We nearly wore out our Nikes walking from the Encore Hotel in Las Vegas to the MGM Grand this week. But we wanted to sample pizza at Project Pie, and it’s always walking weather in Sin City. Thing is, we hadn’t gauged the distance (two miles). Which only meant we were really, really hungry when we arrived.
Project Pie pizza: Customers can choose a signature pie or design it themselves. This one, baked quickly in a 600-degree oven, arrived with a side of pesto.
Fast-casual pizza is probably the fastest-growing segment in the limited-service category. Already, brands abound: &pizza, Uncle Maddio’s, Pie Five, Pizza Studio, MOD, Blaze– the list goes on. In fact, three new fast-casual brands presented during the Franchise Finance & Development Conference (why we went to Lost Wages in the first place).
Pizzas are baked, boxed (above) and handed to customers, who pay about $10 for a pie.
Officials of each chain noted the segment’s enormous popularity, which isn’t surprising. One in 8 Americans consume pizza daily, noted PizzaRev CEO Rodney Eckerman. The Westgate Village, Calif.-based chain, now owned by Buffalo Wild Wings, expects to have 65 company and franchised outlets by year end. Fast-casual pizza, for all the talk, is still a tiny segment.
In early March I traveled to three Polish cities: Wroclaw, Poznan and Warsaw. I didn’t spend much time in the first two, unfortunately. I would have liked to, particularly Wroclaw, a historically rich town near the German border. Wroclaw (pronounced “vroats-clahv”) is also where AmRest Holdings is headquartered. The company, publicly traded on the Poland’s exchange (WSE: EAT), franchises and owns more than 800 restaurants in Poland and Central Europe. Most of them are brands familiar to Americans: KFC, Pizza Hut, Starbucks and Burger King. Here’s a unit in central Warsaw.
The ever-familiar logo in Warsaw. Only here, it’s not buckets going out the door.
Poles are a modern lot in these cities. To be sure, they like fast food, particularly young people, who grew up eating it. Henry McGovern, co-founder and AmRest’s CEO, founded the company in 1993 with a single Pizza Hut. It was a brilliant business move given that Communist rule had ended just four years earlier — and that many Poles like other Central and Eastern Europeans longed for the chance to sample Western-style goods. Today in the large Polish cities, the hammer-and-sickle philosophy is in the distant past. And while the country’s rapid adoption of a capitalistic democracy hasn’t improved everyone’s life, shops and restaurants look busy. McGovern, whom I talked to for about an hour, said his company’s pipeline in Poland and elsewhere in Central Europe has never been better.
A deep-fried cheese-and-spinach crepe at the Warsaw outpost of Manekin,
On a sunny Sunday afternoon in downtown Warsaw, I spotted a couple dozen young people waiting to get into a smallish restaurant called Manekin Warszawa. Since the Polish capital doesn’t lack for eateries, I wondered what was up. “The food is awesome!” an up-to-date-looking young dude told me, his female companion nodding in agreement. “They serve something like pancakes.”
Cooks in the open kitchen at Manekin, a popular creperie in Warsaw.
He meant crepes. Later, after eating there, I figured the joint’s popularity — it’s part of a small chain, by the way — was due more to its hip and attractive clientele than the food itself — though I must say it looked good (see above). And the open kitchen featured an all-female staff, slammed given how busy this restaurant is.
Many Americans might believe Polish eateries are all about pierogis, sausage and bread. It’s not the case, of course. You can them, to be sure. But in many cases (at least in the cities I visited) they are speciality restaurants, catering to tourists who want to eat the Poland’s signature dishes — and not the everyday restaurants your average Pole visits.
In fact, given that most Polish workers earn on average $1,200 monthly they’re as likely to cook at home or pick up a sandwich or pastry from a tiny street-front shop or coffee bar.
Sandwiches, widely available in Warsaw, typically feature thin pieces of meat and pickled vegetables encased in thick slices of bread.
English is often put to use in the cause of selling — and often it’s a bit fractured. The packaging above reads “Friends, Taste your time.” Which when you think about it is a bit clever. Still, the words we spotted in the window of Bobby’s Burgers, another downtown Warsaw eatery, gave us pause.
- Really, we’d rather not.
Posted in bakery, burger chains, casual-dining, Employees, International, quick-service restaurants, restaurants, Uncategorized
Tagged Central Europe, customers, KFC, Pizza Hut, Poland, Polish food, restaurants, Starbucks
Ninety years ago, a 15-year-old Julia Child visits Caesar Cardini’s restaurant in Tijuana, Mexico, with her mom and dad, meets the famous restaurateur and eats his namesake salad.
She recalled the experience in her memoir, From Julia’s Kitchen: “One of my early remembrances of restaurant life was going to Tijuana in 1925 or 1926 with my parents, who were wildly excited that they should finally lunch at Caesar’s restaurant. Tijuana, just south of the Mexican border from San Diego, was flourishing then, in the Prohibition era. Word spread about Tijuana and the good life, and about Caesar Cardini’s restaurant, and about Caesar’s salad.”
Julia Child’s kitchen is preserved in the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. It’s the part of the “Resetting the American Table” display.
Little did the teenager or anyone else know the enormous impact she would later have on American chefs.
Today, customizable food is now preferable to cravable food in the fast-casual segment. This won’t be news to anyone in the industry. Many fast-casual restaurants already give customers the chance to build their own dishes. So doing plays to the idea of individuality and self-expression, which are widely assumed to be important to millennial diners.
But what has rarely been remarked upon is whether customers can create a dish that’s actually palatable from the plethora of (often exotic-sounding) choices they face. This is to say nothing about whether customers believe they’re getting their money’s worth after biting into their creation.
A pepperoni pizza or a falafel sandwich with tomato and lettuce may be a safe bet, the customer thinks, but he can get that combo anywhere; here, he wants something different but can’t figure out which ingredients provide a satisfying combo. Otherwise, he may feel like he’s wasted $10. And not come back.
Choice: Customers build their own falafel sandwiches at Amsterdam Falafel Shop, a six-unit chain in Washington, D.C.
Consider Amsterdam Falafel Shop, a six-unit franchise concept based in Washington, D.C. The image above shows a portion of the food bar, which includes hummus and baba gahnoush. Customers first choose their pita: Wheat or White. Once it’s filled with freshly fried falafel, they choose toppings.
But how one might ask: Does chickpea salad go with hummus, which is a ground chickpea paste? Will sliced beets combine well with tomatoes and pickles? Or can customers presume everything goes with everything else? Why else would all this stuff be out there?
Or witness the choices at 10-unit &Pizza, also based in Washington, D.C., which offers three types of dough (traditional, Ancient Grains or gluten-free), nine sauces and three cheeses. And then there’s the nine vegetables choices, ten proteins and 15 “finishes” to go. Which of these many tempting items make a pizza that sings the right notes?
Granted, customers who don’t want to experiment can opt out and order one of eight signature pies. Yet, where’s the self-expression in that?
At &Pizza in Bethesda, Md., a worker builds a custom pizza according to a customer’s instructions. This one features sun-dried tomato spread, jalapeños and feta
Don’t get us wrong, like millions of diners we love the idea of choice. After all, it’s almost a restaurant’s patriotic duty to let the customer have his or her way when it comes to food. And what’s on offer is usually fresh, sometimes local and largely healthful. What’s not to like?
But we have to ask, having sampled both concepts (as well as ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen), whether certain combinations will taste good — and whether counter workers are capable of advising customers not to combine certain ingredients with others. Or is it simply a matter of letting the chips (or chickpeas) fall where they may? And maybe losing business.
Posted in Customers, customizable, Employees, fast food, Fast-casual, millennials, Operations, restaurants, service, signature dish, Trends, Uncategorized
Tagged choice, customizable, falafel, fast-casual, healthy, pizza
We read Andy Barish’s first piece of SHAK research with great interest. The veteran analyst at Jefferies has a sharp mind and is one of our favorite industry observers. The note was entitled “Enlightened Brand but Valuation Keeps Us Tethered” (no doubt a reference to the brand’s vaunted “enlightened hospitality”) and advised HOLD.
Barish, noting that SHAK was already trading at “a significant premium to the other open-ended fast-casual growth companies that are delivering strong SSS and exceeding expectations,” put a price target of $40 on the shares.
Fine-Casual? Shake Shack’s “beeper” system alerts customers their order is ready.
Yet what caught out attention was the analyst’s enthusiasm for the concept itself, dubbing Shake Shack fine-casual, a hybrid term the New York City-based chain uses to describe itself. As Barish explained, founder Danny Meyer is “pioneering ‘fine casual’ by marrying fast casual with fine dining, and [is] poised to capture multiple category tailwinds.”
The tailwinds would eventually result in some 450 units in the U.S., he predicted.
Wait! Who’d mistake a cheeseburger, fries and a shake — the iconic fast-food meal — for fine-dining? And using a buzzer the size of an iPhone to alert customers to their order strikes us as more akin to a TGI Fridays than, say, a Le Bernadin.
Is Shake Shack a lifestyle brand, as some analysts have suggested? If so, it will be a first for a burger joint, In-N-Out Burger notwithstanding.
Barish, who calls Shake Shack a lifestyle brand, appears to believe Meyer’s fine-dining background will produce pre-Recession results: “With a rich culinary and operating heritage informed by Danny Meyer’s Union Square Hospitality Group, mgmt. has put the systems in place to drive 20%+ unit growth, low single digit same-store sales, +30-70bps of operating leverage and ultimately, 20%+ EBITDA growth.”
Maybe he’s right and lightening will strike the fast-casual category twice. After all, Chipotle (CMG) founder Steve Ells trained at the CIA and worked for two years as a fine-dining chef before opening his first unit, in Denver. Yet we remain skeptical that burger lovers will embrace the concept and its lifestyle trappings (read: high price) to the point of using it almost exclusively for their ground-meat sandwiches. There’s simply too much competition.
Chipotle (CMG), Habit Burger (HABT) and Shack Shack (SHAK) made spectacular debuts in the public markets. To be sure, Habit Burger and Shake Shack have yet to prove they’re viable public entities but momentum seems to be with them given what Americans currently like about burger restaurants. Chipotle’s amazing seven-year run as a public company is redoubtable.
Shake Shack shares more than doubled on their first day of trading. Will another restaurant chain soon emerge to match that performance?
Yet investors remain hungry for the next smash hit. Which brands today are capable of becoming another Chipotle? Mike Lukianoff, an RTS Partner and Principal of Czar Metrics, a data analysis company, has attempted to figure that out. He told CNBC, which interviewed him about the up-and-comers, “It’s been fascinating to me—how much attention the restaurant space is getting from the investment community.”
The brands likely to grab investor attention in 2015 are listed below. Click here for Mike’s full-blown analysis):
TOP 10 EMERGING BRANDS 2015
1 Mendocino Farms
2 Cooper’s Hawk
3 Hopdoddy Burger Bar
5 Lazy Dog
6 Pizza Rev
7 Project Pie
8 Marlow’s Tavern
9 Twisted Root
10 Ocean Prime
The stereotype of a control-freak chef still prevails — at least in the minds of some chefs, like Jonathan Sawyer. The owner of Cleveland’s Green House Tavern, Noodlecat and Trentina told a group of MBA students today that “too many Sawyers are a bad thing.”
As a result, he hires people confident in their skills who also demonstrate a capacity to tell him when he’s wrong. “They share the same vision but are complementary,” he offered.
Cleveland chef Jonathon Sawyer (center) talking to students ahead of a panel discussion on entrepreneurship at CWRU’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Sawyer was joined by entrepreneurial chefs Steve Schimoler of Crop Bistro and Doug Katz of Fire Food & Drink for a panel discussion at the Weatherhead School of Management at Case Western Reserve University, in Cleveland. Shimoler also suggested he knew when to give up control. “One of the challenges is knowing when to pass the baton,” he acknowledged.
It’s crucial for an operator to share his or her vision and responsibilities with key employees, who are motivated to do the heavy lifting. That leaves the entrepreneur to devise say, new streams of revenue — something all three had recently accomplished.
Katz, for instance, opened a diner last year (only to see a portion of it destroyed by an arson fire). He’s also about to launch a new food product (in addition to the pickles he already sells) and he continues his successful catering business. “We go to people’s homes and prepare the same kind of food we do in the restaurant,” he explained, “only we can really personalize that relationship in ways we can’t at the restaurant.”
Last year, Shimoler opened a casual version of Crop — dubbed Crop Kitchen — near the university. He’s also been developing unique flavors for local ice cream manufacturer. “It’s probably not going to make me a lots of money but there is the halo effect of marketing and PR,” he said.
In addition to his three restaurants (one of which features foraged foods), Sawyer has a line of specialty vinegars he currently makes in his restaurant. He said any additional revenues are invested in hiring more skilled employees. He added that his goal upon returning to Cleveland from New York City was to make the city’s culinary scene the equivalent of Portland, Ore., Nashville or Charleston, S.C. “It amazing to think what has happened here in the last 15 years,” he declared.
Posted in Careers, chefs, Customers, employment, expansion, Food, ideas, innovation, Uncategorized
Tagged cleveland, culinary, entrepreneurship, restaurants
Baby, baby, baby, baby, I beg you please, please, please
I need your love, I need your love, I need your love, I need your love, I need your love
Oh bring it on back, oh bring it on back, bring it on back, oh bring it on back
– “You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling”
McDonald’s is struggling. Anyone following the fast-food fortunes of the giant burger chain knows that. Former CEO Don Thompson (McDonald’s first black chief executive and one of only a handful of African-American CEOS among Fortune 500 companies) was sacked last week after only two years on the job, replaced by an Englishman named Richard Easterbrook.
Thompson wasn’t the only one let go. Sixty-three people at Oakbrook, Ill., headquarters got the axe, as well. No surprise there. Net income tumbled 15 percent in 2014. Most cost-conscious boards wouldn’t be lovin’ that.
House of Lovin’. This month McDonald’s is giving away food to random customers who agree to a public display of affection.
It wasn’t the only news coming from McDonald’s Corp. During the Super Bowl yesterday, the company unveiled an unusual promotion: Paying for a meal with an act of kindness — like calling a relative and telling them you love them or announcing the best thing about the person standing next to you (presuming you know them). Nation’s Restaurant News reported the details last Friday:
From Feb. 2 to Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day, any customer in any participating restaurant might be randomly selected for the promotion. Each restaurant’s guest service manager, or “Lovin’ Lead,” will give the chosen customer the option of doing something like giving a fist bump to a crew member, calling someone to express their love or offering a compliment, which the company offers as examples.
NRN also quoted a marketing official as saying: “We’re on a journey to change the relationship and conversation, and Pay With Lovin’ is a direct way for us to engage with our customers.”
Now, we’ve nothing against public displays of kindness. In fact, we are currently admiring the enormous kindness of Rally’s employee Evelyn Thomas, who on her way to work this weekend pulled over during a snowstorm to aid a car crash victim. That person (and sole occupant of the car), it turned out, was Toledo mayor Mike Collins, who’d suffered cardiac arrest while behind the wheel. Thomas called 911 and then applied CPR.
But we wonder if inviting strangers (OK, “guests”) to show even a mild form of “lovin’” isn’t somewhat presumptuous — particularly when McDonald’s is danglin’ free food (up to about $6, we’re told). Awkwardness on both sides of the counter awaits:
McDonald’s employee: “Would you like to pay with lovin’?”
Employee: “Your Big Mac and Coke are free if you fist-bump me.”
Customer: “If I what you?”
Employee: “You know, make a fist and touch my fist.”
Customer: “Look, how much do I owe you, dude?”
What’s more, McDonald’s has been long-dinged for slow service, brought about by its large menu, which in turn was brought about by trying to please critics who decried its fat-salt-and-sugar-only menu. Now imagine a scenario where the person ahead of you has to call her mom (who doesn’t answer right away)– and then doesn’t have pay for her food.