‘Better Burger’ Segment Trending in Baton Rouge

May 22, 2015

Timothy Boone  picture

Copyright 2015, Capital City Press, All Rights Reserved. Distributed by NewsBank Inc.

http://theadvocate.com/news/business/12363703-123/better-burger-segment-trending-in

Smashburger, which was named as the top fast-casual restaurant chain in the country, opened its first Baton Rouge location Wednesday, the latest so-called “better burger” eatery to enter the market.

Better burger restaurants offer a premium product, with patties made from fresh, never-frozen beef and a wide range of toppings. Generally, the burgers sell for a few dollars more than the offerings at McDonald’s, Burger King or Wendy’s.

“The better burger market has grown up in the past five or six years,” said John A. Gordon, principal of Pacific Management Consulting Group, a San Diego-based group that works with restaurants. “Honestly, some of the traditional quick-service burger players got really bad.”

In recent months, Baton Rouge has seen growth in the better burger segment. There’s the Smashburger on Corporate Boulevard. Red Robin, one of the originators of the trend, re-entered the market after a decadelong absence with a restaurant that opened at the Mall of Louisiana just before Christmas. Lafayette-based Burgersmith will open its second local restaurant on Siegen Lane in early summer and a Juban Crossing location will be open by the end of the year.

Chuck Kerr, who has the local franchise rights for Mooyah Burgers Fries & Shakes with his wife, Denise, said he’s looking at opening a second Baton Rouge-area restaurant and is eyeing a Millerville Road location. Officials with Dallas-based Mooyah said the Kerr’s Siegen Lane location has been one of the chain’s top-performing restaurants in terms of sales.

Kerr credits his restaurant’s success to offering a high-quality product and consistently good customer service. “We have a simple menu, yet it’s complex,” he said. While he just sells beef, turkey or veggie patties, there are a wide range of toppings and sauces — so many that the chain boasts there are 1.2 million different ways to make a Mooyah burger.

“The neatest part about the whole thing is that the customer is benefiting from capitalism,” he said. “They’re getting more choices and better choices.” Kerr said he expects the major fast-food chains, such as McDonald’s, will take their resources and revamp their menus so they can compete with the better burger restaurants.

The better burger segment accounted for $3.5 billion in sales in 2014, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a food industry research and consulting firm based in Chicago.

Tristano said he’s forecasting about 10 percent growth for the better burger chains over the next five years, thanks to the performance of such popular chains as Five Guys Burgers and Fries and Smashburger.

Robert Barbour, part of the franchise group that owns the Baton Rouge Smashburger, said customers are willing to pay an extra dollar or two for a quality hamburger. “People are demanding a better burger and better choices in their fast-casual dining,” Barbour said.

Smashburger was named the top chain by Fast Casual magazine in 2014. In seven years, the Denver-based company has grown to 325 locations. Smashburger gets its name from the preparation technique, which uses a custom-made, five-sided tool to smash balls of raw meat into the grill. This sears the bottom of the patty and allows the burgers to cook in their own juices.

Barbour said his franchise group plans to open 10 to 15 restaurants in their territory, which stretches from Lafayette through Mississippi to Memphis, Tennessee.

“Hamburgers are incredibly popular and a canvas for innovation and creativity,” Tristano said. “They’re a great familiar product that’s affordable and consumers continue to eat them.”


How Growth Through Unique Concepts is Orlando’s Recipe for Success

May 21, 2015

Megan Ribbens new-dsc8239-750xx4928-2786-0-338
© 2015 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.
http://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/print-edition/2015/05/15/how-growth-through-unique-concepts-is-orlando-s.html

Orlando foodies may be ready for a second helping of their favorite restaurants, but local chefs say the key to growing Orlando’s restaurant industry isn’t about expanding existing concepts. Rather, it’s about bringing something unique to the table.

Not only does this philosophy help steer clear of the chain restaurant stigma Orlando has come to be known for, but it also appeals to a larger pool of visitors who have a growing appetite for new concepts.

“From an Orlando point of view, having independent restaurants that aren’t an early start of a chain creates a better image of Orlando as a restaurant destination,” said restaurant analyst Darren Tristano, vice president of Technomic Inc. “Ideally, if the independent restaurants are good and have potential to win awards, that’s going to help, too. Today, independent restaurants are outperforming chains because they can adapt to changes and be more innovative with their menus more rapidly than chains that have to do that in multiple locations around the country. It contributes to a better destination and food city.”

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Independent restaurants also can contribute to economic development efforts, said downtown developer Craig Ustler, who also is the principal of the Citrus, Soco and Cityfish restaurants in Orlando. “I would make the argument that chefs like The Rusty Spoon’s Kathleen Blake are just as valuable as a tech startup, and for some reason, I don’t think the community thinks that way about food. Other cities have built an image around food, and we haven’t yet gotten that message.”

He also believes the restaurant industry aligns well with the Orlando Economic Development Commission’s “You Don’t Know the Half of It” branding campaign — designed to highlight the fact that Orlando is more than just tourism — not only as a way to better highlight the city’s food scene, but also a way to better align Orlando with people who travel for food.

“People are planning vacations around where to eat or thinking about what restaurants to go to. When visitors are in Orlando, they’re thinking of attractions. We’re the tourism capital, and we need to understand how to tie in restaurants, how to capture a better market share of the 60 million-plus people who come here. If, on average, 3 million-5 million tourists are in town, and if you got 1 percent to come downtown, that’s like 30,000 people.”

As Chef Kevin Fonzo of K Restaurant said, Orlando is like the tale of two cities. Tourists visit Walt Disney World and International Drive, and many never venture farther to where the locals live and dine to experience the true Orlando.

While the city has emerged as a competitive marketplace for large chains, that reputation has thwarted its efforts to be known as a food destination.

Tristano believes it’s an opportunity for the city to support the growth of new independent concepts. “Orlando has to encourage a higher level of more fine-dining restaurants and even more upscale casual restaurants focused on redefining Orlando as more of a restaurant city. The city has to decide it wants independents and have supporting benefits and development of space for it.”

While there are some risks in restaurant owners having two different concepts, Tristano said there are plenty of advantages over opening a second location of your existing brand, including:

* You may cannibalize sales by creating a second location instead of a new concept.

* The perception of having two locations may mislead the customer to think it’s a chain, so you lose the independent feel.

* Having another concept gives you a different appeal to the marketplace and, ultimately, if one is better than the other or one struggles, you have an opportunity later to transform the other into the more successful concept.

* Foodies and affluent consumers look for more differentiation.

* The Food & Drug Administration requires restaurants with 20 or more units under the same name to put calorie and nutritional counts on their menu. So independents and smaller chains don’t have to label their menus.

Meanwhile, Bob Amick, president and owner of Atlanta-based Concentrics restaurants, has watched Orlando’s culinary scene evolve during the past 10 years.

Amick, who does independent restaurant concepts across the U.S., helped open local concepts like Luma on Park and Prato in Winter Park, and now is working with Unicorp National Developments Inc. on the new Slate restaurant in Dr. Phillips and with Tavistock on a new eatery in Lake Nona.

Thanks to its theme parks, the visitors Orlando attracts aren’t the typical customer who drives the up-and-coming restaurant industry, he said. So, instead, Orlando needs to attract and develop more restaurateurs and chefs who are willing to take risks.

“Restaurant cities really are driven by local chefs who are mentoring young up-and-coming chefs, like a feeder system,” Amick said. “The town grows from that from a culinary standpoint. It’s harder for Orlando with the outsourcing of theme parks and international chains around I-Drive.”

And just as Amick has watched Orlando develop a mix of local chefs and restaurateurs, he said the next step is to continue growing downtown Orlando. “If people get out and enjoy all aspects of Orlando, continue to bring more life to downtown, that will do more for Orlando than anything, in my opinion. The great restaurant towns in America have great downtowns.”

Total number of restaurants in Orlando

Fiscal 2010: 457

Fiscal 2011: 511

Fiscal 2012: 568

Fiscal 2013: 661

Fiscal 2014: 754

Number of restaurant openings in Orlando

Fiscal 2010: 48

Fiscal 2011: 4 1

Fiscal 2012: 76

Fiscal 2013: 67

Fiscal 2014: 107

Number of restaurant closures in Orlando

Fiscal 2010: 3

Fiscal 2011: 2

Fiscal 2012: 9

Fiscal 2013: 6

Fiscal 2014: 36

By the numbers

$36.4B: Projected 2015 sales at Florida’s restaurants

943,600: Restaurant jobs in Florida in 2015


The Gourmet Appeal of Sea Salt

May 20, 2015

https://cargillsaltinperspective.com/the-gourmet-appeal-of-sea-salt/SeaSalt3-1080x390

A look at why sea salt continues to make its way into everyday meals.

Sea salt continues to gain momentum as more products with sea salt flavor or sea salt in the ingredient list, pop up on grocery shelves. The desire for sea salt has likely been buoyed by its perceived health halo, and its presence has increased across everyday meal occasions.

Julian Mellentin, director at New Nutrition Business states, “I think it’s partly that sea salt benefits from a more “natural” and “naturally healthy” image, which results in positive media coverage.” Mellentin points out the visually appealing branding of many sea salts, which often features handsome packaging, use of words like ‘premium,’ and ‘authentic,’ and inclusion of information about the place of origin.

Higher perceived quality may be a driving factor behind the trend. “Consumers want better quality ingredients, and they believe that sea salt is a better ingredient than regular table salt,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president at Technomic. Tristano notes that some restaurants are placing sea salt in tiny bowls with salt spoons at the table, and gourmet sea salt may be served tableside with a specific appetizer. “Use of sea salt is growing in every restaurant segment, but especially in fast casual, which is where we see a lot of trends begin,” notes Maeve Webster, senior director at Datassential.

Sea salt continues to make its way into everyday meals. Reviewing the company’s MenuTrends database of nearly 5,000 menus, Webster notes that the use of sea salt at breakfast has increased by 80 percent over the past four years. Webster points out that “Breakfast is the only daypart that’s growing in the industry now, so operators figure if an ingredient is popular in one place, why it can’t work at breakfast?”

For food processors, the current clamor for sea salt may continue to inspire an increase in variations on an ever-expanding theme, including the addition of flavoring or smoking, and traditional blends. Webster predicts that the trend could create an opening for exotic spice blends such as shichimi tōgarashi, known as seven-flavor chili pepper in Japan, and duqqah, a Middle Eastern blend of herbs, hazelnuts and spices.

“Even for the risk averse, sea salts are a fun way to discover new foods,” says Laurie Demeritt, chief executive officer at The Hartman Group. “We picture the place it came from, and we imagine unique taste or attributes. It’s like a special version of an everyday food.”


What McDonald’s Learned From Burger King’s Turnaround

May 13, 2015

Devin Leonard
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-06/what-mcdonald-s-learned-from-burger-king-s-turnaround picture

McDonald’s chief executive officer, Steve Easterbrook, unveiled his turnaround plan for America’s biggest burger chain, making a big deal out of an initiative to carve up his company into four geographic segments and put them under new management. “It will spread insight faster, it will enable quicker decision making, it will eliminate mistakes, reduce costs, and unlock growth,” he said in a videotaped presentation this week. He also touted the promise of McDonald’s sleeker operations in Australia.

What Easterbrook neglected to mention was even more intriguing: McDonald is following the lead of Burger King, its second-largest competitor. Burger King seemed to have lost its way until 3G, the Brazilian private equity group, took it private in 2010 as part of a $4 billion billion leverage buyout. The new owner rejuvenated the troubled chain with young leadership and a restructuring plan that was highly controversial at the time.

Some in the fast-food business believe that burger chains need to own a significant number of their stores to truly understand the market. That has been McDonald’s philosophy. The Brazilian private equity crew had different ideas. Arguing that franchisees would run them better, 3G sold off all but 52 of the 12,174 restaurants owned by Burger King around the world. Instead of falling on its face, Burger King’s overall sales in the U.S. rose 1.6 percent last year, outstripping both McDonald’s (-1.1 percent) and Wendy’s (-0.4 percent), according to Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant consultancy.

Not surprisingly, Easterbrook’s turnaround blueprint for McDonald’s includes a plan to sell 3,500 of his company’s stores to franchisees. When the disposal process is over in 2018, McDonald’s will own only 10 percent of its stores, compared with 19 percent today. No, Easterbrook’s plan isn’t as radical as the one 3G put into place at Burger King, but it’s a validation of the private equity firm’s strategy.

Dave Henkes, a Technomic vice president, believes McDonald’s proposed selloff makes sense. “Franchisees tend to perform better,” he says. “They are driven, motivated owners who are more innovative and think outside of the box.” McDonald’s specific numbers in the U.S. last year bear this out. Henkes says sales at McDonald’s company-owned stores in the U.S. fell 3.6 percent last year. By contrast, its franchisee-owned ones suffered a decline of only 0.8 percent.

Even so, McDonald’s shares fell after Easterbrook made his announcement. Perhaps he hasn’t been bold enough. When 3G bought Burger King in 2010, the chain still owned 11 percent of its stores worldwide. The new owner got rid of nearly all of them as fast as it could. Based on McDonald’s recent numbers, Easterbrook needs to do the same. Why wait until after 2018?


McDonald’s Putting Itself on a Diet

May 11, 2015

http://business.inquirer.net/191312/mcdonalds-putting-itself-on-a-diet 

McDonald’s putting itself on a diet. It’s out with a desperately needed new strategy that includes cutting $300 million in costs.

Says McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook: “The message is clear. We are not on our game.”

McDonald’s will sell 3,500 restaurants to franchisees by 2018, boosting global franchisee ownership from 81 percent to 90 percent.

The company will also re-organize into 4 units. The U.S., its largest segment with 40 percent of the company’s operating income.

International Lead Markets – established markets like Australia, Canada, and parts of Europe. High Growth Markets – ones with more room to grow, like China and Russia. and Foundational Markets, which will cover the remaining markets along with corporate activities.

McDonald’s also plans to return between $8 and $9 billion to shareholders this year. But investors didn’t like the taste of it all, the stock falling on Monday.

The strategy was criticized for its lack of details.

Dave Henkes of restaurant consulting firm Technomic says: “There wasn’t any talk about, you know, these announcements about breakfast, for example, or about, you know, menu innovation. There is a lot of franchisee disgruntlement, I think is a good word for it, about what they are going through. And I didn’t really hear about how they are going to reach out, and sort of fix those relationships.”

Separately, McDonald’s also announced the launch of a delivery service in New York City, a move, Henkes says, is one in the right direction.


Americans Turning to Restaurants, Not Grocery Stores, for Mealtime

April 30, 2015

by Mark Fisher

http://www.daytondailynews.com/news/news/americans-turning-to-restaurants-not-grocery-store/nkxP2/picture

Restaurants cater to younger diners who are leading the trend
The Census Bureau reports that in March, for the first time since such records have been kept, Americans spent more money in restaurants than in grocery stores. Millennials led the charge. Local restaurant owners, including Dan Young owner of Young’s Jersey Dairy, say they’re not surprised about shift occurring in the dining scene in this region and across the country.

For the first time since the government started keeping track in 1992, Americans—led by those in the millennial generation—spent more money last month in restaurants and bars than they did in grocery stores.

This region’s restaurant owners say they’re not surprised at the shift in spending patterns, and they’re taking steps to attract younger diners.

Dan Young, CEO of Young’s Jersey Dairy and the Golden Jersey Inn in Clark County north of Yellow Springs, said today’s families work long and sometimes unpredictable hours and have limited time to spend together.

“Yes, they can get a nice meal from the grocery store, but if your ‘together’ time is limited, who wants to spend that time preparing the meal?” Young said. “Why not meet your family or friends at a local restaurant and enjoy each other’s company while choosing from a much wider selection of food than you typically would at home?”

The U.S. Department of Commerce reported last week that Americans spent $52.3 billion at restaurants and bars in March, and $49.7 billion in grocery stores—the first time grocery spending lagged restaurant/bar expenditures.

The National Restaurant Association reported earlier this month that despite extreme weather in many parts of the country, its “Restaurant Performance Index” (RPI)—a monthly barometer of the the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry—held steady in February, which also marked the 24th consecutive month in which the RPI signified improvement in key industry indicators.

Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for the restaurant association, said restaurant operators are increasingly optimistic about business conditions and potential sales growth in the months ahead. About 59 percent of restaurant operators expect to have higher sales in six months, compared to the same period in the previous year, up from 57 percent the previous month. In contrast, only 4 percent of restaurant operators expect their sales volume in six months to be lower than it was during the same period in the previous year, restaurant association officials said.

The association offers advice to restaurant managers on its web site on how to cater to the twenty-somethings and early-thirty-somethings who are increasingly likely to let others prepare their meals.

“Millennials view dining out as a social event (i.e. a chance to connect),” the association says on its web site. “They prefer to eat at restaurants with a lot of choices and lower price points. They tend to favor fast food, deli food and pizza restaurants over coffee shops, high-end dining and casual dining.

“Equally important for restaurateurs to remember is that millennials can be moving targets. While they develop brand attractions and support reward and loyalty programs, their allegiances can be very flexible according to their circumstances.”

Young, whose restaurant and ice cream shop are geared toward families, said diners in the 25-to-34 age group are “eager to try new tastes, probably because they have been exposed to more variety growing up.”

“Plus, with today’s amazing technology, it just takes a few tweets or texts and you can be visiting a nice restaurant with family and friends in a few minutes,” Young said. “Spontaneous is so much easier than when most of the 25-to-34-year-olds were born —when the family had one, maybe two phones at home, and families had to plan out the day ahead of time.”

Shanon Morgan, president of the Miami Valley Restaurant Association, agreed that technology — and in particular, social media — are stimulating restaurant and bar business, especially among younger diners.

“It’s much cooler to check in at the local tap room than the local grocery store,” Morgan said.

Jay’s Restaurant in Dayton’s Oregon Historic District has begun advertising more heavily on social-media sites and has launched “happy hour” specials on Tuesday and Wednesday in part to attract more younger diners, according to Amy Haverstick, Jay’s Restaurant’s owner, who is herself the mother of a 2-year-old.

“People my age, the couples are working full time, and they’re finding the easy way out — it’s all about convenience,” Haverstick said. “Life just seems to be a lot more fast-paced for our generation.”

Darren Tristano—executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food service research and consulting firm—said his company’s research “continues to show that the millennial consumer has integrated dining away from home deeper into its identity compared to older generations. They appreciate the socialization and the lifestyle element that restaurant visits bring to their overall quality of life.”

Tristano said members of the millennial generation “continue to use restaurants with great frequency, and as their spending power builds, so will their dining (expenditures). Favorable employment and disposable income growth trends along with lower gas prices are fueling the return by many younger consumers to restaurants.”

Millennials, Tristano said, “are the future, and along with them, the key to many restaurants’ future.”
________________________________________
Americans’ shifting spending patterns
March 2015
Restaurants and bars: $50.4 billion
Grocery stores: $50.1 billion
February 2015
Restaurants and bars: $50.0 billion
Grocery stores: $50.4 billion
March 2014
Restaurants and bars: $46.8 billion
Grocery stores: $49.1 billion
Source: U.S. Department of Commerce


New Face, Future for Ruby’s Diner

April 24, 2015

nmxdke-b88381735z.120150416173141000gd396457.10The Irvine chain’s new CEO will condense the chain’s menu and craft new concepts

By Hannah Madans, The Orange County Register
http://www.ocregister.com/articles/ruby-658341-restaurant-new.html
(c)2015 The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.)

Scott Barnett, the interim chief executive at Ruby’s Diner, has only been on the job for a few weeks, but he’s already tried every item on the chain’s expansive menu.

Barnett replaced the chain’s founder Doug Cavanaugh in March, making him the company’s first new CEO in its 33-year history. Cavanaugh will remain as Ruby’s chairman.

A personal friend of Cavanaugh, Barnett has a long history in restaurants. He’s the former president and CEO of Rusty Pelican, founding president and former CEO of Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., and has served as a consultant for investment banking projects in Hong Kong.

Barnett said his goals include improving Ruby’s by condensing the menu while upholding the restaurant’s standards.

The renewed economy and cheaper gas has been a boon for family restaurants like Ruby’s.

Restaurants like Ruby’s saw 3 percent growth in 2014, a “huge improvement” over sluggish gains in the years immediately after the recession, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president at market research company Technomic.

“The low prices of gas are really starting to help the family-style segment,” he said. “It’s giving more low- to middle-income consumers more money to spend, and as long as gas prices remain low, the restaurant business is going to continue to improve.”

He added that low menu prices are something that helps a restaurant like Ruby’s do well.

“They do have good quality offerings in a theme restaurant, which is something that consumers are looking for, and their price points are relatively good for the California market,” Tristano said.

Meanwhile the fast-casual restaurant sector — an area Barnett sees as having tremendous growth opportunity for Ruby’s — grew 13 percent in 2014.

Barnett spoke to the Register about his experience in the restaurant industry and what he hopes to bring to Ruby’s, a chain named after Cavanaugh’s mother. His answers have been edited for length and clarity.

Q. Why did you want to be involved in the company?

A. The brand is extremely strong. It has great brand equity in the markets in which it operates. Many years ago, I almost went to work with Ruby’s as their vice president of operations. I ended up running Rusty Pelican as CEO instead. Doug (Cavanaugh) is a friend, and he really wanted someone who had a significant amount of experience as a professional manager who could help him transition the company from an entrepreneurial style into a more seasoned manner — and given that we’ve had a long relationship and are friends, it made sense.

Q. You have held many notable jobs in the restaurant industry. What did you learn from each of these positions and what will you bring to Ruby’s?

A. At Bubba Gump Shrimp, I was fortunate to be dealing with a well-known brand with tremendous reach worldwide. The challenge was to deliver on that brand in the manner that people were used to it from the movie. It was all about learning about brands that have a lot of power and seeking ways to deliver on the promise of the brand.

At Rusty Pelican, it was also a well-known brand that had encountered a number of issues. I learned a lot about how to act in a capital restrained environment, team building, starting from the ground up and a company turnaround.

In Hong Kong, I learned from the other side what it was like to be involved in restaurant investments and to help restaurant companies maximize their returns based on our investment criteria.

Q. Did you always know you would end up in the restaurant business?

A. No. I started working in restaurants many years ago, while I was going to school, because I had to pay my own way. I was a cook, a bartender, a busboy, a dishwasher, a valet parking attendant.

When I left college, my intent was to go to grad school but I picked a summer job working in a restaurant and the rest is history. Never went to grad school.

Q. What will you change at Ruby’s?

A. We’re going to dramatically reduce the menu. We are looking at some of the internal operations and the internal policies and procedures and see which work and which can be improved upon. I’m trying to bring some methods I’ve used and learned about in the past that I think can improve upon what’s going on here at Ruby’s.

The menu changes are being tested right now in Yorba Linda and Irvine. The test started March 30, right after I started here. I put that in as quickly as possible because I had identified it as a serious shortcoming at Ruby’s. The results so far have been very positive. If the test proves out in about four more weeks, then we’ll do an implementation within the entire system by the end of May.

Q. What other plans do you have for Ruby’s future?

A. We like the look of the classic ’40s diner that Ruby’s is known for and I think that as we move forward we’re not going to lose the roots on which it was built.

We also want to spruce up the looks of many of the restaurants, both the interior and exterior. But we’re operating in a constrained environment, and we have to be economical and creative in how we do that. I don’t want to change a lot about the ’40s diners look. It’s very iconic, almost timeless. I’m talking about repairs, maintenance, things like that.

Q. What aspects will remain the same?

A. So many restaurants and companies over the years cut corners, take shortcuts and in the end sacrifice the most important part of the experience, which is the food and the service. That is one thing Ruby’s has not done and that is not going to change.

Q. It seems like there are a lot of new people coming to Ruby’s, especially from Yogurtland (Ruby’s vice president of franchise development Larry Sidoti is a former Yogurtland executive). Why is this?

A. The fact that many come from Yogurtland is somewhat random. We at Ruby’s have always made an attempt to hire the very best people. And it just so happens that there were a number of people who were available from Yogurtland.

The best way of recruiting is to find people who are friends or have relationships or have recommendations from good people that already work with us. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. Good people want to work with other good people.

Q. Fast casual option Ruby’s Dinette was recently scrapped. Are there any new Ruby’s concepts underway?

A. We haven’t given up on fast casual. I really think it’s a matter of execution and conceptual positioning. We’re reviewing that. It will almost surely be a growth vehicle for the company going forward.

We are still doing fast casual restaurants in airports around the country and a few other places.

Q. When you venture into fast casual again, will you do it at existing Ruby’s locations or open new ones?

A. We would do it in new locations. When people have a Ruby’s, in their minds, it’s their Ruby’s. Most customers like it as it is. It doesn’t make sense to change their Ruby’s into something else. So you look for an opportunity to create a new Ruby’s in a new environment.

Q. What are some of the biggest challenges in making a restaurant chain successful?

A. The restaurant business isn’t that complicated. It’s really about hot food, service with a smile and pleasant, clean, interesting surroundings. If you deliver on those things on a consistent basis with pricing that makes sense, then you’re going to create an experience for your guest. There are also lot of nuances involving location and making sure you hire the right people.

Q. How have minimum wage increases and healthcare mandates affected the business?

A. Increases in minimum wage and health insurance costs and many other employee-related costs are impacting our industry. They’re impacting the industry at a time when most operators have little to no pricing power and the ability to pass on these costs to the customer.

You have to look for creative ways to minimize the costs without impacting the guest experience. And it gets more challenging every year.

Q. Is there something in particular you want to accomplish as interim CEO?

A. I would love to be able to make a difference in terms of the corporate culture. I would like to be able to influence the growth of the company in what is essentially a very capital-constrained environment. I would love to be able to make the Ruby’s experience a memorable one to the guest and that’s not as easy as it sounds.

Q. What is Cavanaugh’s involvement in the company now?

A. Doug is in many ways an idea guy, a concept guy. And he’s highly focused on the marketing side of the business. He’ll continue to be a major contributor in those areas. I’m going to make very few decisions without sounding them off him beforehand. He is the creator of the concept and the guy who is responsible for the success Ruby’s has had over the years.


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