Subway Sales Kept Falling In 2015

March 30, 2016

By Vanessa Wong
BuzzFeed News
March 29, 2016


Subway’s U.S. sales declined for another year in 2015, despite the sandwich chain adding new stores, according to new data from restaurant consultancy Technomic.

The firm told BuzzFeed News that despite a small increase in domestic store count to 27,103, Subway’s U.S. sales declined by 3.4% year-on-year to $11.5 billion. In 2014, domestic sales fell by 3.3%.

Subway, which is America’s largest fast food company in terms of store count — faced a number of setbacks in 2015.It ended its partnership with longtime spokesman Jared Fogle after he became involved in a child pornography investigation. In November, Fogle pleaded guilty to having sex with minors and distributing child pornography. He was sentenced to more than 15 years in prison.

Yet Subway has largely recovered from the incident, according to YouGov BrandIndex, which surveys 4,500 people each weekday about their perception of brands. The company told BuzzFeed News its most recent research shows consumer sentiment on Subway is now just slightly ahead of where it was before the Fogle scandal.

But other factors are challenging Subway. Technomic President Darren Tristano also blamed the decline on higher sandwich prices, a move away from $5 footlongs, and increased competition from sandwich chains such as Jimmy John’s, Firehouse Subs, and Jersey Mike’s, which have expanded and rapidly grown sales.

In addition to competition, consumers have criticized the chain. Subway spent 2015 in the midst of a long-running class action lawsuit about its famous “footlong” sandwiches not actually being 12” long. In a settlement reached last month, the company agreed to pay legal costs for the suit and gave $500 to each of the 10 people who represented the class. It now will also require franchisees to “use a tool to measure bread in its restaurants and ensure that sandwiches are either six or 12 inches,” reported Nation’s Restaurant News.

In 2014, Subway was the subject of criticism by blogger Vani Hari, of, for using the dough conditioner azodicarbonamide in its bread. The chain said it was already in the process of phasing out the ingredient and went completely “azo-free” by April 2014.

In a move to make its sandwiches more appealing, the nutrition-focused chain has committed to switching to antibiotic-free chicken by the end of 2016, antibiotic-free turkey by 2019, and antibiotic-free pork and beef by 2025. It also is continuing to simplify the ingredients in its food. A Subway spokesperson said in an emailed statement: “The outlook for 2016 is more optimistic based on the terrific feedback we received from our guests about our culinary improvements and exciting new menu offerings.”

Restaurant growth accelerates on continued boom in higher-end fast food

March 28, 2016

By Samantha Bomkamp
Chicago Tribune
March 25, 2016

Growth in the restaurant industry accelerated in 2015, research firm Technomic said, driven by a continued boom in the higher-end quick-service category that includes chains like Chipotle, Panera and Blaze Pizza.

The 500 largest U.S. restaurant chains posted combined sales of about $288 billion last year, Technomic said, a 4.9 percent increase from a year earlier. Sales in the so-called fast-casual segment jumped 11.4 percent, nearly double the rate of any other segment.

“While the performance of the top 500 chains showed moderate improvement over the prior year, consumers clearly favored patronage of fast casual and fast-food restaurants,” Technomic President Darren Tristano said in a news release. “In full service, family style restaurants succeeded on affordable value, upscale casual dining chains appealed to more affluent consumers and many traditional casual dining chains appeared to be squeezed in the middle with weaker performance.”

Within the fast-casual segment, chains that focused on healthier offerings were the winners last year. Chains like Freshii, Sweetgreen and Zoes Kitchen led the way, Technomic said. Freshii has a number of locations in the Chicago area, including some in Target stores and high-rise office buildings. Sweetgreen is planning to open its first Chicago location soon, set for River North. Zoes Kitchen does not have Chicago-area restaurants.

With improved sales, the biggest chains were also able to expand. Technomic found that the top 500 — which ranks chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks and Subway at the top — increased locations last year by 2.1 percent, to a combined 223,000 locations.

After losing ground in 2014, McDonald’s sales rose 1.1 percent last year, partially due to the introduction of all-day breakfast, Technomic said. Starbucks sales grew the most, by 12.8 percent, followed by Taco Bell and Burger King, with gains of 8.2 percent and 4.2 percent, respectively.



When did buying eggs become so complicated?

March 24, 2016

By Justine Griffin
Tampa Bay Times
March 21, 2016


When did buying eggs at the grocery store become so complicated?

There are white ones. And brown ones. Medium, large or extra large. Organic. Omega-3. And now the pricing scale comes with animal welfare guilt, too.

Beginning next month, Publix Super Markets will sell pasture-raised eggs for the first time. The Fresh Market made a pledge this month to sell only cage-free eggs by 2020. Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, which operates chain restaurants like Bonefish Grill, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Outback Steakhouse, follows McDonald’s, Chick-fil-A and other brands in shifting to use only cage-free eggs by 2025.

So what does this all mean, anyway?

It means eggs just aren’t eggs anymore, said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm. He says we can thank the millennials for that.

Similar to what we’ve seen happen in the produce and meat departments, the demand for higher-quality, healthy food has raised awareness about the treatment of animals, farmers and crops.

“The issue is more around the social corporate responsibility and the sensitivity of the millennial generation,” Tristano said. “Although the changes we have seen in restaurants and supermarkets are good for the welfare of chickens, the supply chain will have to adapt and the price of eggs will likely increase and stabilize over the next few years.”

What that means for consumers is that we now have more choices that come at different price points.

But picking the right kind of egg can be overwhelming and confusing, admits Betsy Babcock, founder and CEO of Handsome Brook Farm, the company that will supply all 1,100-plus Publix Super Markets in six states with pasture-raised eggs beginning in April.

“Back in the day, most people had their own chickens in their back yard. But as we became a more urbanized country, commercialized farms developed to supply the needs of urban consumers,” Babcock said. “People were very comfortable with that because it was a way to get very inexpensive eggs. But over the last 10 years or so, there’s been this tremendous momentum from a new generation of consumers that prioritize the quality of animal welfare over price.”

That’s what led her to create a successful network of 75 family-owned farms, starting with her own in upstate New York, where chickens roam freely through pastures and aren’t confined to cages or aviaries with concrete floors, which happens more often at commercial egg farms. That’s what consumers are paying extra for — the better treatment of the chickens that lay the eggs we buy.

“Pasture-raised chickens get to forage, eat grass and bugs, which is so important to the chicken’s health and welfare,” Babcock said. “And the quality of the egg is exceptional.”

There is some science to this. A 2010 study by researchers at Penn State University’s College of Agricultural Sciences said “moving pastured hens” that eat mixed grasses and can forage have a higher concentration of omega-3 fatty acids and vitamins A and E.

But Nan Jensen, a registered dietitian with Pinellas County Cooperative Extension, said there’s not a big enough difference in the quality of egg type, be it free-range eggs or pasture-raised ones, to justify the added cost.

“Is there an additional health benefit? Probably not,” Jensen said. “You could very easily get more omega-3 fatty acids from other sources, like salmon, instead of paying more for a tad of a difference in an omega-3-enhanced egg. I think people buy these eggs because it makes them feel that they’re making better choices, which is great, but a very personal decision.”

Pasture-raised eggs also aren’t regulated the same way “farm fresh” eggs are, which is the name given to the standard egg that comes from a traditional commercial farm and is sold in grocery stores, Jensen said.

“Because it’s not regulated by the government, there’s no way to tell where they come from, or what they eat,” she said.

But that hasn’t stopped the trend from gaining steam. California voters passed legislation in 2008 and 2010 that made commercial egg farms provide cage-free accommodations for egg-laying hens. But it still has a long way to go. As of 2015, organic and cage-free egg production accounted for just 8.7 percent of all egg production in the United States.

“With regards to grocery stores, I would expect to see more farm-raised marketing, higher prices, more organic and brown eggs that will allow consumers to feel better about what they cook and consume at home,” Tristano said. “But it will take several years to get there, so supply continues to be an issue.”


TGI Fridays Just Opened a Prototype in Texas That Could Herald the Chain’s Future

March 23, 2016

By Robert Klara
March 21,2016

Last week, the 51-year-old chain opened a restaurant with a coffee bar, grab-and-go meals and trivia.

Last week, the 51-year-old chain opened a restaurant with a coffee bar, grab-and-go meals and trivia.

Menion TGI Fridays to its regular customers and they’ll have no trouble conjuring an image of the casual-dining chain: dark-wood interiors, kitschy antiques on the walls, plenty of noise and the standard pub grub of mozzarella sticks and strawberry daiquiris. This atmosphere has served the restaurant well for decades now—and why shouldn’t it? Isn’t TGI Fridays where people go after work to loosen their belts and knock back a few?

Sure—but maybe not for much longer.

Last week, the 51-year-old chain opened the doors of a new prototype in Corpus Christi, Texas, and it’s a big departure from the usual candy-stripe awnings and red Naugahyde booths. Fridays’ new 10,000-square-foot restaurant is a light-filled terrain of blond wood. The bar (still a focal point) now includes stations for juices and coffees. An open deli case offers a variety of grab-and-go salads and sandwiches. Now open at 7 a.m., the eatery features Wi-Fi-equipped areas for the laptop crowd. And later at night, Fridays presents live events, including bands, trivia and open-mic nights.

“It’s a response to what customers are looking for,” said CMO Brian Gies, explaining that flexibility and “fluid social zones” were the operative ideas behind the concept. In addition to capturing the after-work or weekend crowd, Fridays hopes to be seen as a viable lunch destination, a place for an office meeting or a home base for work-at-home types who are tired of actually working at home. “We’re finding that people will use the grab-and-go to bring something back to their table, or if they’ve been at the bar having a beer and they’re winding down, they may grab a bite to go,” Gies said. “It’s about delivering flexibility.”

It’s certainly about delivering results. In 2014, longtime owner Carlson sold TGI Fridays for $800 million to a pair of private-equity firms. For years now, nimble newcomers in the so-called fast-casual segment have given indigestion to casual-dining concepts, and TGI Fridays is among the oldest of those. Indeed, Fridays pioneered the idea of the well-mannered singles bar with a full menu in 1965, when the first Fridays opened in New York on the corner of 63rd Street and First Avenue. And though the chain has had plenty of face-lifts and menu redesigns since then, the basic concept is long overdue for radical surgery, according to Darren Tristano, president of restaurant consultancy Technomic.

“Today’s younger consumer wants to go to a place that their parents didn’t patronize,” he said, “and certainly not a bar and grill from the ’70s where you could pick up a flight attendant.”

The subtext here, of course, is that all older chains (maybe all chains, period) need to cater to millennials, who purchased $2.45 trillion in goods and services last year, according to You Brand, and who look for greater flexibility in their dining destinations. According to Tristano, they also expect up-to-date technology. It’s surely no coincidence that Fridays’ new prototype also includes Wi-Fi, Apple pay, digital reservations and servers equipped with tablets.

Gies maintains that Fridays isn’t making a play for millennials as such, but rather the “millennial-minded. It doesn’t have to be handcuffed to a certain age,” he said. “It’s about how customers think.”

Thus far, he adds, customers appear to think highly of the new location—though it’s only been a few days since he cut the ribbon. “We’re going to learn from this and apply that learning as we go,” Gies said.

Is there a chance the entire Fridays system might convert to the Corpus Christi prototype? “If the sales are anything like what we’ve seen already,” he said, “the likelihood is high.”

How the Wahlbergs Are Using Reality TV to Turn Their Burger Business Into a Global Brand Wahlburgers is much more than a celebrity gimmick

March 14, 2016

By Jason Lynch
March 13, 2016

Mark Wahlberg’s career has taken some unexpected twists over the past three decades, but even the movie star acknowledges that his most recent turn is the most unusual yet.
If someone had told him five years ago he would soon be starring in a reality TV series, “I would say that you were out of your mind, because the last thing I want to do is be on television,” he says.
Yet there he is, front and center on A&E’s Wahlburgers—the reality series that returned for its fifth season last Wednesday and is focused on the gourmet burger chain, also called Wahlburgers, owned by Wahlberg; his brother Donnie (the New Kid on the Block member and star of CBS’ Blue Bloods); and their brother Paul, who has worked as a chef for three decades.
But their reality show isn’t the usual, semi-desperate attempt at a celebrity comeback—in fact, Mark Wahlberg’s power in Hollywood has never been greater.

“It hasn’t hurt anything I’ve done or the brand I’ve built over the last 27 years, because we own it and we live it,” Wahlberg says of the series. “It’s an amazing marketing tool, and it’s all about promoting the business and building the business.” And the burger business has been very, very good for Wahlberg and his family.

The first Wahlburgers restaurant opened in 2011 outside Boston in Hingham, Mass., across the street from the family’s first restaurant, Alma Nove, named for mom Alma and her nine kids. The popularity of the show (it’s been nominated twice for the Emmy Award in the Outstanding Unstructured Reality Program category, and its first season in 2014 attracted 3.7 million viewers in live-plus-seven ratings) has put the Wahlberg restaurant business on an impressive trajectory.

The family’s seventh spot, in Orlando, Fla., opened last month, joining others in Toronto, Coney Island, Boston’s Fenway Park and elsewhere. Ten more stores are planned this year in cities including Philadelphia and Las Vegas. Earlier this month, the company announced agreements with five groups to open 30 new franchises, making for a total of 118 stores internationally (including five in Canada and 20 in the Middle East) over the next few years.

The New Reality of Building Brands

The Wahlburgers series is the highest-profile example yet of a reality series focused on a single brand that becomes a TV hit while simultaneously propelling the brand itself to new heights. Among others are Cake Boss (which was based on the original Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, N.J., now a national chain) and Say Yes to the Dress (New York’s Kleinfeld Bridal), both on TLC; Duck Dynasty (the Louisiana-based Duck Commander brand) on A&E; and Pawn Stars (World Famous Gold & Silver Pawn Shop in Las Vegas) on History.

“For the right type of brand, being on a television program can help spike your business, if in particular what you’re seeking is awareness,” says Chris Raih, co-founder and CEO of creative agency Zambezi. “A brand like Wahlburgers makes a lot of sense in terms of being a little bit everyman, a little bit broad. It’s a product that plays well in an unscripted format.”

As Wahlburgers barrels into a restaurant category dominated by Shake Shack and Five Guys, its TV/restaurant one-two punch “has been a strong success,” says Darren Tristano, president of restaurant consulting firm Technomic. “With a brand like this, you have to do more than just promote it; you have to have good quality and a good service. And they appear to have that.”

Famous, But Still a Family

As with any reality programming, the big question is: Does it come off as real? The two famous Wahlberg brothers—along with their siblings and mom Alma—have opened up enough of themselves on the show to win over audiences.

“To know that they’re just part of a regular family dynamic of ‘Who’s Mama’s favorite?,’ that’s relatable to so many people in America, and I think that’s really the appeal,” says Elaine Frontain Bryant, evp and head of programming at A&E. “It just feels real and authentic. You believe that their hearts are in that business, and you believe in that heart in their family.”

That’s what Rasha Drachkovitch, the show’s executive producer and president of 44 Blue Productions, was hoping to achieve when he first met with Mark Wahlberg—even before the first Wahlburgers store was built—and pitched the series as “a great American story: nine kids, dirt poor, the tough streets of Dorchester, against all odds,” says Drachkovitch.

The show started driving audiences to the restaurant “pretty much right away,” says Wahlberg. “That was the plan. You can’t even really put a number value on the marketing and promotion that we have for the business.” (Wahlburgers CEO Rick Vanzura says the original location generates $5 million a year in revenue.)

That’s because fans of these series can’t resist the opportunity to see where the show is filmed—and maybe end up on TV themselves, of course.
“You might get to see an actor or celebrity, or you might get filmed, and that will drive people to be more spontaneous and go to these restaurants. They definitely feed off of each other, and it can be successful that way,” says Tristano.

In addition to promoting traffic, the show also sells the brand to potential partners. “Franchisees who see the show can see the brand and see the benefits of getting involved in something that is so visible,” says Drachkovitch.


While Wahlburgers is just taking off, other brands have enjoyed the financial benefits of being featured on a reality show for years.
When Buddy Valastro, owner of Carlo’s Bake Shop in Hoboken, began filming his series Cake Boss for TLC, “best case scenario is that I’d see a few more cakes,” he recalls. But as lines rapidly grew outside the store following the show’s premiere in 2009, “something clicked, and I knew this could be something really effective in exposing Carlo’s Bakery to so many people, which is all any business owner wants.”

Thanks to the exposure afforded by Cake Boss, which is going into its eighth season later this year, “we’ve been able to expand in ways we’ve never imagined,” says Valastro, set to open the 13th Carlo’s Bakery in Dallas (the brand’s goodies are also available on Norwegian Cruise Line ships). In addition, he has started a catering company called Buddy V’s Events, an Italian restaurant in Las Vegas (Buddy V’s), four books and a production company (Cakehouse Media). “Isn’t that crazy?” says the baker turned reality star turned business mogul.

The reality TV brand boost isn’t restricted to just food. Kleinfeld Bridal had always enjoyed a degree of media exposure, co-owner Ronnie Rothstein points out. But Say Yes to the Dress, which recently wrapped filming Season 14, helped turn his store from a local New York business to a global one, with new customers flocking to his bridal-gown mecca from around the country and the world.

While “every appointment has always been booked prior to the time the show came on the air, the research shows that everybody who comes to Kleinfeld has seen the show,” explains Rothstein. “It’s hard to imagine a kid getting married in North America who has not seen this show.” (A Toronto outpost opened in 2014, but the majority of business is still centered in New York.)

A Rare Win: Getting Your Name in the Title

Wahlburgers is different from other reality programs in that the name of the show is also the name of the business. Those involved think that is an important distinction, and one that has contributed to the success of the series and the restaurant chain alike.

“This could have been called ‘Wahlberg Family’ or something, and to have the name of the brand in the title, it’s like calling the show ‘Starbucks,'” notes Drachkovitch. Adds CEO Vanzura: “Clearly, having a show titled [the same as] your brand is promotional value that’s hard to replicate any other way.”

Few other shows have been that lucky. Rothstein says he spent months trying to convince TLC to make the Kleinfeld name part of the title of his show. “It was a major issue,” he remembers. Instead, the network was inspired by a line he uttered in the pilot about a bride’s difficulty in “saying yes to the dress.” At the time, says Rothstein, “we hated the title, but the network owned the show and that’s what happened.”

While early seasons of Wahlburgers were predominantly focused on the original restaurant, the scope of the show has expanded right along with the brand.
“We can’t just be about burgers and fries and tater tots in every episode,” Drachkovitch is quick to point out. “In the last act, we always have that human, family moment that brings it back to [the show’s theme], ‘This is who we are, this is where we’re from.’ And it resonates really well so that the business part, while it’s always there, doesn’t always have to be front and center.”

Wahlberg, meanwhile, has only grown his presence on the show—even as his day job has kept him busier than ever. This past year, he appeared in four features, including Ted 2, the Entourage movie and Daddy’s Home with Will Ferrell. And there’s more to come, including a fifth Transformers movie. On top of that, he also has emerged as one of Hollywood’s top producers, in films and television.

The new season will include an episode that follows the star to New Orleans, where he directs a music video for the Wahlburgers jingle featuring his friend Johnny Drama, the inspiration for the character of the same name on Entourage, which was based on Wahlberg’s life and which he produced.

Other episodes are set in Los Angeles, where P. Diddy offers input on the music video; Paris, where Wahlberg scouts locations for the restaurant during a press junket; and Philadelphia, where he checks in on the progress of a new store before hosting an event called Festival of Families, attended by Pope Francis. “How many unscripted shows get the Pope as a cameo in the show?” says Drachkovitch, adding, “Mark’s overdelivered in terms of his ability to contribute on camera.”

Not Every Show Creates a Success

It may seem as though any enterprise would benefit from a reality show. But that’s not always the case.

“Something a little more upmarket, like a super-high-end spirits brand or any type of a luxury brand, could end up being a struggle for you in the long run,” cautions Zambezi’s Raih.
And copycat shows don’t tend to fare well. Last year’s Wahlburgers-esque series Lachey’s Bar, set in a Cincinnati pub owned by brothers Nick and Drew Lachey of the ’90s boy band 98 Degrees, lasted just one season on A&E, while Duck Dynasty ripoff Country Bucks, about the family behind the hunting-gear business Wildgame Innovations, was canceled after two seasons.
Wahlburgers—the show and the restaurant—has thrived because there’s a lot more to the brand than just a celebrity.

“I was very aware before I joined the company of the not-great history of celebrity brands, restaurant brands,” explains Vanzura. Shows that feature big names don’t always make it in the end, he believes, because “they never backed it up with quality.” Paul Wahlberg’s culinary bonafides have been a major asset, he says.

Adds Tristano: “I think a restaurant has to stand on its own two feet, which means that the consumer has to have a good experience, which will include good quality service, good quality food, taste and flavor, and good value. Ultimately, it has to be a good restaurant to be successful.”

What Happens When the Show’s Over?

The expansion of the Wahlburgers chain has been documented in season after season of the show, bolstering both businesses. But what happens to the core enterprise when a show goes off the air and its loses its principal marketing tool?

“I don’t know that it’s a long-term play,” Raih says of the reality-TV-as-promotional-vehicle strategy. “If you’re somebody who wants to own your business and make money for 20 years, you can expect your customers to fall off a cliff once you’re no longer on the air.”

That could be problematic for Wahlburgers, seeing that the show’s ratings have declined since its first season (last season averaged 1.8 million viewers in live-plus-7, according to Nielsen). However, A&E has made a long-term commitment to the series, already picking it up for Seasons 6 and 7. “We believe in it, and it’s an important part of our DNA for the network,” says Bryant.
Show or no show, Wahlberg continues to have big dreams for the chain.

“Our goal is to have at least 300 in the U.S. and then maybe 50 to 100 internationally,” says the actor, who would like to see the show stay on the air for “another four or five years, to give [the restaurants] that maximum visibility.” He predicts Wahlburgers the chain will continue to thrive even after Wahlburgers the series wraps.

“The show helps to get them in the door, and my name and Donnie’s name helps to get them in the door,” he explains. “But it’s the experience that Paul provides that keeps people coming back.”

The remarkable rise of the sushi burrito

March 7, 2016

By Becky Krystal
The Washington Post
March 4th, 2016


Has your sushi been a bit different lately? Maybe longer, pudgier and rolled up with rice, protein and vegetables? You know, kind of like a burrito?

Actually, let’s call a spade a spade. Your sushi isn’t just like a burrito. At an increasing number of eateries, it is, in fact, a burrito. The sushi burrito has officially joined the ranks of such culinary chimeras as the Cronut and the ramen burger, seducing both eager customers and the restaurateurs who want to feed them.

Even as diners eat fewer Chipotle burritos, sushi burritos are gaining traction around the country and in the Washington area. The latest purveyor joined the D.C. scene last week: Seoulspice in NoMa, which sells what it calls the Korrito, a Korean-style burrito wrapped in seaweed and filled with sushi-grade rice, plus a variety of meats, vegetables and sauces.

Eric Shin, a percussionist for the National Symphony Orchestra, said he hit upon the burrito concept almost by accident about two years ago. He’d originally planned to offer kimbap, Korean rolls sliced into bite-sized pieces. Unfortunately — or perhaps fortunately — the machine he bought to cut them destroyed the food. “It was a huge mess,” he said. Amid the disappointment, Shin’s wife was so hungry she just picked up an uncut roll and started eating it like a burrito.

“It just sort of stuck,” Shin said.

Darren Tristano would tell you that the popularity of the sushi burrito is no accident. The president of Technomic, a Chicago-based firm that specializes in food industry analysis, said a number of factors are at play. Primary among them is the form itself. Four years ago, a Technomic concept study predicted “burrito-inspired” would be a common industry trend. Good call.

Sushi burritos have also been propelled by the growth in fast-casual dining and its build-your-own mentality, Tristano said. And with sushi available at almost every grocery store these days, it’s become an accessible and familiar food.

Like so many food innovations, sushi burritos gained traction on the West Coast and are continuing their march across the country. Sushirrito, a five-location California chain that bills itself as “the original sushi burrito concept” debuted in San Francisco in 2011, the same year the Jogasaki food truck hit the streets of Los Angeles; the Kome truck peddles sushi burritos in San Francisco.

“The concept for Sushirrito came to be since we love sushi and wanted it to be more accessible and portable. Burrito-sizing sushi makes a lot of sense given the handheld aspect of it,” said Sushirrito founder Peter Yen. “We weren’t trying to start a trend. We simply wanted to create a new type of food that we like to eat. Hybrid foods only make sense when the foods belong together — just because you can do a mash-up, doesn’t mean you should.”

Even given the wave of sushi burritos in California, lifelong friends and first-time restaurateurs Mike Haddad and Travis Elton weren’t quite sure what to expect when they debuted Buredo in downtown D.C. last summer.

[There’s no way we couldn’t try Buredo’s burrito-size sushi rolls]

“We didn’t know how it would be perceived,” Haddad said. When the doors opened and curious diners snaked down the block, “I said, ‘I think we have something here.'” Something big enough that the duo is close to opening a second location, near Dupont Circle.

Haddad and Elton think they’ve hit on customers’ interest in food that is fresh and healthful.

Darren Norris knows he’s tapped into that market at his almost year-old Maki Shop on 14th Street NW, where evenings will see diners trickling in from CrossFit and other nearby gyms. The owner of the late Kushi in Mount Vernon Triangle — whose six-ounce maki fall somewhere between the size of smaller sushi and sushi burritos — said his “sushi hand rolls” are “a lifestlye product” for on-the-go diners. “I want to be that thing that you could eat three days a week and not feel guilty about it,” Norris said.

Kaz Okochi, the proprietor of Kaz Sushi Bistro near Foggy Bottom, said he thinks size is what attracts people to sushi burritos — “too much rice,” he opined — and worries that diners who eat them will come to his restaurant and wonder why his food isn’t bigger. “They might get disappointed,” the Japanese native said. (Okochi’s own fast-casual, design-your-own sushi endeavor, Oh Fish!, lasted about two years downtown.)

Their size and torpedo shape notwithstanding, sushi burritos have forced us to reconsider what we think of as sushi, especially when it comes to fillings. At Buredo, nori is wrapped around everything from yellowfin tuna or salmon sashimi to tofu and pulled pork shoulder. Seoulspice’s Korean-accented items include bulgogi beef, pickled radish and, of course, kimchi. At Burrito San in Miami, you can have your sushi burrito by way of the Philippines (braised pork, banana ketchup) or India (spiced chicken, potatoes, curry). Denver’s Komotodo not only sells rolls such as the Bee’s Knees (fried chicken, asparagus, bacon, Monterey Jack cheese) and Fish n’ Chips (white fish, slaw, potato chips), but also gives you the $2 option to have your burrito deep-fried. Really, the question these days is not what can you put in a sushi burrito, but what can’t you?

Okochi, though, doesn’t take umbrage with the burrito entrepreneurs’ use of the word “sushi.”

“I’m not saying burrito sushi isn’t true sushi. Sushi is vinegared rice,” he said. Sticklers could even contest whether Okochi’s food is “true” sushi, since the chef said he’s developed his own style at his restaurant.

As long as sushi burritos don’t take over the entire sushi market, he’s fine living side-by-side with them, he said.

In fact, self-professed sushi lovers Haddad and Elton view themselves as “introducing sushi to a new audience,” Elton said.

“It is definitely opening up people’s minds,” Haddad said.

Seoulspice’s Shin said he’d like his Korritos to similarly encourage diners to seek out the kind of traditional Korean food he grew up eating.

Even with more people like Haddad, Elton and Shin getting in on the sushi burrito game, Technomic’s Tristano said there’s still room to grow in the genre. He said reasons why sushi burrito establishments are still less common than their popularity might indicate include food safety issues with sourcing and serving raw fish (although many burritos rely on cooked, fried or even vegetarian fillings) and the fact that the concept is hard to replicate.

“A good sushi burrito can be tricky and sometimes challenging to get the flavors to blend together well in a larger roll,” said Mauricio Fraga-Rosenfeld of Rolls by U in Arlington, which opened in the fall with sushi “ritos” such as the Frida (with roast beef and kimchi) and the Van Gogh (a more traditional pairing of tuna and avocado). “Also, price point may play a part in why others don’t want to risk it. It’s cheaper to do tacos or Mexican burritos. It takes creativity and great quality in product and recipe to get it right, as well as extremely fresh ingredients.”

“I think it’s really difficult to pull off,” Shin said. “Most of the restaurants that open up are afraid to do something different.” Shin said he had to battle through questions and skepticism from his own family (his parents ran a Korean restaurant in Atlanta), some of whose recipes he’s using at Seoulspice. “I caught a lot of s— from my grandma,” he laughed.

When other sushi burrito spots do inevitably open, Shin won’t be too worried. “The more, the merrier,” he said. “I’m so proud of D.C. for embracing ethnic foods and creative ethnic foods in general.”

The Buredo duo was slightly more measured.

“Time,” Haddad said, “will tell on who will last.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified the geographical origins of Jogasaki and the Kome truck. This version has been updated.

Yum! Brands keeping headquarters in Louisville, moving executives to Texas

March 1, 2016

Caitlin Bowling
INsider Louisville
February 24, 2016

With Yum! Brands Inc. relocating five key C-suite executives to Plano, Texas, Louisville may become a show headquarters for the restaurant conglomerate, while employees in Texas are the ones actually steering the ship.

Yum Brands Inc. is headquartered at 1900 Colonel Sanders Lane. | Courtesy of Yum! Brands

Yum Brands Inc. is headquartered at 1900 Colonel Sanders Lane. | Courtesy of Yum! Brands

“Whenever you move your C-level team … in effect you are moving your headquarters because that is where your heads are,” said Darren Tristano, president at Technomic, a Chicago-based restaurant industry research firm.

Business First previously reported that Yum CEO Greg Creed, chief public affairs and global nutrition officer Jonathan Blum, chief legal officer Marc Kesselman, chief people officer Tracy Skeans, and a yet-to-be-named CFO will move to Plano, where Yum’s global operations team and its subsidiary Pizza Hut are located.

Yum’s former CFO Pat Grismer resigned effective Feb. 19, Insider Louisville previously reported.

The company is adamant that Louisville is and will remain Yum’s home. Virginia Ferguson, a spokeswoman for Yum, told IL that none of its nearly 1,000 Yum and KFC U.S. employees are moving to Texas.

“We are proud to be here,” Ferguson said.

IL was scheduled to interview Blum this afternoon about the impending move; however, a few minutes before the appointment, IL was told he was suddenly pulled away and would be unavailable for comment. Ferguson forwarded along statements from Yum explaining the decision.

Creed and the other four executives “will be highly mobile, traveling to many of our international markets and offices throughout the year, including Louisville for 1-2 weeks each month,” Ferguson said in an emailed statement. “Given the global nature of our business, which has transformed over the years, the YUM executive team’s office will be in Plano, but they will retain an office in Louisville.”

She also noted that Yum has based its international operations in Texas since 1997, when the company spun-off from PepsiCo.

It makes sense that the company’s leaders would want to be close to its overseas operations, Tristano said. “Today, a lot of the growth restaurant companies are seeing takes place outside our borders.”

Texas also is home to a number of other restaurant chains and restaurant-related businesses, including Pie Five Pizza, Dickey’s Barbecue Pit, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Apex Restaurant Group.

“Dallas is considered a very big restaurant town,” Tristano said, noting that many industry events and restaurant innovation happens there. It also is warm, has a large population and is somewhat centrally located.

While Louisville city leaders often tout the city’s location and its proximity to other places, the truth is one of the few ways to get a direct flight is to be a box the United Parcel Service is shipping.

The Louisville International Airport has fewer than 20 nonstop flights to cities in the United States. The Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport is a major transportation hub; it has nearly 50 nonstop flights to international cities and countless more within the continental United States.

“There is no way to overlook that,” said Nat Irvin, the Strickler executive in residence and professor of management at the University of Louisville College of Business. “We can get to the airport in 20 minutes from any place in the city, but part of the downside is you can’t get to any place directly.”

And Dallas is closer to China — where Yum will spin-off its operations this year — offering a nonstop flight to Beijing. Although Yum China will technically operate as its own company, Yum leaders will no doubt be keeping a close eye on how the company is faring in China’s sometimes volatile market.

Already, Yum executives spend a good portion of their year abroad, according to the company.

“I think what (the move) represents is the importance of face-to-face communications when you are developing strategy,” Irvin said. “You like to see them; you like to hear them; you like to be close to them.”

The only factor in Yum’s decision, according to Ferguson, was the fact that the company’s global operations offices are in Texas

“Our business is a global business, and it makes sense,” she said.

Tristano said he wouldn’t be surprised if Yum moved more jobs to Texas in the future, but the company also has good reason to remain in Louisville. If the company said it planned to move its headquarters but keep jobs in Louisville, it could end up with a retention problem.

“It would make sense for them to continue to have that (Louisville) location regardless of what they call it,” he said. “This is a less disruptive strategy for them.”

With its name plastered around the city (see KFC Yum! Center), Irvin said he is confident Yum will continue to maintain a large presence in Louisville.

“I think Yum is fully ensconced in this community. The company has a very broad footprint in this community, and I think the heart still remains right there,” Irvin said. “I think what they have made is a decision for the company. I don’t think it’s a detriment to the community — a good idea for them, not necessarily a bad idea for us.”

Still, the decision by Yum is an unusual one.

Tristano could not think of any comparable examples, except possibly Tim Horton’s and Burger King. However, the quandary over where to headquarter those two restaurant chains is the result of their merger back in 2014. As of now, Tim Horton’s base of operations remains in Canada, while Burger King resides in the United States.

Overall, Tristano said he thinks Yum is making good decisions to focus more globally and try to appeal to younger generations.

“They seem to be moving in the right direction strategically.”