose 19 percent, compared with a 2-percent decline for Yum’s restaurants in the United States.

Yum operates or franchises more than 38,000 locations of KFC, Pizza Hut and Taco Bell in the United States and more than 100 countries.

Read more: Blends Salon, Restaurant Concepts

Monday, November 28th, 2011

Evan Musikantow is betting that people will be more likely to go for a haircut when they can also grab a hot panini and a beer at the salon.

Musikantow, a longtime franchise developer of Applebee’s restaurants, launched last month, a new hybrid concept in Scottsdale, Ariz., where customers can do just that.

The bar and restaurant/barbershop is designed to eventually become a franchise model, said Musikantow, chief operating officer of the Scottsdale-based mini group of companies, which will operate the brand.

“There’s a real niche,” he said. “No one has successfully franchised a good barbershop or done it with something exciting.”

Using the tagline “Get Buzzed, $20 haircuts, $2 beers,” was designed to appeal to men, but it appears to have struck a chord with women as well, Musikantow said.

He described the concept as “the Mondrian or Delano hotel meets the barbershop.”

The 3,300-square-foot location is sleek and modern with a clean black-and-white décor.

The bar/restaurant is separated from the barbershop by a glass wall that looks into a retail area, where the shop sells men’s grooming products.

The 40-seat restaurant, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner, has no kitchen. All food is prepared off site by a local French restaurant and delivered fresh daily.

Guests can order a selection of sandwiches that are grilled to order or served cold. Other options include bar snacks — hummus, spinach dip, bruschetta — various salads, a fruit and cheese plate, and desserts and pastries.

The bar offers a wide selection of wine, beer, sake and champagne. Coffee and sodas are also available.

The average check with beverages is about $10.

Tucked in the back is a VIP room where guests can bring a group “Entourage style” for a pre-wedding stag party or a Sunday watching football, drinking beer and getting haircuts.

The venue was created with a top-notch sound system for deejayed events or parties.

On the barbershop side, the menu of services plays off the bar aspect. “A shot,” for example, includes a haircut, hot-towel neck shave and eyebrow trim. “A double” is a cut with shampoo, hot-towel neck shave and eyebrow trim.

Musikantow said the margin potential is about 50 percent on both sides of the business, “so long as you don’t overstaff.” The restaurant side can be run with as few as four to six employees, he said.

The mini group has signed deals to open four more units before the end of the fourth quarter this year, with two more scheduled to open in the first quarter of 2012.

The simplified model makes it ideal for franchising, he added.

Musikantow developed the concept because he was looking for something new to get excited about as Applebee’s development slowed.

“People walk in and they’re blown away,” he said. “Why does it have to be a chore to get your hair cut?”

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Founder Sells Milwaukee Cafe for $100, Promise of Food

Monday, November 21st, 2011

It’s not often a viable neighborhood restaurant is sold for $100 and Benton said she feels fortunate to be chosen to run the socially conscious cafe on Milwaukee’s near south side.

Founder Michael Diedrick chose Benton, 35, an out-of-work chef, to take over the National Cafe and Takeaway, an eclectic establishment and anchor for a neighborhood in transition.

Diedrick, 40, started the cafe three years ago with the goal of bettering the neighborhood and introducing Milwaukee to sustainable concepts typically found in restaurants in larger cities. It was valued at about $50,000.

He received two dozen applications for the restaurant and selected Benton from a dozen he interviewed. Benton, who was unemployed and working on a catering business plan, bought the cafe with a $100 bill earlier this month.

“I definitely had higher offers, but I accepted the one with the most promise,” Diedrick said, adding that the sale “got everyone in town talking about the National, and did something we often forget: help someone realize a dream.”

Diedrick, who operates a website design studio three doors down from the cafe, said he had opened it as an experiment with the plan to find the right owner, a process that took longer than he thought it would.

As a condition of the sale, Benton has to keep the staff, maintain the cafe name and keep the food the same for two years. She also must feed Diedrick and his wife a meal a day for one year, and remain in the same location for two years while serving sustainable and local food.

For Benton, who also has worked to help refugees, it’s a rare opportunity to be part of something larger. The cafe is open from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and she plans to let it out for evening events by area non-profit groups.

“I wanted to be able to marry the two backgrounds, and the National Cafe is perfect for that,” said Benton, who officially takes ownership on December 1.

The daughter of St. Norbert University professors, Benton grew up in the Green Bay area and majored in sociology in college. She started working in cafes at age 14 and eventually earned a culinary degree in Florida.

Benton has traveled the world and studied cooking in Thailand. She also worked in Minneapolis for the American Refugee Committee, an international organization that works with at-risk refugees and displaced persons.

The cafe offers locally grown, organic food. The cafe’s suppliers include Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based a nationally recognized urban agriculture farm.

Sustainability is another focus. Restaurant patrons are asked to return compostable leftover containers for recycling in a backyard garden where cucumbers, cilantro, chard and basil grow on raised soil beds over formerly crumbling concrete.

“It’s a matter of doing things right to show other restaurants to say, ‘hey you can do this, it doesn’t cost that much more, and you should,’” Diedrick said.

McDonald’s Drops Egg Supplier Over Cruelty Allegations

Monday, November 21st, 2011

MINNEAPOLIS—McDonald’s Corp. said Friday it dropped a Minnesota-based egg supplier after an animal-rights group released an undercover video of operations at the egg producer’s farms in three states.

The video by Mercy for Animals shows what the group calls animal cruelty at five Sparboe Farms facilities in Iowa, Minnesota and Colorado. Its images include a worker swinging a bird around by its feet, hens packed into cramped cages, male chicks being tossed into plastic bags to suffocate and workers cutting off the tips of chick’s beaks.

“The behavior on tape is disturbing and completely unacceptable. McDonald’s wants to assure our customers that we demand humane treatment of animals by our suppliers,” Bob Langert, McDonald’s vice president for sustainability, said in a statement.

The move also followed a warning letter to Sparboe Farms dated Wednesday from the Food and Drug Administration that said inspectors found “serious violations” at five Sparboe facilities of federal regulations meant to prevent salmonella. The warning said eggs from those facilities “have been prepared, packed, or held under insanitary conditions whereby they may have become contaminated with filth, or whereby they may have been rendered injurious to health.”

Officials with Sparboe Cos. didn’t return phone calls, but the company issued a statement calling the video “shocking” and saying an internal investigation identified four employees “who were complicit in this disturbing activity” and were fired this month.

“I was deeply saddened to see the story because this isn’t who Sparboe Farms is,” owner and president Beth Sparboe Schnell said in a statement posted on a company website. “Acts depicted in the footage are totally unacceptable and completely at odds with our values as egg farmers. In fact, they are in direct violation of our animal care code of conduct, which all of our employees read, sign and follow each day.”

Sparboe also said on the website that it has made management changes, taken corrective actions sought by the FDA, and begun retraining all barn workers in proper animal care procedures.

Alcohol Sales Expected to Grow in 2012

Monday, November 14th, 2011

The restaurant industry will see a modest increase in alcohol sales in 2012, but will drive that growth with higher prices and premium offerings, new research from Technomic found.

Overall on-premise alcohol sales are expected to rise 2.4 percent next year, Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc. said. Gradually improving traffic numbers and operator expectations of better conditions in 2012 helped fuel expectations.

For 2011, Technomic predicted alcohol sales growth of 1.9 percent, said David Henkes, a Technomic vice president and director of the firm’s on-premise practice. Inflation of 2.5 percent was assumed for both the 2011 and 2012 forecasts, Technomic indicated.

Technomic forecast 3-percent growth in overall food-and-non-alcoholic-beverage sales within the eight segments tracked for on-premise sales, Henkes said.

By industry segment, alcohol sales are expected to grow in 2012 by 3.5 percent in fine dining, 3.2 percent in casual dining and 5.4 percent in the lodging sector, Technomic said.

Henkes noted that the relatively robust growth within some of those segments, particularly fine dining, are the result of somewhat easy comparisons, as pricier restaurants were hit hard by the recession and have been slower to recover than other segments.

Technomic said it sees nominal growth of alcohol sales of 1.8 percent for casinos, 1.1 percent for recreation facilities and -0.2 percent at concessions operations.

Technomic expects wine sales to increase by 3.5 percent, spirits by 2.3 percent, and beer by 2.2 percent.

Henkes said the actual volume of alcoholic products poured in restaurants and bars next year “will likely remain flat” compared with 2011. Growth will be “driven largely by pricing increases and by gains in certain categories like craft beers and premium spirits,” he said, and through the “differentiation” of a restaurant or chain’s overall beverage program.

Bar managers have not been immune to rising product prices, nor from their bosses, who traditionally look to alcohol sales to boost profits. Henkes indicated that some of those bar professionals are beginning to push back.

“A lot more operators are willing to admit they are starting to look at different ways to enhance profitability, or at least maintain it, as price increases are not always an option,” Henkes said.

A growing percentage of surveyed operators said they are trying to protect profit margins by reducing pour sizes for wine and beer, or using smaller amounts of spirits in mixed drinks, Henkes said.

Within a group of operators recently questioned about alcohol management practices, 20 percent said they had reduced the size of their draft beer pours, as opposed to 13 percent last year, Henkes said. Nineteen percent of participants this year said they had done likewise for their by-the-glass wine programs, versus 14 percent a year earlier.

Twice as many operators questioned this year, 18 percent versus 9 percent in 2010, said they are using less spirits in their mixed drinks, Henkes said.

“Those are the percentages willing to admit to that,” he said, “so the number of operators actually doing something like this is likely higher.”

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Restaurant Chains Get a Higher Education

Monday, November 14th, 2011

Restaurant brands are learning to love on-campus locations as growth vehicles and testing grounds for new operations or service techniques.

Nation’s Restaurant News recently spoke with movers in the segment, including Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits, Denny’s, Einstein Bros., Moe’s Southwest Grill and Beef O Brady’s to share lessons learned.

Bojangles’ Famous Chicken ’n Biscuits opened its first on-campus restaurant Monday at the University of North Carolina–Greensboro. First-week sales surpassed $50,000 for a unit of about 2,800 square feet, said Eric Newman, executive vice president of Charlotte, N.C.-based Bojangles’. That kind of performance makes higher-education locations “a valuable tool” for accelerating the brand’s already rapid growth, he said.

“[Non-traditional growth] can bolster what you already have and increase market share in penetrated markets, or be a spearhead to introduce more people to the brand,” Newman said. “It’s a great addition to reach people you’re not reaching normally at certain dayparts.”

For instance, he said, Bojangles’ can drive strong sales at lunch from students at the on-campus unit without cannibalizing sales from its three locations in Greensboro near the university.

“You’re basically serving a contained market not leaving campus for mealtimes during school hours,” Newman said.

Bojangles’ also operates on-site restaurants at Charlotte’s convention center, football stadium, transit center and airport, as well as in Union Station in Washington, D.C.

Last week, Denny’s reported that this year franchisees would open five restaurants, rather than the 10 it had previously planned, on college campuses, where the chain operates both food court restaurants and fast-casual counter-service units.

Denny’s chief executive John Miller said the chain plans to grow on campuses, but said the timing of new-store development complicates plans. On campuses, Denny’s is dealing with two new types of franchisees: universities and contract foodservice organizations, like Sodexo or Compass.

“We are very excited about the 11 university units we have opened since the beginning of 2010 and the attractiveness of the Denny’s brand in new distribution points,” Miller said. “Although we do not expect to open any more university units in 2011, we remain focused on building our pipeline for 2012 and beyond.”

High-volume lessons

Einstein Bros. Bagels also has a growing presence on campuses around the country. Sixty-five percent of the brand’s 240 licensed locations are located at higher-education institutions, said Jeff O’Neill, chief executive of Lakewood, Colo.-based parent company Einstein Noah Restaurant Group. Recent campus openings include units at the University of Virginia, the University of Wisconsin and the University of Arkansas, he added.

“This is a great third leg of the stool and a good, balanced growth opportunity for us,” O’Neill said. “A lot of young kids are looking for fresh-baked and healthier choices, so [on-campus expansion] is working for us, and we’re getting strong unit growth as well.”

He added that higher-education openings and other on-site growth with partners like Aramark or Sodexo make a “beachhead in our franchising push” and help get locations in new markets quickly. Also, these locations average about 800 square feet, compared with a typical 2,500-square-foot Einstein Bros. unit, so brand officials learn a lot about through-put.

“Our location in the Denver airport is the single largest sales venue across the company,” O’Neill said. “They’ve got to be ready to roll, but they do a good job keeping the line moving and use handheld terminals for line-busting.”

Extra credit for unit growth

Paul Damico, president of Atlanta-based Moe’s Southwest Grill, also loves ringing up large sales figures in small spaces at colleges and other on-site accounts. But he particularly likes having campus restaurants as a growth vehicle that is incremental to Moe’s traditional expansion.

“Almost every brand wants to get into this because you get lifelong customers at a young age,” Damico said. “Students are educated consumers who want great food that is better for them, and they’re willing to pay more for it. To be part of their campus meal plan makes it so much easier.”

Aramark operates the majority of Moe’s non-traditional locations, Damico said, while Compass or Sodexo manage other properties. A few campus locations — at the University of Buffalo, Penn State University and the University of Notre Dame — are self-operated, he said.

Higher-education locations make up most of 420-unit Moe’s on-site restaurants, he added. The brand has 11 campus units open and six more in development, compared with five units in malls, four apiece in airports and train stations, and one location apiece in health care, business and industry, and travel plaza settings.

“The nontraditional venues let us get our brand in front of the masses and introduce us to people who couldn’t see our restaurants where they’re from,” Damico said.

Classing up the joint

Sometimes on-campus locations are the only places where restaurants can open with enough traffic and good locations, said James Walker, chief development officer for Beef ‘O’ Brady’s.

“There are towns out there where a college itself could support a Beef ‘O’ Brady’s, but there’s no real estate available nearby,” Walker said.

The Tampa, Fla.-based family sports pub chain opened its first on-campus restaurant this year at the University of South Florida, also in Tampa, in partnership with Aramark.

“We’ve looked at the results of USF, and we feel that we’ve got enough of a track record there that we’re ready to jump on more campus opportunities in 2012,” Walker said. “That’s where we’re more value-oriented, and college students are looking for value and good sports.”

The sports teams that campus customers want to watch in Beef ‘O’ Brady’s casual-dining atmosphere quite often are the college football and basketball teams from the school, he said, which gives Beef ‘O’ Brady’s a chance to tailor its on-site restaurants to a very passionate fan base.

“Most of our traditional restaurants are about big-name sports teams, like the New York Yankees or the Boston Red Sox, and then a strong local element,” Walker said. “But when this brand moves to campuses, you’re in a bit of a co-branding situation where the team’s brand is center-stage throughout. It’s nothing different from what we do in our traditional locations, but we take this local element and shine a spotlight on it.”

Beef ‘O’ Brady’s has more than 210 restaurants in 22 states.

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More Restaurants Moving In: Are Eateries Taking Over Downtown?

Monday, November 7th, 2011

A recent trend shows that more restaurants than retailers have been opening in downtown San Luis Obispo.

According to the city’s business license database, 18 restaurants have opened in the downtown in the past two years. There were six in 2010 and 12 so far this year. Three others have either moved into larger locations or are expanding their current spaces.

That compares to the 14 retail stores that have opened in the downtown area during the same period: eight in 2010 and six this year.

“It seems that there are restaurants moving into spaces that have formerly been retail spaces,” said Claire Clark, economic development manager for the city, “notably, the former Meridian location, a couple of the spaces in the Wineman and in the former Johnson’s for Children on Higuera.”

Clark also noted that new restaurants are occupying the spaces of prior restaurants: Tio Alberto’s, which is now The Wild Donkey Café; Cornerview, now Eureka Burger; Muzio’s, now Raku; and the bagel shop that became Croce’s pizza for a short time and then the Broad Street Tavern, which recently closed.

Associate city planner James David says he’s taken note of the trend. “We’ve seen a lot of tenant improvements that are from retail to restaurant,” David said. He also noted several existing businesses that have recently expanded or moved to bigger locations, like Creeky Tiki, Granada Hotel and Kruezberg, Ca.

Creeky Tiki and the Granada Hotel have expanded their current locations and Kreuzberg, Ca moved from 870 Monterey St. to 685 Higuera St. in August. City officials say despite the challenging economy, the downtown area remains a desirable location for business owners.

Only a handful of new business applications are pending for 2012, but officials in the city’s Economic Development Department say that will likely change.

“The downtown continues to be a strong draw for tourists and for merchants who benefit from tourism activities,” Clark said. “It continues to expand at the edges, making room for all types of businesses. This expansion is expected to continue with the Chinatown and Garden Street Terraces projects. Expansion will continue to promote growth in all sectors of our downtown businesses.”

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Sustainable Design

Monday, November 7th, 2011

An improving selection of products at prices moving closer to the mainstream, coupled with growing consumer support for sustainable business practices, is prompting the increased use of materials made from rapidly renewable and reclaimed resources in foodservice construction, according to operators and designers.

Examples of such materials are beginning to surface regularly. They range from the flooring made of fast-growing bamboo and fixtures crafted from reclaimed local college athletic bleacher wood in the weeks-old LYFE Kitchen, a fast-casual restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif., to the recycled quarry tiles, bamboo countertops and salvaged wood floors used by Fox Restaurant Concepts’ four-unit True Food Kitchen casual-dining chain.

Even pioneers in the use of such alternative building materials are continuing to try the newest products or strategies for reducing their business’ impact on the environment, including Evos, a 17-year-old, eight-unit “healthier fast-food” chain. Evos co-founder Michael Jeffers said the Tampa, Fla.-based chain is currently testing concrete flooring that is stained without the use of harmful chemicals.

He said alternative construction materials regularly used by Evos include:

• Fiberglass-reinforced plastic wall panels with a high percentage of recycled materials for frequently cleaned areas of the kitchen.

• A faux floor linoleum made from “wood flour” — or sawdust left over from other production processes — linseed oil, rosin, jute fiber and limestone.

• A wood substitute made from reclaimed and pressed sorghum straw used for framing restaurant artwork, among other roles.

“Sustainability is in vogue right now and a lot of companies are embracing it, but this is part of our DNA and culture and who we are,” Jeffers said.

Committed to the cost 

Gary Wiggle of Keisker & Wiggle Architects said the requirement by management of Chicago-based LYFE Kitchen that development work begin with the drafting of a sustainability platform and environmental goals for the project convinced the creative team that “sustainable design wasn’t going to be an afterthought or sideline of LYFE Kitchen, but actually part of the DNA.”

Such commitments are important in the designing and building of restaurants that use reclaimed and rapidly renewable construction materials as part of an overall sustainability strategy, as such restaurants can cost from 10 percent to 20 percent more than conventionally constructed facilities, according to Evos’ Jeffers.

Karl Behrens, chief operating officer for the projects division of contractor Compass Group’s North American organization, acknowledged the 10-percent- to 15-percent-higher cost of some sustainable building materials, such as bamboo versus hardwood flooring. But he maintained that there could be overriding factors that make them a good choice.

“The audiences we are now catering to in these buildings, who we are designing these structures for, have a sheer appreciation for those [sustainable] materials,” Behrens said. “They love to see the bamboo on the floor or the reclaimed barn wood on the floor because to them those are signs that this building does not necessarily cost the ecosystem or cost the environment something.” 

Some good news, Jeffers, Behrens and other operators and designers said, is that the price for alternative construction materials is coming down as production ramps up to meet increasing demand and competition among producers increases. The selection and aesthetics of those products are improving, as well, they indicated.

Among the projects using rapidly renewable and reclaimed building materials recently completed by Compass Group was the Oaks Dining Hall that opened in August on the campus of Bowling Green State University in Ohio. The university’s foodservice operations are managed by Compass Group’s Chartwells Higher Education Dining Services.

Behrens said that, in addition to a growing array of bamboo flooring and surfaces products and sorghum-stalk wood substitutes, the Compass Group projects team now regularly specifies a wood substitute made from coconut shells and resin panels embedded with rapidly renewable resources for texture or color, such as dark banana fibers.

Other examples of restaurants using rapidly renewable or reclaimed materials include:

• Chipotle Mexican Grill, referring to its LEED platinum certified restaurant in Gurnee, Ill., said it increased the strength of the concrete it used there, reduced energy usage and greenhouse gases tied to cement production, and lessened landfill pressures by mixing in fly ash, a byproduct of coal combustion previously typically sent to the dump.

• Bamboo furnishings are used by a wide range of restaurant concepts, including Tilth, an organic specialty restaurant in Seattle, and Coal Burger, a three-unit “coal-fired burgeria” group based in Scottsdale, Ariz., that also uses reclaimed wood.

• Bamboo flooring is used at branches of the 10-unit Pizza Fusion chain of Boca Raton, Fla., as well as at upscale independents, such as Darren’s Restaurant in Manhattan Beach, Calif.

Sometimes there is a subtle difference between a construction material perceived as sustainable versus one that is not, explained Margee Drews of Margee Drews Design, the interior designer for LYFE Kitchen. For example, she said, the teak wood used for some table tops in LYFE Kitchen came from the deliberate and documented thinning of sustainably managed forests.

Sustainable convergence

The strategy of using rapidly renewable and reclaimed materials is one whose time has come, according to Brian Bucher, creative director for global design firm WD Partners, which worked with Compass Group and Design Smart LLC on the Bowling Green State University project. 

“There has been a convergence of a few things brewing the past several years,” he said. “One is the client’s interest in being more sustainable, especially now that they typically have a sustainability statement or cadence for their corporation and are interested in the long-term benefits just from doing ‘the right thing.’ You have designers, architects and developers, who are all certainly focused on wanting to incorporate [sustainable materials], as well. And you have manufacturers of materials who are now readily making these materials available to them as part of their mainstay product lines.”

Dennis Lombardi, executive vice president of foodservice strategies at WD Partners, added that when it comes to the use of rapidly renewable or reclaimed materials, operators are getting “push and pull” encouragement on multiple fronts.

“The ‘push’ will come from regulations and requirements by municipalities, and the ‘pull’ from consumers,” Lombardi said. “There is no doubt that we’re at the beginning of this whole transition from what used to be called a cowboy-frontier mindset,” or belief that resources are limitless, “to a spaceship mentality” of a closed environment where some resources are limited and must be used wisely.

The durability issue

While the appeal to consumers of alternative materials viewed as more sustainable is building and the prices of such materials are coming down, there are still some challenges associated with their use.

“At True Food Kitchen it is important to us that we minimize our carbon footprint whenever possible,” said Kara Sundeen, director of development for Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Fox Restaurant Concepts. “The flip side is that these materials are harder to get and are also typically more expensive. We have also discovered that they are often not as durable as some of the materials we typically use in our other restaurants.”

Beyond that, Sundeen said, such alternative building materials can “require special attention and more maintenance then nonrenewable materials.”

Behrens of Compass Group, who said he believes some highly renewable resources used as building materials are as durable or more durable than some of the materials they replace, conceded that some nonconventional items “do take a little bit more care” or require different treatment. For example, he said, the manufacturers of some bamboo-flooring products recommend using a mop dampened with water and light soap for cleaning, which stands in stark contrast to the turn-over-a-bucket-of-soapy-water approach to maintenance for some other types of floor coverings.

“I think that is a little bit of the drawback” to the use of some alternative construction materials, Behrens said, “in that it requires a little bit more operator education in how to treat and deal with and coexist with these sorts of products.”

Indeed, said Bucher of WD Partners, education is a significant part of the move to using sustainable materials.

“You used to see bamboo flooring put into some commercial spaces, where now you might see more polished concrete with the same sustainability story, but with less maintenance requirements and more durability,” Bucher said. “As people learn more about what’s available and work with it, they are definitely learning how to specify appropriately what should be used and where.”

Fox Restaurant Concepts’ Sundeen said her group “always hopes to learn more about how to integrate sustainable materials into our facilities,” but also offered up a cautionary tale of sorts related to that endeavor. 

“We have found it difficult to sift through the hype, as there are many [producers] who make claims that, upon further research, turn out to be false,” she said.

Despite such setbacks, Sundeen voiced the thoughts of some other operators interviewed for this article when she said True Food Kitchen’s positioning as a “lifestyle concept” makes it “important that we use as many sustainable building materials as we can. 

“While, at this time, we don’t see it having a huge impact on our sales, we believe it is consistent with our core beliefs and will, over time, have a positive impact for the restaurant,” she said.

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Red Robin to Open Fast-Casual Burger Works

Monday, November 7th, 2011

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers is scheduled to open a smaller fast-casual concept later this month called Red Robin Burger Works, the company said Thursday.

Steve Carley, Red Robin’s chief executive, unveiled details of the new restaurant in a call to analysts after reporting a third-quarter profit of $2.1 million, or 14 cents per share, compared with a loss of $4.2 million, or a loss of 27 cents per share, in the same quarter last year.

Red Robin said earlier this year they planned to test the smaller prototype as a vehicle for non-traditional locations.

The move would also allow the casual-dining chain to more directly compete with rapidly growing burger players in the fast-casual world, like Smashburger and Five Guys Burgers & Fries.

The new Burger Works concept is scheduled to open on Nov. 21 in Denver’s Northfield Stapleton shopping center.

On the limited menu are third-pound all-natural beef burgers and chicken breast sandwiches priced between $4.49 and $6.49, including build-your-own options.

Burger Works offers a few items from Red Robin’s signature burger line, such as the Whiskey River BBQ and teriyaki-spiked Banzai burgers, as well as fries, sweet potato fries and onion straws. Beer and wine will be available, as well as hand-spun shakes and a s’mores cookie or s’mores cookie sundae for dessert.

Carley said the company plans to open a couple more locations in the Denver metro market next year, though the Burger Works’ website indicates that the brand might also open on the campus at Ohio State University in 2012.

The goal is to develop a format that could work for non-traditional locations like airports, military bases, college campuses, food courts and stadiums, Carley said.

Since full-service Red Robin units, which are typically about 6,000-square feet, tend to go into suburban locations near movie theaters, the smaller prototype would also aim to fit into urban locations, where such large real estate would be hard to find.

“We are basically unrepresented in urban environments,” Carley said.

However, the company plans to move slowly and carefully to evaluate the new concept before pushing forward.

“If you expand faster than your human resources and training can handle, you will disappoint your guests and you will come to a bad place,” he said.

For the quarter ended Oct. 2, Red Robin said system-wide revenue was up 5.9 percent to $206.2 million.

Same-store sales at company-owned restaurants during the quarter were up 2.1 percent, driven by a 5.3-percent increase in average check that was partially offset by a 3.2-percent decrease in guest counts.

It was Red Robin’s fifth consecutive quarter of same-store sales growth and fourth consecutive quarter of earnings growth, Carley said.

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