Breastaurant Themed Reality TV Series Debuts This Fall

September 30, 2013

pictureThere’s a booming niche in the struggling restaurant industry known as “breastaurants“, or sports bars that feature scantily clad waitresses.

But half naked waitresses are really only part of the attraction, because these joints feature big portioned, hearty meals, a wide variety of beer and liquor and lots of attention in order to make customers feel special. More than three quarters of Hooters customers are male, with an average age of 45.

Last year, the nation’s top three “breastaurant” chains behind Hooters each had sales growth of 30 percent or more, while other mid-priced options like Applebee’s and Bennigan’s experienced declines.

The newer breastaurants offer themes such as rustic lodges and Celtic pubs, plus varied menus that include pot roast and shepherd’s pie instead of just burgers and wings.

“The younger crowds want to go to a newer place, not where mom and dad took them,” says Darren Tristano, an analyst at Technomic.

At Tilted Kilt Pub & Eatery in Tempe, Arizona, waitresses wear matching tartan mini-skirts and bras that fit in with the restaurant’s Celtic theme.

New Breastaurant Reality Television Series

All the interest in breasturants has spawned a new reality television series Big Tips Texas, which is set to debut later this fall on MTV. The so-called docudrama follows the lives of scantily-clad waitresses at a well-known Fort Worth based breastaurant Redneck Heaven.According to MTV, the half-hour series follows the lives of a group of fun loving girlfriends at the best little honky tonk bar in Texas who are working to make their dreams a reality.“The eclectic group of girls includes a gifted student working to save money to go back to Harvard, an ambitious waitress who wants to move from behind the bar to the front of the business office and the girl who knows how to keep the clientele happy but comes at odds with other staff.”

MTV promises the show will be “loaded with tons of comedy, drama and heart,” and adds “whether they’re partying on Lake Lewisville, planning their futures, or getting dirty on the ranch, they’re living it up and letting loose every day.”

Potbelly Outlines Growth Plans in IPO Filing

September 27, 2013

potbellylogo2013promoPotbelly Corp. indicated this week in a securities filing that planned expansion from its current 286 locations would occur mostly through company-owned restaurants and “disciplined” franchising, a move one industry expert describes as well suited to the brand, even in a competitive segment dominated by franchise growth.

Chicago-based Potbelly, operator and franchisor of Potbelly Sandwich Shop, filed a registration document Thursday with the Securities and Exchange Commission for a $75 million initial public offering.

According to the filing, Potbelly plans to increase the number of locations by at least 10 percent annually over the long term. However, the company gave no indication that the rate of franchise development would accelerate meaningfully from current levels. Potbelly granted its first franchise agreements in Texas and Ohio in late 2010, and franchisees currently operate six locations in the United States. The chain’s 12 international restaurants in the Middle East are also franchised, operated by Alshaya Trading Company, a major franchisee of several Western brands.

“As we develop our franchise program, we intend to expand the number of franchise shops on a disciplined basis. … We expect to have opened between seven and 10 new franchisee-operated shops in 2013,” Potbelly said in its filing. “Although we do not expect franchise activities to result in significant revenue in the near term, we see the selective expansion of our franchising efforts to be a valuable potential growth opportunity over time.”

Thus far, Potbelly’s franchising program includes opportunities for Indiana, Kentucky, Minnesota and Missouri, in addition to Texas and Ohio.

Concentrating on company-owned restaurant growth, in a model like Chipotle Mexican Grill, may serve Potbelly well, according to Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based foodservice research firm Technomic Inc. Other brands in the competitive limited-service sandwich segment, including Subway, Jersey Mike’s and Firehouse Subs, have helped drive the segment’s growth primarily by franchising.

“Given the history [of Potbelly] and mentality of current management, they likely believe meaningful revenue would come from existing stores and that they could grow faster with company stores,” Tristano said. “Those company stores return that 20 percent to the bottom line, versus a 5-percent or 6-percent royalty from franchise stores.”

For the past three fiscal years and through the first 26 weeks of fiscal 2013, Potbelly recorded unit-level profit margins above 20 percent and cash-on-cash returns for new company-operated restaurants above 25 percent after two full years of operation, according to the company’s filing. The average investment in opening a Potbelly is about $600,000, and the brand’s average unit volume is “in excess of $1 million,” according to the S-1 document.

In the past two and a half years, the chain has opened nearly 70 locations and expanded into New York; Seattle; Boston; Phoenix; Cleveland; Kansas City, Mo.; and Portland, Ore. Potbelly expects to open between 32 and 35 company-operated units in 2013.

“To support our shop operators, we invest in systems and technology that can meaningfully improve shop-level execution,” the company said, citing a handheld order-taking tablet system for peak throughput now in place at 44 percent of restaurants. “In addition, we are expanding our backline businesses, including catering, delivery and online ordering, which we view as additional growth drivers.”

According to the Nation’s Restaurant News Top 200 census of the largest foodservice brands, Potbelly booked estimated U.S. systemwide sales of about $261 million for the year ended in December 2012, placing it at No. 127.

Why More Extreme Foods Are Creeping Onto Menus

September 26, 2013

comp_badfood17__01__630x420For Americans who haven’t been to a state fair recently or who are unacquainted with Paula Deen’s style of Southern comfort food, this may come as a surprise: Some people make sandwiches with doughnuts. Now a doughnut sandwich is available for a lucky (or brave) few at none other than Dunkin’ Donuts (DNKN). The chain is testing a Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich—there’s a pepper fried egg and cherrywood-smoked bacon inside—in about a dozen stores in the Boston area.

“We’ve seen our customers buy doughnuts in the summertime to bring to the family cookout and put burgers on them,” says Dunkin’ executive chef Stan Frankenthaler, who runs the chain’s test kitchen. “We make sandwiches for ourselves on doughnuts.” Trying out the salty-sweet treat with customers seemed natural. Reactions to the doughnut sandwich, Frankenthaler says, have ranged from, “Oh my God, why?” to “Oh my God, why not?”

The Glazed Donut Breakfast Sandwich is one of many curious new items offered by restaurant chains, often for a limited time, to attract that adventure-seeking, fast-food-eating creature known as the young American male. Food-industry researcher Technomic reports that 34 percent of young men eat fast food several times a week; only 23 percent of young women do. So many restaurant menus are crafted with the Y chromosome in mind. Taco Bell’s Doritos Locos Tacos? Dude food. Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza at Pizza Hut? Dude food. The Bacon Cheddar Stuffed Burger at Burger King (BKW)? Ditto. And who do you think is chugging Johnny Rockets’ Big Apple Shake? (That’s the one with an entire slice of apple pie blended into a milkshake.) “The younger generation is looking for fun things to try, interesting things to talk about,” says Technomic Executive Vice President Darren Tristano.Marketers have no shortage of ideas to test. It’s hard to rule anything out.”

Wait—aren’t Americans supposed to be eating healthier foods? Yes, and no. “At home, consumers are more careful about what they eat,” says Bonnie Riggs, a restaurant industry analyst at research firm NPD Group. “At restaurants, they are more indulgent.” In a recent survey, Riggs says, only 8 percent of consumers said they look for healthy options when they go out to eat. “And that’s not necessarily what they do,” she says. “That’s what they say they are looking for.”

Most fast-food chains have added a dish or two that could conceivably qualify as healthy and several that definitely wouldn’t. In March, Burger King began offering burgers stuffed with bacon and cheddar and topped with onion rings, as well as tater tots filled with bacon and onions. It also started selling turkey and veggie burgers. The bacon cheeseburger has 650 calories and 39 grams of fat; the veggie burger, served with mayonnaise, has 410 calories and 16 grams.

Among the most successful in the more-is-more category of food is the Doritos Locos Tacos, which Yum! Brands’ (YUM) Taco Bell introduced a year ago. It has sold 375 million servings of the tacos, which feature the familiar flavors of the popular tortilla chip brand. “If those were around when I was in college, I would have eaten them all the time,” says Sam Oches, the 26-year-old editor of the trade magazine QSR (which stands for quick service restaurants). “They are for a very specific demographic.” The tacos are made with regular Taco Bell fillings and a specially created Doritos shell. Taco Bell started with a Nacho Cheese Taco; in March it brought out a Cool Ranch version. Now PepsiCo (PEP), which owns Doritos, is selling a Doritos Locos Taco-flavored chip for a short time this spring. Dude!

Pizza Hut, another Yum! Brands unit, has found a way to deliver even more cheese to customers. The chain’s new pizza has 16 open-face pockets along the crust brimming with its Italian five-cheese blend. Before its introduction, the pizza was internally known as the Stuffed Italiano, which didn’t sound extreme, just strange. By early April, when it was launched for a limited time, it had become the Crazy Cheesy Crust Pizza. “You’ve got to somehow stimulate the imagination of the consumer if they are going to be at all interested in a product,” says Bruce Perkin, Pizza Hut’s chief research and development officer. Doug Terfehr, a spokesman for the chain, adds, “Young males like to try new things, and this product does a lot of what they like.” A slice has 340 calories; one-third of them come from fat.

For now, Pizza Hut is waiting to see how well the pies sell before deciding whether to make other fillings. One possibility: bacon, a staple of extreme eating that has even made it into desserts such as the Bacon Sundae offered by Burger King last summer. Beyond that, “never say never. We’re constantly looking at form, function, flavor, and ingredients,” Perkin says. “Nothing’s off the table when we’re experimenting and playing.”

It’s not only fast-food chains that are going to extremes. The Cheesecake Factory’s (CAKE) Bistro Shrimp Pasta has an astonishing 3,120 calories and 89 grams of saturated fat. IHOP’s Country Fried Steak & Eggs—served with deep-fried hash brown potatoes and two buttermilk pancakes—has 1,760 calories. The Center for Science in the Public Interest, which calculated these “nutritional” values, notes that this is like eating five McDonald’s (MCD) Egg McMuffins sprinkled with 10 packets of sugar.

Most of the dishes aimed at the Man v. Food-watching, Guy Fieri-following crowd are available for a limited time. That’s the best way to generate interest. “If the McRib was available year-round, no one would care,” says Oches at QSR. There is an added benefit to the limited-time offer: Restaurants are not required to disclose the calorie counts of those items, says NPD’s Riggs.

Although chef Frankenthaler says Dunkin’ Donuts is “very pleased with the way things are going” with its doughnut sandwich, there are no plans yet for a nationwide launch. “It’s fun, playful, but I would not think Dunkin’ Donuts is going to make a huge push toward more sandwiches with glazed doughnuts,” Oches says. As a newly health-conscious Deen joked on National Public Radio earlier this year, for some dishes, “it’s only one serving per lifetime.”

The bottom line: America’s $161 billion fast-food industry has embraced rich, fatty, gooey extreme foods to grab diners’ attention.

Flavors of the World

September 3, 2013

Pizza and ethnic cuisines lend themselves to customer-created entrées.

Although most restaurants will change ingredients in an entrée to meet a guest’s request, a growing number of pizza and ethnic eateries are letting diners build their own menu items from scratch.

“It’s a system that delicatessens and street-food vendors worldwide have used for years. For many consumers, the concept of having restaurant staff assemble fresh, high-quality food in front of you to your design has great appeal,” says Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Chicago-based market research firm Technomic Inc.

“The model provides not only interaction and customization, but the ability to view the food—to select food that is visually appealing versus the old-school way, where the food is being prepared behind the steel curtain—is key,” Tristano says.

Constructing menu items this way, he adds, also gives the restaurant a healthy halo, “because diners see that they’re eating something fresh.”

The limited-service industry seems to be an ideal vehicle for various types of create-your-own products. The price point is generally less than $8, and just about any type of cuisine can be adapted to this design.

Just as Subway bases its menu on delis of yesteryear, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s roots are in the early 1990s taquerias of the Mission District in San Francisco, where the chain’s founder, Steve Ells, was working as a line chef at Stars restaurant. Ells, then a recent graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, closely watched crews at taquerias quickly and efficiently make burritos.

“They were made in this giant tortilla, [and] everything was on the inside—the rice, the beans, the meats, the salsas—and wrapped in foil,” he recalls in a video on Chipotle’s website. “I had never seen anything like that before.”

Ells and his vision of the concept went to Colorado, where he grew up. His first Chipotle—the name refers to a smoke-dried jalapeño chile—opened in Denver in 1993. Twenty years later, there are about 1,500 units.

At Chipotle, customers move along a counter, watching the restaurant’s team on the other side cook and create each guest’s entrée to order in an assembly line. There are a few base ingredients, a choice of proteins, and a variety of house-made toppings and sauces.

The mantra: “Make it fresh, keep the menu simple and focused, and give customers flexibility to configure those menu items,” says spokesman Chris Arnold.

Chipotle has made changes over the years, adding burrito bowls and salads to the original tortilla burritos and tacos. In addition to the long-time cilantro-and-lime rice, brown rice has been added as an ingredient, as has a tofu-based protein. The other proteins are grilled chicken and beef and braised carnitas and barbacoa. Toppings include pinto and black beans, a mix of grilled onions and bell peppers, four salsas, shredded cheese, lettuce, sour cream, and, for an extra charge, guacamole.

Another Denver-based enterprise, Qdoba Mexican Grill, has its own take on the taqueria, including a slightly wider menu that counts several types of build-your-own burritos (queso, San Francisco–style, and tortilla-free), tacos, nachos, quesadillas, and taco salads.

Qdoba offers two types of rice, two varieties of beans, five proteins, three sauces, six freshly made salsas (a seventh, mango, is offered in the summer), and a half dozen toppings, making thousands of combinations available.

Founded in 1995, the 600-unit chain has added new ingredients over the years, like whole-wheat tortillas, brown rice, and ancho chile sauce.

“But we’re still slow-cooking [meats] six to seven hours and hand-shredding the beef and pork,” says Ted Stoner, head chef and director of strategic product development for the chain, a division of Jack in the Box.

Allowing guests to customize allows them to choose the flavors they want and control the calories and fat they consume. “We’ve seen more interest in healthier items, especially with the dietary concerns out there,” Stoner says. “But the college guys still want a full-sized wrapped burrito. We are all about giving people variety.”

As with Mexican cuisine, Italian food is a favorite among Americans. That includes pizza, which easily allows customers to have a large choice of ingredients.

These days, however, some pizza innovators have taken customization a step further, offering more high-quality toppings and a variety of crusts, sauces, and cheeses.

PizzaRev, a three-unit, Los Angeles–based chain that launched last year, offers nine menued pizzas, but most diners choose to build their own 11-inch pizzas for $7.99 each.

“We use extraordinary, high-quality ingredients, fresh dough, and cheese ground every day,” says Nicholas Eckerman, chief operating officer. “We call it ‘pizza without compromise.’ We don’t compromise on quality; you don’t compromise on choices.”

After choosing a thin, regular, or gluten-free Roman-style crust, diners can select one or more sauces (olive oil, red, white, or barbecue) and cheeses (Mozzarella, Feta, blue, and Ricotta). They then choose from among 11 proteins and 17 vegetables.

The toppings include nontraditional choices like chorizo, anchovies, capers, and artichoke hearts. Once the pizza is assembled, it goes into a wood-fired oven and cooks at high temperatures for just two minutes.

Choice is also paramount at The Pizza Studio, another L.A. concept that opened its first unit this year. The size, price, and baking method are similar to PizzaRev’s.

There are four crusts (traditional, whole grain, rosemary herb, and gluten-free), four sauces (tomato, pesto, barbecue, and olive oil), four types of cheese (Mozzarella, Feta, Parmesan, and goat), nine meats, and 13 veggies.

“People really love the rosemary herb crust,” says Samit Varma, cofounder and president. “We were surprised to see how well it has done. We expected about 75 percent to be traditional, but the rosemary herb is chosen about 40 percent of the time.” Traditional toppings are popular, he says, as are roasted peppers, corn, and chicken sausage.

Another take on Italian cuisine is offered at Piada, which features build-your-own, tortilla-like flatbread piadas, bowls with freshly cooked angel hair pasta, and chopped salads. These are topped with a grilled ingredient, veggies, and a sauce. “We are a chef-driven company, and our line is filled with a lot of fresh ingredients [and] fresh vegetables. That is conveyed to the diners,” says Jamy Bolling, corporate chef and partner for the three-year-old, 10-unit chain based in Columbus, Ohio.

Among the grilled items are chicken, Italian sausage, salmon, steak, and calamari. There are hot and cold sauces, from the red pomodoro and spicy diavolo to red pepper and fresh basil pestos, along with 18 toppings, such as artichokes and eggplant caponata.

As with other build-your-own-style restaurants, Piada encourages interaction between the crew and customers to help diners understand which ingredients go together.

“We want our team to treat people like they’re guests at home,” Bolling says. “We put together a chef’s menu on cards to try to guide them, but we also want our staff to help walk people through the line, suggesting combinations or talking about their favorites.”

Helping customers choose ingredients is even more important at Mediterranean assembly-line restaurants, where some items are not familiar to some Americans.

When Roti Mediterranean Grill launched in Chicago in 2007, the idea was to “take this type of food and put it in this format that is really resonating with consumers,” says marketing director Peter Nolan.

Like other create-a-meal restaurants, Roti, which has 17 units in three markets, features several entrée options: a sandwich with pita pocket or laffa wrap, a rice plate with three sides, or a salad.

Chicken or steak shawarma (meat on a spit), falafel, or roasted vegetables are added, plus any of five sauces (including tahini and the secret house S’hug spicy sauce), sides like couscous, and toppings such as Feta cheese and olives.

Roti offers set menu items that many first-timers try, Nolan says, in case they don’t know much beyond hummus and pitas. “They can be confused if they aren’t familiar with Mediterranean food, so this is a safe haven. The next time they may experiment.”

This type of cuisine also works well “because the Mediterranean diet is very popular in today’s environment,” says Bob Bafundo, vice president of company and franchise operations at Denver-based Garbanzo Mediterranean Grill.

“There’s a mixture of fresh vegetables, fruits and grains, and salads and sauces,” he says. “Variety is built into the Mediterranean diet, and our menu allows you to choose a little of this or that, giving people a balance of proteins and grains.”

Most customers select the create-your-own entrée options, selecting from among a white or wheat pita, laffa, or a plate with sides. There are seven proteins, including shawarmas, falafel, and hummus. As Garbanzo has grown to 21 units in six states since 2008, it has changed or added some items, including the rollout of kabobs last year and replacement of one sauce that did not appeal broadly with the better-known Greek tzatziki sauce.

Chipotle’s Ells has said the build-your-own model can work with various cuisines, and he has taken that notion to the Asian category with the company’s creation of ShopHouse Southeast Asian Kitchen, which features flavors from China, Thailand, and other nations in that region. But even before ShopHouse launched its first unit in 2011, some other create-your-own restaurants featuring Asian flavors had sprouted up.

Sushi concept How Do You Roll? got its start in Austin, Texas, in 2008 after cofounder Yuen Yung had 30 minutes for lunch and wanted sushi but couldn’t find any place serving it quickly.

The company now has 12 units in four states.

Unlike the typical build-your-own concept, where customers pay at the end of the line, How Do You Roll? starts with the sales station. Customers get a ticket with their order and take it to one of several rolling stations, where a chef creates the sushi roll, bowl, or cone.

“The high sellers are tuna and salmon, then shrimp,” Yung says. “It doesn’t matter where you are, those are universal. Chicken and beef fall right behind those.” The number of guests who opt for vegetarian rolls or bowls continues to grow, he says.

Food inspired by the Indian subcontinent is behind the cuisine at Merzi, a Washington, D.C., restaurant that opened in 2010. “It is a very healthful, flavorful cuisine that is more of a European-Indian style,” says Qaiser Kazmi, the eatery’s founder.

Guests first choose a base (balsamic rice bowl, flatbread naan bowl, roti wrap, warm vegetables, or romaine lettuce), and then a protein (grilled or rotisserie chicken, beef, or lamb) that determines the entrée’s price. Next are sauces and chutneys.

“There are some ingredients that may not go well together, so it’s important that our employees know what works and what doesn’t,” Kazmi says. “If someone chooses a wrap and wants a lot of sauce, that could be a problem because it will leak.”

Asian Box is a newer entry, having opened its first unit last year. With influences from Vietnam and Thailand, the three-unit, San Francisco–area chain makes most items from scratch and gets many ingredients from local farmers.

“Ours is like a Vietnamese street stall,” says chief executive Frank Klein, who comes from a full-service restaurant background. “We don’t keep anything in steam trays because we don’t believe Asian food holds well.”

The name comes from the way an entrée is built: in a box. It begins with brown or jasmine rice, Asian vegetables, or chilled rice noodles, followed by a spiced meat or tofu. It’s then finished with toppings and sauces, including tamarind vinaigrette and sriracha.