Archive for June, 2012

Restaurants Target Nostalgia, Escape with Summer Treat Promos

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Escape is what’s for dessert this summer, as chains market sweets as exotic adventures abroad or nostalgic trips to the past.

Frozen yogurt chain 16 Handles is taking the latter approach with its June flavor of the month, Frosty Root Beer. A soft-serve version of a classic root beer float, the 22-unit chain based in New York City recommends pairing the yogurt with vanilla Clodhoppers candy.

“America’s love for root beer floats inspired us to develop our own frozen yogurt version that tastes just as good as the original recipe we all drank growing up,” 16 Handles founder Solomon Choi said in a statement. “Reinventing this nostalgic summertime beverage into a soft-serve indulgence is our way of surprising and delighting our customers with better-for-you old-fashioned flavors.”

The yogurt is 112 calories per half-cup serving. 16 Handles frozen yogurt sells for 52 cents per ounce.

Dairy Queen is also looking back in time with its summer promotions. The quick-service chain is tapping into nostalgia for the turtle — a chocolate, caramel and pecan candy — for its June Blizzard of the month flavor. The blended treat is made with pecans, caramel, brownie pieces and vanilla soft-serve ice cream.

The Minneapolis-based chain also is introducing a “Royal Shake” flavored with Oreos, as that cookie celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. It also has introduced mint chip and Caramel Cheesequake flavors to the Royal Shake line at its more than 6,000 locations worldwide.

Blizzard prices vary by location, starting at about $2.50 for a mini size and about $4 for a large. The Royal Shake items start at $2.99 for the smallest 12-ounce size, to $4.49 for the largest 32-ounce size.

Marble Slab Creamery and sister concept, MaggieMoo’s Ice Cream & Treatery are offering customers a taste of escape with the Destination Everywhere Celebration, which evokes flavors of a different part of the world each month.

In June the Atlanta-based concepts take guests to Asia with the Mango Fusion “Favorite Combination” — mango lychee ice cream mixed with strawberries, mangoes and strawberry topping. The chains also are offering coconut sorbet in June and “sushi cupcakes” made with coconut flakes and gummy candy. The cupcakes are shaped to resemble pieces of seaweed-wrapped sushi, with cupcake wrappers as the seaweed and coconut as the rice.

July takes Maggie Moo’s and Marble Slab guests to the South, with a “Favorite Combination” of peanut butter Fluff ice cream, chopped peanuts and bananas — a play on the peanut butter and banana sandwich allegedly enjoyed by Elvis Presley. Also available in July, the 50/50, a sorbet push-pop made of half frozen lemonade and half frozen iced tea — the chains’ version of the classic Arnold Palmer drink.

August will feature the flavors of Italy, with the Amaretto Fig Adventure Favorite Combination made with amaretto ice cream, chocolate chips, almonds and fig topping.

The flavor of a lemony Italian liqueur is part of the chains’ Limoncello with Forest Berry Swirl Sorbet that month. Guests also can order the Leaning Tower of Pizza, a dessert pizza spread with sweet cream ice cream and topped with strawberry topping, sliced marshmallows and green gummy bears.

There are approximately 500 Marble Slab Creamery and MaggieMoo’s locations worldwide.

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Wolfgang Puck Opens Pizza Bar

Tuesday, June 12th, 2012

Celebrity chef and restaurateur Wolfgang Puck added a new casual-dining concept to his growing empire last week with the opening of Wolfgang Puck Pizza Bar in Charlotte, N.C., one of four units planned as a test.

The 120-seat restaurant focuses on hand-crafted pizzas featuring a new style of artisan dough that takes nine days to produce. Also on the menu are soups, salads, appetizers, pastas, sandwiches and grilled items. The bar features custom cocktails, regional wines and local craft beers.

Joe Essa, managing partner of Wolfgang Puck Worldwide, said the Pizza Bar in Charlotte is the first test unit, and if successful the more accessible brand will grow to more cities nationwide.

A second Pizza Bar is currently under construction in Greensboro, N.C., and the company plans to open the concept in San Diego and Palm Desert, Calif., he said.

“Wolfgang has always wanted to find a casual-dining concept that reflected his brand of quality dining and hospitality, but at a lower price point, and we think this is it,” Essa said.

Puck has three casual Wolfgang Puck Bistro locations — in Los Angeles; Costa Mesa, Calif.; and Tulsa, Okla. — but that concept is somewhat more upscale, Essa said.

Currently, Pizza Bar is open for dinner only, which has an average check of between $24 and $26. Once lunch service is offered in August, the total average check is expected to total between $16 and $22, only slightly higher than the $9 to $13 average check of the fast-casual Wolfgang Puck Express locations.

The company operates or licenses about 66 Express units, many of which are in airports. Wolfgang Puck Worldwide also includes the fine-dining group, a massive catering operation, as well as Puck’s licensed retail products, cookware and cookbooks.

Scott Wallen, who served previously as executive chef at the restaurant Upstream in Charlotte, was named executive chef at Pizza Bar. Wallen also worked for Puck in the past at Postrio Bar & Grill in Las Vegas, one of the 21 fine-dining restaurants Puck operates across the country.

Puck has long been known for his pizza, available at most of his restaurants in some form. The company also operates a Wolfgang Puck Pizzeria & Cucina in Las Vegas, which is included in the fine-dining group.

The Pizza Bar, however, is the first to use the new artisanal dough, which Essa said has a “chewy characteristic with lots of flavor, even before you put on toppings.” The pizzas are cooked in a wood-fired oven.

In other Puck news, his iconic restaurant Spago in Beverly Hills, Calif., which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year, is closing July 9 for a complete remodel of the décor and menu.

Spago is scheduled to reopen in the fall.

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Fresh Brothers Pizza Receives Investment from Skechers Exec

Tuesday, June 5th, 2012

The six-unit Fresh Brothers Pizza chain in the Los Angeles area has received an equity investment from Skechers shoe executive Michael Greenberg in a move aimed at ramping up growth.

In an interview with Nation’s Restaurant News, Greenberg on Thursday declined to disclose the amount of the investment, describing it as a minority stake in the Manhattan Beach, Calif.-based restaurant chain. However, Adam Goldberg, Fresh Brothers founder and majority owner, described the investment as “in the millions.”

The investment comes from Greenberg, not Skechers USA Inc., Greenberg noted.

Greenberg said he admires Fresh Brothers for its focus on quality, and he sees the chain as having potential to grow to more than 100 units. Skechers owns and operates about 350 retail locations across the country, he added, and has deep relationships in real estate and marketing that could offer potential synergies.

“I think it could be very rewarding for Fresh Brothers,” he said.

Greenberg has been president of Skechers, also based in Manhattan Beach, Calif., since the sporty shoe company was founded in 1992. He is also an investor in the Zislis Group, a hotel and restaurant company that operates restaurant concepts like Rock ‘N Fish and The Strand House, as well as the Shade hotel.

The fast-casual Fresh Brothers chain was founded four years ago by Adam Goldberg, now chief executive, as a family operation. Adam’s brother Michael Goldberg, who serves as chief operating officer, also holds a minority stake.

Adam Goldberg’s wife, Debbie Goldberg, is also a co-founder and serves as chief marketing officer. She introduced the brand to Greenberg after working with Skechers on a fundraising event.

Fresh Brothers is a Southern California spin on yet another Goldberg brother restaurant: Older brother Scott Goldberg founded the single-unit Miller Pizza Company in Gary, Ind., in 1985.

Fresh Brothers’ menu is based on the same recipes. Though rather than focusing on the Chicago-style deep-dish pizza Miller’s is known for, the California chain offers both thin-crust and deep-dish options, as well as a gluten-free crust.

Adam Goldberg said the chain prefers to describe its deep-dish version as “Midwest-style,” so as not so scare off fans of New York pizza.

Fresh Brothers’ menu also includes build-your-own-salad options and baked Buffalo-style chicken wings.

Though the Los Angeles pizza market is becoming increasingly competitive, Fresh Brothers has succeeded by “feeding the entire family,” said Adam Goldberg. Because the chain offers gluten-free and vegan options, the veto vote is eliminated, he said, and the menu offers something for everyone.

Fresh Brothers also uses high-quality meats and cheese, he said, and has focused on building community relationships with philanthropic efforts.

Adam Goldberg declined to give specifics on systemwide sales, but Greenberg estimated that Fresh Brothers locations are earning an average of about $1,250 in sales per square foot. Fresh Brothers locations are typically about 1,200 square feet, so average unit volumes would be roughly $1.5 million.

According to research connected with the forthcoming Nation’s Restaurant News Top 200 census of America’s largest foodservice operators, most large pizza chains, including Pizza Hut, in their latest completed fiscal years had estimated sales per unit from $700,000 to $900,000. A few, such as Papa Murphy’s Take ‘N Bake Pizza, had estimated sales per unit in the $500,000 to $600,000 range, while others, including regional player Donatos, had estimated sales per unit of about $1 million.

Fresh Brothers looks for high-volume locations in higher-income neighborhoods, Adam Goldberg said. The average transaction is about $23, and units offer dine-in, takeout and delivery options — with delivery accounting for about 50 percent of sales.

Two more Fresh Brothers locations are scheduled to open in 2012.

Greenberg said he hopes to see the chain double within 14 to 16 months, and the company has identified roughly 39 areas within greater Los Angeles where Fresh Brothers could go.

For now, new units will be company operated. Down the road, Adam said, the company may look at franchising.

Skechers has been in the news lately after agreeing last month to pay $50 million to settle class-action lawsuits and charges of making unsupported advertising claims related to the marketing of its Shape-ups toning shoe line.

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Restaurant Industry Leaders Oppose Proposed New York Soda Ban

Monday, June 4th, 2012

Foodservice operators and association executives slammed New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s plan to ban the sale of large sodas and sugary drinks in the city’s latest effort to address the nation’s health and obesity problems.

Saying “it’s what the public wants the mayor to do,” Bloomberg said he is seeking to establish a 16-ounce size limit on sugary beverages served at restaurants, delis, sports venues, movie theaters and street carts throughout the city. The ban would not include beverages sold in grocery or convenience stores.

According to the proposal, sugary drinks are defined as beverages that are “sweetened with sugar or another caloric sweetener that contain more than 25 calories per 8 fluid ounces and contain less than 51 percent milk or milk substitute by volume as an ingredient.” It would not apply to diet drinks, calorie-free drinks and alcoholic beverages.

The ban, which if enacted could take effect as early as March 2013, would require that restaurants in noncompliance could face fines of $200 following a three-month grace period.

While City Hall officials and health advocates maintain that sugary beverages are one of the biggest contributors to the obesity problem, restaurant operators and association executives maintain that a ban on such high-margin beverages would damage businesses that are just beginning to rebound from the long economic downturn.

Industry associations sound off

Andrew Moesel, a spokesperson for the New York City Chapter of the New York State Restaurant Association said: “We appreciate the mayor’s concerns about public health, but this goes too far. We believe the public is not in support of this measure.”

Moesel said the association would oppose the measure “vigorously.” He added, “The mayor has pushed through several other burdensome policies against restaurants … and our members already feel put upon by local government. This measure will only add to their frustration.”

There are about 25,000 foodservice establishments in New York’s five boroughs.

This marks the latest in a series of health-oriented face-offs between the New York restaurant community and Bloomberg. During his three terms as mayor, Bloomberg has banned smoking in public places, outlawed trans fats in restaurants and mandated that chain operators post calorie counts and other nutrition information on their menus and menu boards.

In addition, he has campaigned to get restaurants to cut down on their use of salt and mandated that health inspection letter grades be posted prominently in restaurant windows. He also promoted a New York state tax on soda, but the measure was defeated in Albany.

Commenting on this latest initiative, Judith Thorman, the International Franchise Association’s senior vice president, Government Relations & Public Policy, warned that the ban “will harm New York City’s thousands of small business franchise owners, job creators and their employees at a time when they are still grappling with a slow economic recovery.”

She continued, “Limiting the sale of beverages to consumers will do nothing more than force small business franchise restaurant owners to raise prices on other items to account for a loss in sales, or worse yet, consider laying off workers — and neither option is a good option.”

Scott DeFife, executive vice president of Policy and Government Affairs for the National Restaurant Association, criticized the mayor’s decision to ban super-sized beverages. “There is no silver bullet in America’s fight against obesity, and hyper-regulation such as this misplaces responsibility and creates a false sense of accomplishment,” he said.

“Public health officials in New York should put all of their energies into public education about a balanced lifestyle with a proper mix of diet and exercise rather than attempting to regulate consumption of a completely legal product enjoyed universally,” he said.

Restaurant operators hold mixed reactions

Restaurant operators also voiced concerns about the trend toward government over-regulation and the shift toward what some have come to refer to as a “nanny state” mentality. Jim Morgan, chief executive of Krispy Kreme, said the pending regulations won’t really affect the doughnut chain’s business, which operates a handful of units in New York.

However, he said, “The scarier part is the interference with personal choice and business. We all need to be careful about that. Government needs to be very careful with what they regulate and what they don’t.”

Zane Tankel, the operator of more than three dozen Applebee’s restaurants in New York and the surrounding area, agreed, saying he “doesn’t believe the government should be limiting free choice or business this way. I’m against the idea of the government telling us to do too much. It’s a slippery slope. And how far should the government intrude on personal life?”

However, Tankel admits to being ambivalent about the issue. “I do see some justification for it,” he said. “Obesity is a major problem. Health care costs are going through the roof. And at the end of the day we end up paying for it in taxes.”

He acknowledges, though, that a ban on the selling of large servings of high-margin sweetened drinks would cut into his business. “It won’t have a dramatic impact on gross sales, but it will have an impact on margins,” he said. “Soft drinks are a high-profit item.”

Irwin Kruger, who formerly owned seven McDonald’s franchises in Manhattan — including the high-grossing unit on Broadway — said the ban “would really be a negative. It would impact a [quick-service restaurant] in a variety of ways.”

For example, he said: “You’ll get tourists who have no clue about what a ban on soft drinks is all about. Employees will have to explain to them why they can’t get the same sized drink in New York that they’re used to at home, and that will take time at the counter and possibly annoy the customer. It also will impact the speed of service, and it’s important for [quick-service restaurants] to be able to serve customers quickly.”

Kruger, who is now a Smashburger franchisee on Long Island, N.Y., said the ban likely would affect sales and the bottom line, noting that soda has the highest margin of any product line on the McDonald’s menu.

Others see consumer health more important than business

Bloomberg’s proposal is not without its supporters. Michael Jacobson, executive director of the Center for Science in the Public Interest in Washington, D.C., said obesity “poses enormous costs to society and we need to cut down on the major causes of obesity — and soft drinks are at the top of the list.

“If [the ban] reduces consumption by 5 or 10 percent, it should have an impact on obesity and reduce health care costs in New York,” he said. “I’m sure every other health commissioner in the country is looking at this, and I expect to see more proposals around the country.”

Furthermore, he added: “It’s not the end of the world to have to sell small and medium drinks instead of large. I wish the restaurant industry would just go along with it voluntarily and play their part in reducing this epidemic.”

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