How Jonathan Smiga Crafted Barnie Coffee & Tea’s Turnaround

March 27, 2015

Anjali Fluker
http://upstart.bizjournals.com/entrepreneurs/hot-shots/2015/03/21/how-jonathan-smiga-crafted-barnie-coffee-teas.html?page=allbarnies-centerpiece15-304xx3654-2448-42-0
© 2015 American City Business Journals, Inc. All rights reserved.

J onathan Smiga wasn’t sure quite what he was getting into when he took over the helm as president and CEO of the then-struggling Barnie’s Coffee & Tea Co. in 2010.

The Winter Park, Fla.-based firm’s board had just fired founder Barnie “Phil” Jones Jr. after falling from 120 cafes in 15 states during the early 2000s to about 50. Sales also had declined to $5 million-$6 million from a peak of $67.3 million in 2005.

But rather than trying to compete with coffee giant Starbucks by opening new cafes in every trendy city, Smiga instead pared down the store count to just two — the original store on Park Avenue in Winter Park and one in downtown Orlando’s CityArts Factory — and put a heavier focus on branding and expanding its high-quality products that target socially and environmentally responsible consumers. The idea was to put the new Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen into the movement known as the third wave of coffee, where coffee is looked at as an artisanal culinary specialty from production to brewed cup, rather than a commodity.

The result: The company’s products now are available in grocery stores, convenience stores and specialty stores in 22 states. And 2014 was a breakout year for the new-and-improved Barnie’s, where revenue doubled and earnings were up by $2 million year-over-year.

Today, Barnie’s is in its 35th year and expects to see sales back up to about $20 million this year, up 50-80 percent from 2014.

“We’re breaking out from being that regional coffee shop in town,” Smiga told Orlando Business Journal in an exclusive interview. “We bring the nimbleness of a third wave of coffee company — from production to our talent to our intellectual property — married with a mature company which allows for us to take our business to a national scale.”

No pain, no gain

The first year Smiga was top executive at Barnie’s wasn’t easy. Stores had to shutter, employees were let go and revenue dropped by one-third.

And things appeared bleak when stores started to close because of what had happened in Barnie’s history: The company in 2006 sold off 56 shops mostly in malls, cutting sales nearly in half.

But Smiga said the Barnie’s team hunkered down and focused on building its intellectual property, brand and figuring out the best way to shed its former reputation. Rather than being known as the local Starbucks competitor, the firm wanted a more global reach by making its products the first thing people think of when they hear Barnie’s.

“We stayed in that zone a couple of years, but we were not dormant,” Smiga said. “We were figuring out the puzzle pieces.”

It all paid off, as last year the firm achieved positive cash flow without venture funding.

Much of the growth came from signing deals to sell its packaged products in large retail chains. And last year, Barnie’s relaunched its website to capitalize on the growing e-commerce industry with online sales, which today represents about 10 percent of the company’s sales. It has been known to draw buyers fro m as far away as Germany.

Java culture

Along with bringing an analytical look at the coffee business, Smiga also brought a change to the culture at Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen, according to Senior Vice President of Sales and Marketing Sonya Hardy, who has worked for the company for more than 20 years.

Barnie’s originated as a company that celebrated the purity of international coffees, but got away from that as it ventured into growing its store count.

“Smiga really got us to refocus on the coffee and getting us into the third wave of coffee movement,” Hardy said. “Then we were able to work that into the guest experience.”

Reining in growth

Now that the company is back on a growth trajectory, the difficult part is not falling into that same trap of trying to grow by opening a slew of new stores, Smiga said.

Though Barnie’s is looking at potential new stores in strategic areas in the Southeast, Midwest and Texas, Smiga said the focus still will be on Barnie’s coffee and tea products. The firm will continue to create new Barnie’s-branded packaged products, including a new cold-brewed bottled drink expected to hit the market later this year.

“We’re next going to focus internally on strategy in the small business sense,” he said. “When you’re underwater, you only want to get to the surface. You’re focused on surviving. But once you get to the surface, you can start making executive decisions.”

However, there’s still room to add stores, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food industry research firm Technomic Inc.

Making a mark in the highly competitive coffee house industry won’t be easy, but it is possible, he said. About 27,000 coffee houses in the U.S. generated $23.5 billion in sales last year, mostly dominated by mega-chain Starbucks and then Dunkin’ Donuts, Technomic reported. “Barnie’s focus has been more on retail, and they’ve been doing well with the restaurants or stores they currently have,” Tristano said. “They should have opportunities on the retail side as a smaller brand to continue to expand as profitability rises.”

Background: Grew up in the food business in Sarasota and Palm Beach; was co-director of education at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.; recruited by Darden Restaurants Inc. to oversee a turnaround for Olive Garden in the mid-1990s; was general manager of a Robert Mondavi Winery-oriented attraction at the 55-acre Disney’s California Adventure theme park in Disneyland Resort

Education: MBA, New York University; master’s in hotel administration, Cornell University

Projected 2015 revenue: $20 million

Employees: 60

Contact: barniescoffeekitchen.com

Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen cafes are no longer the only place to get a cup of your favorite java or tea. Here’s where else you can find your favorite flavors and brews:

On the web: Order any of Barnie’s products on the company’s website at http://bizj.us/1bp5gd or search for coffee and related products on Amazon.com.

In stores: Barnie’s can be found on the shelves in supermarkets and retail locations, including Publix Super Markets, Winn-Dixie, Sweetbay, H-E-B Grocery, Food Lion, Hannaford Supermarkets and Harveys.

In cafes: Two full-service cafes still exist, 118 S. Park Ave. in Winter Park and 29 S. Orange Ave. in downtown Orlando’s CityArts Factory.

Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts: Two Barnie’s coffee bars can be found in downtown Orlando’s arts center.

New products

Some original products created by Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen:

CupUp: A single-cup brewing machine compatible capsule that holds 30 percent more coffee than other leading brands. Features a patent-pending channel design to create a particular extraction of flavor and aroma. Available in several of Barnie’s most popular flavors.

Brewsticks: Single-serve liquid instant coffee that comes in portable packets. Features 100 percent cold-brewed Arabica coffee soluble in hot, iced or bottled water.

Publix Premium Ice Cream: Publix-branded ice cream in Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen flavors, including Barnie’s Coffee and Santa’s White Christmas

Publix Premium Espresso Chip Frozen Yogurt: Barnie’s Santa’s White Christmas coffee-flavored frozen yogurt with chocolate espresso chips

Publix Premium Indulgent Yogurt: Barnie’s Santa’s White Christmas coffee-flavored yogurt with mocha chips

Sources: Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen, Publix Super Markets Inc.

By the numbers

Stats on Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen:

120: Total U.S. stores at its peak

60: Employees

22: States where you can buy its products in convenience, grocery and specialty stores

4: Barnie’s ice cream flavors you can get at Publix supermarkets

2: Remaining stores under the firm’s new business strategy

Source: Barnie’s CoffeeKitchen


Charcuterie, the Meats of the Moment

March 20, 2015

Eric Snider
http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/gallery/167251?r=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.bizjournals.com%2Ftampabay%2Fnews%2F2015%2F03%2F18%2Ffood-trend-alert-charcuterie-the-meats-of-the.html%3Fpage%3Dall
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Charcuterie, generally served cold, is hot — and getting hotter.

What was centuries ago a means to preserve the entire pig, and thus waste none of it, has evolved into a de rigueur item on the menus of fine dining establishments.

A bevy of restaurants and wine bars in Tampa Bay feature boards of exotic cured and processed meats. They’re often accompanied by cheeses, vegetables — roasted, grilled, pickled — and artisan breads.

At least three top-tier eateries in Tampa have taken charcuterie to the next level by making their own sausages, bolognas, headcheeses, galantines, pates, terrines, pancettas, et al.

The recently opened Haven, which replaced SideBern’s in South Tampa, not only produces its own meats but has made the charcuterie/cheese slicing station a focal point of its dining room. “We’re selling the heck out of it,” said Executive Chef Chad Johnson.

Ava, the rustic Italian place that opened in November just up Howard Avenue from the Bern’s cluster, doles out 30-40 boards of salumi (the Italian equivalent) on weekend nights, said Executive Chef Joshua Hernandez.

Mise en Place moved a lot of charcuterie in the ’80s, then saw it get eclipsed by other trends. “We probably went through a period where we had like two pates,” said Co-owner Maryann Ferenc. About five years ago, Chef Marty Blitz started producing his own meats.

Now Mise en Place is back to offering a full array, Ferenc said, adding, “It’s been about two years since we haven’t had to push it. People ask about it, are naturally gravitating toward it.”

Here to stay?

The charcuterie movement looks to be a more durable trend than a passing fad, say advocates. It fits in with the relatively new dining custom that skews toward shared plates and communal eating.

“I’ve seen four-tops of [women] on their way to the bars on South Howard order the meat board and destroy it,” Hernandez said.

At first glance, gobbling platters of fat-laden meat would seem to run counter to healthy eating. But charcuterie by nature is consumed in small portions, which earns it marks for moderation. It also gets cred for sustainability — using parts of animals that are often discarded.

Also: “The diner who comes in the door of a restaurant with a charcuterie station gets a bit of theater and a visual cue that says ‘freshness,’ which is in high demand,” said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food industry research firm.

Shared meat boards are enjoying their moment, he says, because “the basic consumer equation, post-recession, has changed from price first to freshness, artisanal values and craftsmanship.”

Passionate practitioners

Producing charcuterie sparks deep passion among its practitioners. As a part of Ava’s rollout charcuterie program, Hernandez served prosciutto that he purchased. That’s because hams take longest to produce — in the two-year range. Once his own, less time-intensive, meats were ready, he dropped the Italian ham so his salumi would be “100 percent house-made.”

“I’ve got a few hams in my chamber,” Hernandez said. “They should be ready in about another year and a half.”

For now, he’s concocting items like red wine and black pepper salami, cinnamon salami, pancetta (cured pork belly) and coppa (cured pork shoulder).

On a recent Friday, Haven’s chef de cuisine, Courtney Orwig, was butchering Wagyu eye-round beef into loins that would turn into Bresaola after about a nine-day process that involved salting and air-drying. Outside, future duck summer sausage was arrayed in a smoker.

It’s these kinds of culinary efforts and quality ingredients that separate today’s fine-dining charcuterie from cellophane-wrapped summer sausage at the mall and suspect mystery meats in the deli cooler.

Tristano, the food-industry analyst, says the restaurant charcuterie boom probably drafted off of consumer interest at food stores.

“As supermarkets got more sophisticated in their offerings and specialty markets gained a foothold in markets like Tampa Bay, people came in to buy the exotic meats and cheeses and wines,” he said. “I think the supermarket demand fueled the restaurants.”

He expects diners to see more and more charcuterie boards. “The trend is moving into smaller markets with less of a foodie reputation,” he said, “and also beyond just high-end restaurants and into places with lower price points.”


Touting Philly Steaks, Charley’s Posts Record Year

March 17, 2015

New signs, brighter decor help CHARLEY’S post record year, impressive same-store sales growthcharleys

By JD Malone
http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/business/2015/03/13/touting-philly-steaks-charleys-posts-record-year.html
(c) 2015 Columbus Dispatch. All Rights Reserved.

In the bustling world of mall food courts and retail strip centers, if you’re slinging sandwiches, you need to stand out.

On a recent afternoon at the Mall at Tuttle Crossing, Charley’s Philly Steaks’ new location had the most striking signs and the longest lines.

Last year, the Columbus chain adopted a new look, with red as its dominant color and giant, high-definition photos of baskets of french fries and sweating cups of lemonade floating on a background of gleaming white subway tile.

The crowd at Tuttle was no aberration.

Last year was the best ever for the Columbus-based, 540-unit chain. Same-store sales, a key figure, jumped 10 percent from 2013, said Kris Miotke, vice president of marketing at Charley’s. The company added 40 locations — including at Tuttle and Polaris Fashion Place — and plans to add 40 to 50 this year.

“(The new look) made a big difference,” said franchisee Sally Saad, who has 29 stores across the Midwest. “Before, folks didn’t really understand who we are. Now, they do.”

Part of the rebranding was recognition that Charley’s former tagline, “Grilled Subs,” didn’t grab consumers. So the chain went back to its origins, touting “Philly Steaks” in big capital letters.

The change boosted business in two ways: overall sales and items ordered, with steak edging even with chicken.

“We are selling more steaks than ever,” Saad said. “It is insane what that signage is doing.”

The sandwich segment of the restaurant industry is hot, and Charley’s new look helps capture customers, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic in Chicago.

Charley’s can’t beat sandwich-chain giant Subway on price, but Charley’s wins with higher quality items in a market that is rewarding brands for quality, Tristano said.

It doesn’t hurt that the American economy has been humming along, and malls, where most Charley’s stores are located, have picked up as retail rebounds and hiring increases.

“All of the economic indicators are trending positively,” Tristano said. “The low cost of gas is putting a lot of money into the pockets of lower- and middle-income people, and they are spending it. So why not go to the mall?

“Not everyone shops on the Internet.”

The company doesn’t have a geographic focus for expansion or targeted markets, Miotke said. Charley’s is on five continents and opened a pair of stores in Russia last year. One of the company’s biggest markets is U.S. military bases, where there are about 100 restaurants.

One spot Charley’s doesn’t plan to go into, though, is the home of its sandwich: Philadelphia.

Step outside the City of Brotherly Love, and Charley’s is the top Philly-steak brand. Connecting to an iconic regional food helps the brand attract attention in a food-court arena. Differentiation works these days, Tristano said.

“Letting consumers know what to expect is a good idea,” he said.

Jim Novak has been through three store designs with Charley’s at his four locations in Arizona. When he bought his first franchise in 1999, the chain’s look was a white-and-green pattern and it was called a “steakery.”

Then Charley’s rolled out the earth-toned era of grilled subs that is giving way to the splash of red.

Novak said his entire year-over-year sales lift of 18 percent last year occurred after his stores were remodeled in October.

“It is eye-appealing,” he said. “We need to be noticed.”

The change also ends an identity crisis. Novak used to field a lot of questions about the nature of grilled subs. He no longer needs to explain the food.

“We don’t have to convince people that Philly steak is good,” Miotke said.

A cheesesteak needs no introduction.


McDonald’s Moves Toward Antibiotic-Free Chicken: Too Little, Too Late?

March 10, 2015

Nancy Gagliardi
2015 Forbes.com LLC™ All Rights Reserved

http://www.forbes.com/sites/nancygagliardi/2015/03/04/mcdonalds-latest-move-toward-antibiotic-free-too-little-too-late/

Taking a cue from rival Chick-fil-A, McDonald’s announced Wednesday morning that it intends to stop buying chickens that have been treated with antibiotics that are also taken by humans, seeking to address consumers’ concerns about resistant “super-bugs” resulting from overuse of the drugs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, every year super-bugs cause some 2 million illnesses and 23,000 deaths in the U.S., resulting in an estimated $20 billion in direct health care costs. McDonald’s also announced that its U.S. locations would sell milk products only from cows that are free of artificial growth hormones (specifically rbST), but added that it would continue to allow suppliers to “responsibly use” certain antibiotics (called ionophores) which are not used in humans.

The world’s largest fast food chain will spend the next two years working to phase in its news standards with its suppliers, including Tyson Foods which, according to reports, said it would comply with the company’s requests, adding that its chicken production had reduced it use of antibiotics by 84% since 2011. A company spokesperson also commented that it would phase out using antibiotics as early as in the hatchery phase of production (when chicks are injected while still in their shells).

While he may only (officially) be four days into his new role, CEO Steve Easterbrook (who recently said he viewed himself as the company’s “internal activist,” perhaps hoping to ward off the latest wave of activist investors targeting companies that haven’t performed as well as expected) gets to mark this antibiotic-free move under his watch.

But is this really a signal that it won’t be business as usual for the beleaguered fast food giant or is it too little too late?

“I don’t think it is. It’s what needs to happen to McDonald’s right now,” says Darren Tristano, a restaurant industry analyst at Technomic. “In our industry you can catch up very quickly, but if you don’t, doing nothing isn’t an answer or a solution. This clearly is a sign that McDonald’s is willing to improve.”

While the antibiotic ban is making big news here, McDonald’s is already sourcing drug-free chicken overseas. “There are a number of countries where it doesn’t have antibiotics or hormones in its chicken,” says Tristano, including the U.K., where Easterbrook comes from. “But this is a step for them to come back to the leadership position they used to have in this industry.”

While this most likely is the first of many steps by McDonald’s to reverse its recent slide (in interviews, Easterbrook has said it needs to become nimble to accommodate market needs), a comeback will take time. Says Tristano:

First, you have to qualify coming back. I think for McDonald’s that’s getting back to a level of growth that’s nominally keeping up with inflation. I’d expect to see it back to 2.5% to 3%, which puts it into a position where it isn’t losing share, and anything above that would put it in a position where it’s taking share. Look, it was the leader during the recession, driving a lot of the industry growth. While I wouldn’t expect that to reoccur, I think getting back to zero and building, and no longer losing share is important, and we may be looking at 2016 for that to happen. But if it can get back to even, that certainly helps the company grow again.


Strategic Pizza Infrastructure Goes High-Tech

March 5, 2015

BN-HF942_0304_c_G_20150304135445http://blogs.wsj.com/cio/2015/03/04/strategic-pizza-infrastructure-goes-high-tech/?mod=wsj_ciohome_cioreport

Stuffed crust isn’t the only battle ground for Domino’s Pizza Inc. and Pizza Hut. The chains are promoting smartwatches, connected cars, retinal scanning and other interactive technology for order and delivery – and learning what works and what doesn’t in customer experience.

Ordering pizza is a time-honored proof of concept for new technology. The very first retail purchase on the Web was a Pizza Hut pizza, the company claims. Now it and Domino’s are experimenting with just how much change customers can tolerate as technology remakes the noble task of ordering a pepperoni pie. Domino’s, for example, lets customers order in Ford Fiestas with voice commands and on Pebble smartwatches with a touch interface. Pizza Hut lets gamers order through their Xbox and in the United Kingdom is testing retinal scanning technology that detects where a customer’s eyes rest on a digital menu board and adds toppings accordingly.

“Pizza companies are paving the path for technology in other kinds of restaurants,” says Darren Tristano, an analyst at Technomic Inc., a food industry consulting firm.

And both companies watch the tech moves of one another — and those of other retailers – closely. Domino’s CIO Kevin Vasconi says customers will jump to Pizza Hut or another competitor the moment an ordering system hiccups. “If you’re on Dominos.com and not having the best experience, it’s not hard for you to go to one of our competitors,” Mr. Vasconi says. “We want to not only have best experience in your car, but on your watch and in other venues, too.”

Pizza Hut is building an in-car ordering and payment system with Accenture and Visa Inc., which announced the project Monday at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. Testing is expected to start this spring. The system’s beacon technology can alert restaurant staff when the customer pulls into the parking lot, says Carol Clements, U.S. CIO for Pizza Hut, which accounted for $1.1 billion of the $13.3 billion in sales reported last year by parent company Yum Brands Inc.

Anticipating customer behavior influences where Pizza Hut invests, Ms. Clements says. Aside from drivers, IT is the fastest growing part of the business. Pizza Hut wants to add 100 people, including contractors, to its 160-member technology and digital staff, focusing on analytics talent and mobile developers to build out tablet and self-service kiosk apps. But not every new technology is ripe, she says, including wearable devices. “When you’re ordering a pizza, there’s a lot of information we need. Whether we can do that on a little, 2-inch by 2-inch watch in a way not frustrating for customers, we’ll continue to evaluate.”

At Domino’s, tech investments must pay off in sales, conversion rates or new-customer acquisition, Mr. Vasconi says. About half of its $2 billion in 2014 sales came from digital platforms and half of that was from mobile devices, he says. At 200 people, IT is one-third of the company’s corporate staff and they want to hire 50 or 60 more this year. Domino’s measures itself against Pizza Hut and other competitors, looking at website load time, number of steps to order and user-interface design. But Mr. Vasconi also studies innovators outside the pizza business, including Zappos.com and Uber. (He promises no surge pricing on pizza.)

A partnership with Ford Motor Co. to use the Sync AppLink connectivity system lets drivers in Fiestas, Mustangs and other cars order Domino’s with voice commands. But it’s not a high-traffic ordering vehicle, Mr. Vasconi says. ”Customers say it’s a great idea but they’re not going to use it every day.”

Still, it’s one more avenue for orders, and being everywhere can increase customer loyalty, Mr. Tristano says. “People want the ultimate convenience of being able to get what they want when they want it.”


Uno Chain Putting Pizza First Again

March 2, 2015

tlumacki_pizzeriauno_business375-001Pizza First ; Uno, once deemed the healthiest chain restaurant in America, ditches its nutritionist and goes back to its high-calorie roots to stand out from its rivals

By Taryn Luna Globe Correspondent
http://www.bostonglobe.com/business/2015/02/27/uno-chain-putting-pizza-first-again/Idbh31HEj5KahzIpPxZk7I/story.html
© 2015 The Boston Globe. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All Rights Reserved.

Uno Pizzeria and Grill, the deep-dish pizza restaurant chain that switched years ago to a menu emphasizing pages of healthy food, is returning to its cheesy roots. Calorie counters beware.

In 2008, the West Roxbury company had happily embraced a new title, bestowed by Health magazine: healthiest restaurant chain in America.

Now Uno’s traditional fare — including its 2,300-calorie Chicago Classic individual pizza — is back near the front of the menu.

Said Dee Hadley, chief marketing officer at Uno:

“If you came into our restaurant and tried to find pizza on our menu, you would have had a hard time because we hid it in the back. It’s about going back to what made the brand great to begin with.”

Hadley and a new team of executives have spent more than $10 million to remodel dozens of restaurants and start a rebranding campaign. The goal is to emphasize Uno’s pizza heritage, a way to stand out in a waning casual dining business teeming with big competitors like Applebee’s, Chili’s, Ruby Tuesday, TGI Friday’s, and Red Robin.

Uno was founded in Chicago in 1943, serving thick-crust pizza that curved up the sides of its deep metal pan. The pizza was so unusual that the original owners, Ike Sewell and Ric Riccardo, gave away samples to entice people to try it, Chicago historian Tim Samuelson said.

It paid off, and the restaurant became wildly popular.

In 1979, a Boston restaurateur, Aaron Spencer, became the first franchisee and opened an Uno on Boylston Street. Spencer continued to expand the chain in Boston and beyond. Over time, Uno grew to more than 200 restaurants.

But the company began to distance itself from its pizza roots in the early 2000s. Like many other casual restaurant chains, it expanded the menu to appeal to as many customers as possible, said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at the food industry research firm Technomic in Chicago.

In an increasingly health-conscious time, people weren’t flocking to Uno for pizza that often topped 1,700 calories for an individual serving. Every restaurant, from McDonald’s to Applebee’s, looked for ways to cut calories.

Around 2005, Uno began a campaign to cultivate a healthier image. The brand, which had already changed its name to Uno Chicago Grill from Pizzeria Uno, eliminated trans fats from the menu and listed ingredients and calories on touch-screen kiosks. The new menu featured pages of salads.

Uno hired a full-time nutritionist and started a nutrition advisory board, which included a cardiologist from Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

“Creating a menu with delicious health-conscious options is one of our priorities,” Frank W. Guidara, then Uno’s chief executive, said a few years into the process. In an April 2006 Boston Globe article, Guidara said sales were up almost 2 percent because of the changes.

But the menu changes turned Uno into another Applebee’s, with a broad range of dishes and no emphasis on anything, Tristano said. At one point, the menu stretched to 22 pages. The restaurant’s deep dish pizzas appeared on page 18.

“They really changed the menu and mimicked what other casual restaurants were doing,” Tristano said. “Today we’ve learned that menus are too big, and casual dining brands are too ubiquitous.”

Uno discovered that the hard way. The company faced heavy debt and declining sales during the recession, when people ate out less frequently. Uno suffered net losses of $22 million in 2009 and filed for bankruptcy protection the following year.

Now, a new team of executives is trying to move forward with more than a nod to the past. The main objective: Give customers what they want.

Hadley said that when she joined in May 2013, the company went back through consumer studies for the prior five years to understand what people liked about Uno. Not surprisingly, the answer was deep dish pizza.

“We’ve really made a commitment to send a message to our consumer base that we’re bringing back the soul of the brand that we’ve lost,” Hadley said.

The first step was to rename the restaurant Uno Pizzeria and Grill, followed by a redesign of the restaurants. About 40 of the chain’s 82 corporate-owned restaurants have been remodeled, starting last year, at a cost of $100,000 to $200,000 per eatery, Hadley said.

At an updated restaurant in Braintree, the yellow and white checkered tablecloths and Tiffany pendants that dangled from the ceiling have been replaced with wood tables and modern light fixtures. Construction crews removed a wall in the bar and took down glass partitions in the dining room for a more open-concept feel. The restaurant added a new bar top and high tables, doubling the size of the bar.

Daily specials are written on chalkboards, and simple art adorns the walls with phrases like “We owe it all to a man and his pan.”

Uno says the remodeling is starting to pay off. Updated restaurants have experienced a 10 percent sales growth, she said.

The timing isn’t ideal for a return to high-calorie pizza fare, however. The federal government will require chains to list calorie counts on their menus by the end of this year.

Some diners won’t care. But others may choose smaller portions or different dishes when they realize the high calorie count of a favorite item.

“The calories on the menu will be really an eye-opener to the consumer,” said Joan Salge Black, a professor in the nutrition program at Boston University.

While gluten-free and low-fat items haven’t disappeared from the Uno menu, the nutrition advisory board isn’t active, and Uno no longer employs a nutritionist.

“We want to make sure healthy choices are available, but if you’re looking for those things you’re not thinking about us,” Hadley said. “Strong brands have to stand for something that is different from the rest of the pack. Our heritage is deep dish pizza.”


Starting From Scratch With Better Coffee

February 25, 2015

Joan Verdon

https://global.factiva.com/du/article.aspx/?accessionno=WPATHN0020150220eb2k0005u&fcpil=en&napc=T&sa_from=&cat=a

Copyright 2015 Herald News (Woodland Park, NJ). Distributed by NewsBank, inc.

The food-services company Mascott has fed its growth by introducing other people’s restaurant and food franchise ideas to North Jersey. Now it wants to build a beverage and food concept from the ground up.

Hillside-based Mascott, which brought the first Smashburger and Noodles & Co. restaurants to Bergen and Passaic counties, is launching a coffee-shop business called Ground Connection that it hopes will become a home-grown New Jersey hit. The company opened the first Ground Connection last week at The Shops at Riverside in Hackensack and plans to open three more locations in Livingston and Jersey City in the spring and summer.

Just as Smashburger sizzled as the “better burger” trend exploded, Mascott Chief Executive Officer Scott Gillman is betting the “better coffee” movement will create demand for Ground Connection. The shops serve small-batch roasts, use specially sourced milk and flavorings, and buy its sandwich breads, salads and other foods from local suppliers.

Gillman said he is trying to bring the coffee connoisseur experience found at some of the hot big-city artisanal coffee chains such as Blue Bottle Coffee, Stumptown Coffee Roasters and Intelligentsia Coffee to the suburbs, with prices and an atmosphere friendlier to suburban shoppers.

“There’s a huge movement into specialty coffee,” Gillman said. “It’s a better quality coffee. Often it’s handpicked. It’s relationship coffee,” he said, with the roasters developing a relationship with small farms.

Rather than trying to become a franchisee for an existing artisanal coffee brand, just as he did with burgers and Smashburger, this time Gillman decided to create his own response to a trend.

“I wanted to do what I thought would sell the best, and also what would sell the best in the suburbs,” he said. Brands like Blue Bottle, while it has millennials lining up and willing to wait for single-brewed cups, probably would be too expensive and too slow-paced to succeed with suburban mall shoppers. The Ground Connection’s prices are comparable to Starbucks’, at $1.75 for an 8-ounce cup and $2.75 for a 16-ounce, but are 50 cents to 75 cents lower than other specialty coffee brands.

Gillman and Mascott are entering the coffee field at a time when the competition is heating up, according to research firm IBISWorld, which noted in a report in December that the two biggest coffee chains, Starbucks and Dunkin’ Donuts, plan to open hundreds of stores over the next five years.

While the artisanal “better” coffee chains are growing their sales by more than 20 percent a year, big players such as Starbucks are hoping to cut into those sales by introducing their own better brands. Starbucks recently rolled out the Starbucks Reserve brand in some 500 of its more than 20,000 stores worldwide, and is selling the small-batch roasts through the mail to subscribers.

Gillman has a proven track record in the food-service industry and a reputation as one of the smartest franchise operators in New Jersey. His company owns an upscale restaurant in Jersey City, Markers, and has operated dozens of franchise restaurants over the past two decades, ranging from Popeye’s Chicken and Biscuits, Cinnabon, and Seattle’s Best Coffee, to more recently Smashburger and Noodles & Co.

Mascott opened the first Smashburger in New Jersey in 2010 in Glen Ridge and built the franchise into 14 locations, before selling them back to the Smashburger Corp., which wanted the high-performing stores in its corporate portfolio.

With the Ground Connection, “I wanted to do something that took everything I learned over 25 years,” and put his own stamp on a concept, Gillman said. He hired Casey Killo, a 21-year-old who already had a half-dozen years of barista experience, to train his baristas. Steve Parker, the corporate chef for Mascott, developed a breakfast and lunch menu that included muffins and pastries baked in a separate kitchen elsewhere in the mall, as well as soups, flatbread pizzas, sandwiches served heated, and salads.

The restaurant serves coffee from Toby’s Estate, a Brooklyn small-batch roaster. The lattes and cappuccinos use milk delivered fresh from Battenkill Valley Creamery in upstate New York, because it is richer than commercially available milk. Central Bakery in Hackensack supplies the sandwich breads, Gillman said. He estimated his start-up costs to open the Riverside location at $500,000.

Curtis Nassau, of Ripco Real Estate in Lyndhurst, which brokered the Riverside lease for Mascott, said Ripco “sees terrific growth potential” for the Ground Connection. Coffee, he said, “is a well-established, yet still expanding category in New Jersey retail.”

The Ground Connection was drawing a healthy lunch crowd on Thursday, and Gillman said the first week’s sales exceeded his expectations.

But success at Riverside could increase his risk from Starbucks, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of food-industry research firm Technomics. “It isn’t just build them where Starbucks isn’t,” Tristano said. “Once you’ve built it, that kind of gives Starbucks a reason to build one there,” he said. “You’ve proven that the demand is there, and all they would do is come in and take your business away.”

But, Tristano said, there are customers looking for coffee shops that have more of an independent feel than Starbucks. “Although Starbucks fans are very loyal, there’s some really good opportunity to even go beyond that,” he said.

Grounds for expansion; * $30.2 billion – annual U.S. coffee and snack-shop revenue, 2014; * $1.8 billion – profit, 2014; * 2.7 percent – annual growth rate, 2009-14; * 3.8 percent – projected annual growth rate, 2014-19; * 42.4 percent – market share of dominant player Starbucks; * 25.5 percent – market share of second-largest competitor, Dunkin’ Donuts; Source: IBISWorld Coffee & Snack Shops in the U.S., December 2014

 


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