Joseph W. Rogers, a Founder of Waffle House, Dies at 97

March 8, 2017

Joseph W. Rogers, a founder of Waffle House, the restaurant chain that achieved a kind of cultural renown with its no-frills menu, attentive service and round-the-clock hours, died on Friday in Atlanta. He was 97.

The company announced his death on Monday. Joe Rogers Jr., who succeeded his father as chief executive in the late 1970s and remains chairman and controlling owner, said the elder Mr. Rogers died after having dinner with his wife of 74 years, Ruth, earlier in the evening.

Mr. Rogers and an Atlanta neighbor, Tom Forkner, founded the restaurant in 1955. At the time, Mr. Rogers was a senior official at a restaurant chain called Toddle House. Mr. Forkner was a real estate investor. The two were eager to own a restaurant in their neighborhood.

Even after starting the restaurant, Mr. Rogers kept his day job at Toddle House and moved to Memphis when he was promoted to vice president. But in 1961, frustrated that the company did not allow employees to acquire an ownership stake, he returned to Atlanta and devoted himself to Waffle House full time.

“If Toddle House had offered ownership to the management team, there never would have been a Waffle House,” Joe Rogers Jr. said in a phone interview.

Mr. Rogers and Mr. Forkner expanded the chain to about 400 restaurants by the late 1970s. Today, there are nearly 1,900 Waffle Houses in the United States, primarily in the Southeast, often along interstate highways. Of these, about 80 percent are company-owned. The rest are franchises.

Borrowing much from his previous employer — down to the waffle recipe, his son said — Mr. Rogers made Waffle House into a success in part by paying meticulous attention to customers, a management philosophy he imparted throughout the chain.

“I’ve walked into restaurants where workers are on the telephone calling, looking for an elderly customer who hadn’t been in in a while,” Joe Jr. said. “So it was all about the whole personal experience, relationships.”

Famously open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the restaurants have been used by at least one Federal Emergency Management Agency official to help gauge the severity of natural disasters.

W. Craig Fugate, the FEMA administrator in the Obama administration, applied what he called “the Waffle House test.” If the local restaurant remained open after a hurricane, for example, it meant that power and water were very likely available.

Waffle House, a privately held company, had sales of a little more than $1 billion in 2015, making it the country’s 47th largest restaurant chain, according to estimates by Technomic, a restaurant industry consulting firm in Chicago.

Darren Tristano, Technomic’s president, attributed the chain’s success to its relatively small selection of highly “craveable” offerings and its unpretentious diner-style layout.

Rivals like International House of Pancakes have significantly altered their menus over the years, he said, but Waffle House has remained relatively faithful to its original model, allowing generations of adults to dine in roughly the same setting they did as children.

“This is something that’s very nostalgic,” Mr. Tristano said. “They’re true to their brand.”

Waffle House did not escape the ferment of the civil rights era, and it was the target of discrimination lawsuits in later years.

In an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 2004, Mr. Rogers acknowledged that African-Americans had not patronized the restaurants early on.

But when civil rights protesters arrived outside a Waffle House in 1961, he said, he responded by asking them inside to dine.

“We actually accommodated everybody,” said the younger Mr. Rogers, who worked for his father at a nearby Waffle House at the time. “A lot of people have a stereotypical view of the South, that it was total segregation. That wasn’t the case.”

He added that African-American civic leaders expressed gratitude to his father for keeping restaurants open amid the rioting in many cities after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1968.

Still, in subsequent decades, workers and customers filed numerous lawsuits alleging sexual harassment and racial discrimination.

“I unearthed a policy of staffing restaurants on the basis of demographics,” said Keenan R. S. Nix, a lawyer who in the 1990s and early 2000s litigated several discrimination cases brought by employees and customers. One client alleged that the company had sought to cut back on the number of black workers in restaurants serving predominantly white customers.

Mr. Nix credited the company with changing its policies after these cases, some of which produced confidential settlements that he said “served the ends of justice.”

Joe Rogers Jr. said any policy changes at the company were not a response to litigation but part of a longer-term evolution. “Our law firm told us when they looked at all these things, ‘You’ve got to design better execution systems,’” he said. “It’s the growing pains of a big business.”

He blamed episodes of bias on “rogue employees” whom the company was not able to sift out when hiring.

Joseph Wilson Rogers was born in Jackson, Tenn., on Nov. 30, 1919, to Frank Hamilton and Ruth Elizabeth DuPoyster Rogers. His father was a railroad worker who lost his job during the Depression.

After high school, Mr. Rogers learned to pilot B-24 aircraft in the Army and trained other pilots.

Besides his wife, the former Ruth Jolley Rogers, and his son Joe, he is survived by another son, Frank; his daughters, Dianne Tuggle and Deborah Rogers; nine grandchildren; 15 great-grandchildren, and one great-great-grandchild.

Mr. Rogers remained involved with Waffle House into at least his late 80s. Most days he would spend several hours at the company’s headquarters in Norcross, Ga.; other times, he would show up at restaurants and mix with the customers.


Restaurants could get more expensive in 2017: here are 3 ways to save when you dine out

January 11, 2017

By James Dennin
https://mic.com/articles/164756/restaurants-could-get-more-expensive-in-2017-here-are-3-ways-to-save-when-you-dine-out#.gIsHHUZAZ 

Time to break out Dad’s old cookbooks: Restaurants are likely to get more expensive in 2017.

For one, a wave of state-level minimum-wage hikes across the country could make labor more expensive — which could prompt restaurants to raise their prices by as much as 5% in 2017, Darren Tristano, CEO of food industry analysis firm Technomic, told CNBC.

That’s roughly double the typical inflation-driven annual hikes of 2-2.5%, he said.

What’s more, there are pressures beyond minimum wage laws pushing U.S. restaurants to pay workers more: The number of eateries has grown since 2009, according to Thrillist, while the number of immigrant restaurant workers has fallen. Those workers therefore have more bargaining power over pay.

If establishments then pass higher costs to patrons, the price of dining out could eat up even more of your paycheck.

Millennials in the United States already spend an average of $103 a month eating out, according to a 2016 survey from TD Bank. (If you live in an expensive city like New York or San Francisco, that figure might make you lol.)

Regardless of where you live, one obvious way to be thriftier this year is to cut down on big-spender nights full of surf and turf. But realistically, no matter how hard you try, you’ll inevitably end up dropping cash on date nights, celebratory toasts — and the unavoidable best friend’s birthday dinner.

So here are a few ways to treat yourself without breaking the bank.

1. Go out to lunch instead of dinner — and ditch dessert
Research shows restaurants face harsher competition for nighttime diners than they do during the day, which often prompts them to offer the same exact dishes for cheaper.

At Jean-Georges in New York City, for instance, the difference is stark: Three courses plus dessert will set you back $84 at lunchtime, while the same offering at dinner is $118.

Beyond that?

The easiest way to save money on a restaurant meal is to abstain from the little extras, like the fried appetizer or that delicious — but unnecessary — lava cake.

Indeed, one of the most effective ways to cut costs while eating out is eliminating dessert, Steve Dublanica, author of industry tell-all Waiter Rant told Real Simple.

That’s because many restaurants outsource dessert production to another bakery and then jack up the price. No point in paying premium for a frozen dessert, especially if there’s an ice-cream parlor or bakery on the way home.

2. BYOB, especially wine
Many personal finance guides recommend the extremely restrained practice of ordering a glass of water with your meal: Water, unlike other beverages, often comes with the meal gratis.

Seriously, don’t roll your eyes.

Industry journals actually recommend restaurants mark up booze between four and five times, depending on other costs and your desired profit margin.

That means that a middling $10 bottle of wine will set you back $40 or even $50 if you want to drink it in a restaurant.

Womp womp.

If washing down your steak with water seems a bit spartan, consider finding restaurants nearby that allow you to bring your own beverage.

OpenTable and FourSquare both have categories for these dining options, although corkage fees apply, usually between $10 and $20.

Still, at $15 for a five-liter box of Franzia — which works out to roughly $2.25 per traditional 750-milliliter bottle — will more than make up pulling the trigger on that third course.

Too much of a snob for that two-buck Chuck? Here are some cheap-but-not-horrifying options from $6 to $27.

3. Ditch brunch — it’s not worth it
Savvy industry types say clocking your meal in terms of total dollars and cents spent is the wrong way to go about it.

After all, that 32-ounce ribeye may be pricier than a sensible bowl of pasta, but the ribeye cost the restaurant a lot more money to buy in the first place — and the pasta is likely to be marked up way more than it’s worth.

There are other factors to consider when dining out.

If you’re in a steakhouse, your order may have benefitted from an aging cellar or other fancy treatment that makes the steak taste better than what you could make at home: So you are arguably getting decent value — and are wasting your cash on that sad “garden salad.”

This line of thinking holds that if you’re going to eat out at all, you might as well spend a little extra on the things that actually make a restaurant meal special as opposed to foods you can just make yourself.

On that score?

It might be time to break up with your most insufferable millennial pastime, brunch. The meal is replete with cheap foods like eggs and pancakes — both of which you can prepare far more inexpensively at home.

At the very least, it’s a good excuse to finally learn to make that bacon-and-egg breakfast poutine.

 


McDonald’s Turnaround Fails to Get More Customers in Door

October 26, 2016

 

Leslie Patton
Bloomberg
http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-26/mcdonald-s-turnaround-fails-to-get-more-customers-in-the-door

McDonald’s Corp. has figured out how to capitalize on the popularity of its breakfast menu, stop a slide in same-store sales and cut corporate overhead. What it hasn’t figured out is how to get more customers into its restaurants.

The world’s biggest fast-food chain is facing its fourth straight year of U.S. traffic declines, according to internal company documents obtained by Bloomberg. The drop follows at least four consecutive years of customer gains.

“Growing guest counts is our main challenge,” said an e-mail recap of a September meeting among McDonald’s franchise leaders and company executives. “Over the past 12 months, we have been pretty flat.”

The only way to build a sustainable business is to show progress on three key areas: sales, guest counts and cash flow, the e-mail said. “And today we are making uneven progress.”

McDonald’s declined to comment on the notes summarizing the meeting with franchise leaders.

McDonald’s last week reported third-quarter earnings and revenue that topped estimates as results in markets abroad, such as the U.K. and Germany, helped results. The company’s division known as international lead markets boosted same-store sales by 3.3 percent. It wasn’t quite as rosy in the U.S., where sales increased just 1.3 percent.

McDonald’s has made progress in the U.S. since Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook took over in March 2015, but there’s still work to be done. He’s revamped drive-thru ordering and improved food quality by getting rid of certain antibiotics from chicken and switching to real butter in Egg McMuffins. While the introduction of all-day breakfast and speedier kitchens have provided a bump, they may not be the long-term catalyst the chain needs.

The stock began climbing about a year ago after the breakfast expansion, gaining 26 percent in 2015. But the shares haven’t fared as well lately. Shares fell 1 percent to $111.54 at 9:57 a.m. in New York on Wednesday. The stock had lost 4.6 percent this year, through Tuesday’s close.

“McDonald’s has become less relevant to the younger generations,” said Darren Tristano, president at industry researcher Technomic in Chicago.

Three Areas
To lure more U.S. customers, the company is focused on three segments, according to the the document: diners who frequent the chain for breakfast and coffee, those who go primarily for lunch, and families and children.

“We’ve talked about our main focus being growing guest counts, certainly in the U.S.,” Chief Financial Officer Kevin Ozan said during a conference call last week.

Through the third quarter, McDonald’s comparable customer counts are down 0.1 percent this year, compared with a 3.1 drop in the same period in 2015, according to a company filing. The U.S. restaurant industry also is facing a broader slowdown as consumers dine out less due to the turbulent election season and cheaper grocery-store prices.

To better compete, restaurants are aggressively discounting fare with offers such as 50-cent corn dogs at Sonic and $1.49 chicken nuggets at Burger King. But those deals haven’t helped so far. Burger King owner Restaurant Brands International Inc. and drive-in chain Sonic Corp. this week reported disappointing U.S. sales in the latest quarter.

Last year, McDonald’s U.S. traffic declined 3 percent, following a 4.1 percent drop in 2014. Customer counts also fell in 2013, filings show. To reverse the trend, McDonald’s needs to stick to its core identity of convenience and affordability, while also improving ingredients, Tristano said.

“It’s hard to imagine they’re going to be able to compete with better burger and fast casual,” he said, referring to chains like Shake Shack Inc. and Panera Bread Co. “They have to operate within their customers’ perception of their brand.”


Why new sports bars are blitzing Dallas for a piece of the action

September 28, 2016

1474308110-nb_11sportsbars5

By Karen Robinson-Jacobs
http://www.dallasnews.com/business/restaurants/2016/09/21/sports-bar-operators-look-gain-yardage-north-texas

When The Park, a small sports bar chain, began looking to expand beyond its Austin birthplace, it bypassed Houston and headed straight for Big D.

With its confluence of marquee sports teams across every major league and its never-say-die fans, North Texas has become a magnet for game-focused restaurant chains and independents.

All are hoping to score.

“I don’t think there’s a better sports town anywhere in the country than the Dallas-Fort Worth area,” said Eric Dunahoe, director of operations for The Park, which hopes to open a North Texas location — its first outside of Austin — by late 2017. “If we’re going to be the Texas-owned-and-operated sports bar, we need to be in the city within the state of Texas that’s the best sports town and that’s Dallas.”

The sports bar occupies a unique, if amorphous, niche within the casual dining segment.

There’s no strict definition of what makes sports bars. Generally, they include TV-festooned venues where more than 40 percent of sales come from alcohol and the draw is the love of the game. (Think Buffalo Wild Wings, Dave & Buster’s and Twin Peaks.)

The growth of sports bars — both in number and in sales might — comes as the broader casual dining segment has struggled.

Chicago-based Technomic tracks sales at the Top 500 U.S. restaurant chains. In the 2015 list, about 13 percent of casual dining sales were at “sports bar” concepts.

Sales at sports bars on the Top 500 list grew 7.7 percent in 2015 to $7.3 billion, compared with 2.9 percent sales growth for the broader “varied menu” category, Technomic said.

The top sports bar chains grew their location count by 4.6 percent in 2015 while major full-service chains overall grew at a rate of 0.9 percent.

“I would say this is a fast-growing niche in the full-service industry,” said Technomic president Darren Tristano. “Although independents place higher emphasis on food quality, the chains tend to have the largest consumer attraction due to the size of the locations, variety of adult beverages, affordability of shareable food, comfortable seating and availability of televisions to view a variety of sports.”

North Texas is one of about a dozen U.S. markets with all four major sports leagues — NFL, NBA, NHL and MLB — along with soccer and numerous alums from powerhouse college programs.

And it’s increasingly a draw for migrants from other major sports towns, who bring their viewing loyalties with them.

That makes North Texas fertile ground for expansion-minded sports bar operators.

It’s also home base for several of the major chains including Twin Peaks, Boston’s and Dave & Buster’s.

Dave & Buster’s was born in Dallas in 1982 as a hybrid restaurant/playground that enticed guests to “Eat. Drink. Play,” with a focus on food and electronic games. In 2011, the Dallas-based chain added “Watch,” as part of a full-court-press designed to include a branded “D&B Sports” area near the restaurant bar.

Today, all 86 U.S. Dave & Buster’s locations include amped-up “sports viewing packages.” About 80 percent are officially branded with D&B Sports sections that bring the restaurant TV screen count up to about 40 (compared with 20 pre-sports push).

That includes two or three 180-inch screens, according to Sean Gleason, chief marketing officer for Dave & Buster’s.

The sports theme has helped Dave & Buster’s appeal to millennials, who gravitate to the communal dining spaces and party-like atmosphere.

On a recent football Sunday, manager Don McDougall presided over the dimly lit but highly animated scene at the Dave & Buster’s on Central Expressway — a restaurant that promises the “ultimate sports watching experience.”

The bar shows every NFL game on Sunday.

As the Cowboys battled the New York Giants, the chatter among the sports fans was constant. A taunt here, a high-five-punctuated boast there. Cheers and groans were interrupted by the occasional “Over here” as patrons vied for attention from a worker lobbing Dave & Buster’s T-shirts into the crowd.

“We try to make it just like tailgating, with prizes, a T-shirt cannon,” said McDougall of the 4-year-old location. “We try to make it as close to being at an actual game as possible.”

Near the center of the bar area, Brad Cotton, 33, and his wife Donna, 42, of DeSoto said they can be found at a sports bar any given Sunday, unless family members are hosting a watch party.

“Going to the game is a little expensive,” said Brad, who was wearing a No. 82 Jason Witten jersey. “So that’s once a year if we do that. This is affordable, but you’re still around die-hard fans. You want to be in the atmosphere with other fans, that’s going to turn up like you turn up.”

Donna noted that the uniform of the day was predominantly blue and white.

“When we walk through the door, just because we have Cowboys gear on, everybody becomes friends,” she said. “That’s pretty cool.”

None of the sports fans interviewed were surprised that North Texas is home to a growing sports bar scene.

“Sports are big in North Texas, whether it’s NASCAR [or] football,” said Daryl Hope, 47, who is moving soon from Forest Hill to Rockwall.

Hope prefers his perch at Dave & Buster’s to stadium seating because it allows him to watch multiple games at once.

That’s important, he said, since he’s big into fantasy football. Try 14 leagues big.

The introduction of fantasy football to younger consumers and mainstream consumers, including women, has given the sports bar segment a nice lift, Tristano said.

Despite the fan enthusiasm, North Texas remains a challenging market as operators compete for both consumers and investors.

In 2000, when the Canadian-based pizza and sports bar chain Boston Pizza began investing in a U.S. expansion, it headed straight for North Texas. The U.S. headquarters is in Dallas and a corporate restaurant that doubles as a training center is in Irving along busy Interstate 635.

Three more franchised locations were added locally through 2007. Then the company was hit with a blitz known as the great recession. From about 60 U.S. locations, the brand dropped to about 25. No additional locations have opened in North Texas in the past 9 years.

Nationally, the brand gained some yardage and is now back up to 29 locations. And while the company has found a franchisee to grow in West Texas — two locations will open in El Paso next year — the company has yet to find the right local combination of investor and real estate for North Texas.

“There’s lots of competition,” said Ken Phipps, director of franchise development for Boston’s Restaurant & Sports Bar, the U.S. arm, as the lunch bunch watched highlights from the weekend’s sports matchups.

North Texas “is and will remain one of our target markets to find the right franchise partners to help us grow.”

“It’s a very expensive market as far as real estate,” he added. “It retained its real estate value post-2008, and it’s gone nothing but skyward. Especially locations like Frisco, Plano, Arlington, with all of the new big developments like the Cowboys’ The Star.”

Three different franchisees own the three noncorporate D-FW locations. Now the company, like many major chains, is looking for large investors who can open more than one location.

“It’s a big investment,” he said, “We look for a net worth of $1.5 to $2 million and liquidity of $500,000.”

“We really want to grow our D-FW market,” said the North Texas native. “It’s our home. It’s our backyard for the U.S., and if we find the right partners we could easily add 15 restaurants in the next five years. This market can easily handle that.

“I’m grinning about the opportunities here in Texas,” he added, after showing off the restaurant’s 160-inch drop-down screen. “It’s very exciting.”


McDonald’s All-Day Breakfast Sparks a Fast Food Fight

May 9, 2016

by Leslie Patton

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-05-03/mcdonald-s-breakfast-push-sets-off-morning-scramble-in-fast-food

Fast-food joints aren’t hitting the snooze button anymore.

McDonald’s Corp.’s decision to start selling Egg McMuffins all day long last year — meant to help sales during lunch and dinner time — has boosted its morning business as well. That, in turn, has kicked off a scramble among its rivals to find new ways to combine eggs, potatoes and meat for a tasty breakfast.

The latest example is Burger King’s Egg-Normous breakfast burrito, which is being introduced in the U.S. on Tuesday. It’s stuffed with sausage, bacon, eggs, hash browns, cheddar and American cheese and served with picante sauce. The home of the Whopper, which still serves breakfast only during morning hours, also recently added a supreme breakfast hoagie and got rid of slower-selling English muffin sandwiches.

“We’ve invested more in breakfast,” Alex Macedo, head of Burger King North America, said in an interview. “The environment is very competitive.”

Along with adding and deleting items, Burger King tweaked its smaller egg burrito earlier this year, removing green and red peppers and replacing them with hash browns.

Skillet Bowls

Taco Bell revised its morning offerings in March to include $1 options such as skillet bowls and sausage flatbread quesadillas. Subway Restaurants just announced buy-one-get-one subs for the month of May. The catch: They have to be purchased before 9 a.m. And Dunkin’ Donuts revamped its menu boards to focus on all-day choices and started advertising $1.99 Coolatta drinks that are sold at all hours.

The changes come as more U.S. consumers grab eggs and coffee outside the home, according to a study by researcher GfK MRI published by EMarketer.com. Last year, more than 34 percent of Americans reported buying breakfast at fast-food restaurants, an increase from 32.8 percent in 2011. Meanwhile, fewer consumers said they’re dining out for lunch and snacks. Dinner increased less than 1 percent.

McDonald’s all-day breakfast in the U.S. has helped turn around its worst sales slump in more than a decade by drawing more customers throughout the day, including the morning. The plan is surpassing its goals.

Exceeding Expectations

“It’s still exceeding our expectations,” Chief Executive Officer Steve Easterbrook said on a conference call in April. “Whilst we clearly added incremental visits and incremental spend across rest of day, our breakfast business has also prospered.”

Items like Egg McMuffins and hash browns fueled a 5.4 percent U.S. same-store sales increase at McDonald’s in the first quarter. That’s stronger than the most recent quarterly gains posted by Burger King, Dunkin’ and Taco Bell.

“It’s helped drive success, which they haven’t seen for several years,” said Darren Tristano, president of industry researcher Technomic Inc.

After losing customers to McDonald’s all-day Egg McMuffins, Jack in the Box Inc. has been advertising a triple-cheese and hash-brown breakfast burrito. Same-store sales at company-owned Jack in the Box locations may be down as much as 3 percent in the recently ended quarter, the company said in Februar-1x-1y. The chain also is adjusting and improving other breakfast items, CEO Lenny Comma said during a conference in March.

Dunkin’ Donuts said last month that its new menu boards are helping drive breakfast-sandwich sales. It’s also focused on introducing mobile ordering and will start a 1,650-store test in metro New York in May to get customers their morning meals even faster. CEO Nigel Travis says McDonald’s push has actually helped Dunkin’ in the breakfast battle by highlighting that the doughnut chain has the same menu all day. Still, the change has increased competition for diners’ dollars.

“Clearly, the value war is pretty intense,” Travis said in an interview.


The remarkable rise of the sushi burrito

March 7, 2016

By Becky Krystal
The Washington Post
March 4th, 2016
https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/going-out-guide/wp/2016/03/04/the-remarkable-rise-of-the-sushi-burrito/

Korrito

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.


Cage-free eggs could boost Bloomin’ Brands’ bottom line

February 29, 2016

Ashley Gurbal Kritzer
Tampa Bay Business Journal
Feb 23, 2016
http://www.bizjournals.com/tampabay/blog/morning-edition/2016/02/cagefree-eggs-could-boost-bloomin-brands-bottom.html

Don’t count the cage-free eggs before they’re hatched, but Bloomin’ Brands Inc.’s latest supplier decision could boost its bottom line.outback-ft-myers-evening-750xx1800-1013-0-104

Tampa-based Bloomin’ (NASDAQ: BLMN) said Monday that it will transition to 100 percent cage-free eggs in its restaurants by 2025. Bloomin’ is the parent company of Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Bonefish Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar.

“Our guests expect us to source and purchase wholesome ingredients responsibly,” Juan Guerrero, chief global supply chain officer, said in a statement. “We are working with our suppliers to ensure we meet or exceed this deadline.”

Committing to cage-free eggs is a popular move in the restaurant industry. In September, McDonald’s Corp. (NYSE: MCD) said it would shift to cage-free eggs, as is Dunkin’ Donuts (NASDAQ: DNKN) and Taco Bell, which is owned by Yum! Brands Inc. (NYSE: YUM).

Bloomin’ operates close to 1,500 restaurants throughout 48 states, Puerto Rico, Guam and 22 countries.

The cage-free move, Bloomin’ said, “reaffirms the company’s commitment to the humane treatment and handling of animals” — and that’s important to consumers, according to Technomic Inc., a Chicago-based food industry research and consulting firm.

“Cage-free is particularly important right now,” Darren Tristano, Technomic president, wrote in a Feb. 2 blog post. “Forty seven percent of consumers said they are more likely to order dishes made from cage-free eggs or poultry during breakfast dine-out occasions.”

“The preference ties into health and wellness concerns from consumers,” Tristano said.

“Consumers are increasingly concerned about transparency — what’s in their food and where it came from,” he wrote, “and operators and suppliers are feeling the heat.”


Snacks are having a moment and food makers cashing in

February 26, 2016

Samantha Bomkamp
Chicago Tribune
February 22, 2016
http://www.chicagotribune.com/business/ct-snacking-boom-0223-biz-20160219-story.html

The market for snacks, sold at Walgreens and other retailers, is growing rapidly, analysts say, and manufacturers are working to cash in on the popularity. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

The market for snacks, sold at Walgreens and other retailers, is growing rapidly, analysts say, and manufacturers are working to cash in on the popularity. (E. Jason Wambsgans / Chicago Tribune)

Three squares are so passe. Snacking is having a moment, and — you’re driving it.

You could be a 25-year-old Instagram-loving foodie, who shares daily updates of your homemade mini-meals and trendy restaurant tapas. Or a 33-year-old budding entrepreneur, who opts for smoothies and meal replacement bars because you don’t have time to shop, but have no time for junk food, either. Or a 41-year-old father, who indulges in a daily Starbucks run with co-workers. Or a 65-year-old retiree who isn’t up to preparing dinner anymore and opts for a bowl of popcorn or ice cream instead.

Consumers are driving food industry players — manufacturers and restaurants — to introduce items that satisfy a rapidly growing appetite for smaller meals that can be consumed on the run, even though it may not be the healthiest way to10 eat. Whether the fear of calories posted on restaurant menu boards is causing us to order smaller meals or hectic schedules are driving us to this new kind of eating, major food companies have caught on in a big way.

“The tradition of a piece of fruit or a handful of nuts as a snack — those are still there, but overall the definition of a snack has dramatically changed,” said Technomic President Darren Tristano.

Snacks spell big opportunity for food companies because they tend to be more expensive than traditional meal components. And one look around a grocery store shows that retailers like their potential too, as snacks get more prominent space on shelves, with some healthier fare being stocked in the produce department.

At cereal powerhouse Kellogg, whose brands include Pringles, Cheez-It, Keebler and TownHouse crackers, snacks have gone from 20 percent of its business in 2000 to almost 50 percent today.

This year, the company expects brands that have been struggling, like Kashi and Special K, to lead the growth. Both saw strong sales in the early 2000s, but fell out of favor when consumers steered away from “diet food,” Kellogg CEO John Bryant said on a conference call last week.

The brands have been revamped, and boxes include buzzwords like “nourish” instead of “diet,” and Kellogg is focusing the brands on hand-held forms, instead of just cereal by the bowl. “The expectation of consumers in the snack market has changed,” he said.

But Kellogg also expects brands like Pringles and Cheez-Its will be strong, and it is hurrying to develop more single-serve packages for its snacks so they become a grab-and-go item in a convenience or drug store.

At Hormel, whose meat brands including Jenni-O and Spam, it’s Wholly Guacamole that’s stealing the show, particularly in single-serve containers, according to CEO Jeff Ettinger. Hormel also recently introduced Skippy PB Bites with either a crunchy peanut butter or pretzel core.

Oak Brook-based TreeHouse Foods used to count beverages as its biggest category, but a 2014 acquisition propelled its snacks category to No. 1, and it now says it’s the largest private-label trail mix maker in the U.S.

Even health care companies are entering the snack market.

Abbott Laboratories, maker of Pedialyte, Ensure and Similac formula, earlier this month launched a line of snack bars called Curate aimed at adults seeking healthier alternatives to chips or cookies.

And last month, Chicago-based Hillshire Brands introduced a line of snacks aimed squarely at the young Instagram-addicted foodie, launched at a VIP event in New York with a former “Top Chef” contestant and Bravo’s Andy Cohen. The snacks include chicken bites with sauces like mango habanero and spicy chipotle and “small plates” of salame, cheese and crackers.

“Consumers are shifting away from this traditional snacking definition to include a more expanded variety of options to satisfy a more sophisticated food palate,” said Jeff Caswell, vice president and general manager of Hillshire Snacking. “This evolving definition is being spearheaded by millennials. … They have a passion for food exploration and like to try new flavors and push boundaries.”

He said sales of the new line have exceeded expectations.

Millennials, the largest segment of the U.S. population, are driving the snacking industry to create more fresh, healthy and protein-packed options, but other generations are partaking as well. People tend to snack more as they age, in part because older adults don’t have young families to cook for, said Darren Seifer, an NPD Group food and beverage analyst. The biggest snackers are those 55 to 64, NPD’s research shows.

But more snacking doesn’t always mean hitting the vending machine for a bag of M&Ms. Americans are eating fewer sweet snacks, choosing to save them for an evening indulgence, Seifer said. Their consumption fell about 5 percent in the past decade, compared with savory snacks like chips and beef jerky, which grew by 7 percent in the same period. Meanwhile, so-called “better-for-you” snacks like yogurt and cottage cheese cups have grown 25 percent.

“We start off the day with the best of intentions and then about 8 p.m., after you put the kids to bed, we’re allowing ourselves a bit of indulgence,” he said.

Deerfield-based Oreo maker Mondelez has seen both sides of America’s snacking obsession. Spurred by slowing sales of sweet snacks, it introduced Oreo thins to cater to those who want a healthier version. Mondelez, which also makes Ritz crackers, Cadbury chocolate, Sour Patch Kids and Honey Maid graham crackers, says it’s also focusing on smaller sizes for its brands to cater to snackers.

The company already derives 85 percent of its sales from snacks, up 10 percent from a year ago, and it sees a great deal of growth potential this year.

“Why do we like snacks so much? Quite simply, because of their growth potential. Snacking is a $1.2 trillion market, and it’s growing everywhere around the world,” said Mondelez CEO Irene Rosenfeld at a conference last week.

Smaller, more frequent meals may appeal to many Americans, but they’re not necessarily the healthiest option.

“Snacking or frequent eating tends to be less satisfying to your brain,” said Georgie Fear, a registered dietician and author of “Lean Habits For Lifelong Weight Loss.” “It’s hard to feel like we’ve eaten if we’ve just unwrapped a bar.”

In general, frequent snacks lead to “more dishes, more calories, and they’ve also hampered people’s decision-making abilities” because people can use snacks as an emotional crutch, Fear added.

There is a place for healthy snacking, Fear said, but she recommends sticking to options like whole fruit and yogurt. “Many people have gone out of their way to shift to smaller, more frequent meals. And then they (get more information) and think, ‘I’ve been washing that much Tupperware and it’s working against me?’ “


Fazoli’s closes only Las Vegas restaurant

February 24, 2016
Jennifer Robison
Las Vegas Review-Journal
February 17, 2016
http://www.reviewjournal.com/business/fazolis-closes-only-las-vegas-restaurant

1004922526_fazolis_021716_3.jpgThere’ll be no more free breadsticks on North Town Center Drive.

Italian fast-food franchise Fazoli’s has quietly closed its lone Las Vegas eatery. The restaurant, behind the 7-Eleven at Town Center and Covington Cross in Summerlin, shut Feb. 8, 15 years to the day after its 2001 debut.

The closure defies broader market trends, as big, national chains including Chick-fil-A and Cracker Barrel prepare market launches for late 2016 and early 2017.

“Las Vegas is definitely a growth market,” said Darren Tristano, president of Chicago-based restaurant consultant Technomic.

So why did operators shutter Fazoli’s?

Company spokeswoman Janet Ritter deferred to the franchisee, Las Vegas-based Glencoe Management, and Glencoe Management didn’t return phone calls. The company’s website said it owns 21 local Burger Kings, including one at 1280 Town Center Drive, next to the former Fazoli’s.

But Ritter said Fazoli’s, a Kentucky chain with 217 U.S. locations mostly in the Midwest and South, “would like to have a presence in Las Vegas, and we are seeking franchisees to open units in the Las Vegas area.”

The Fazoli’s closure capped a market foray that never really picked up steam.

Ritter said she had no information on number or dates of operation of prior local stores, but at least two other Fazoli’s franchises — one on Ft. Apache Road near Rhodes Ranch and another on Eastern Avenue in Silverado Ranch — opened after 2001 and closed years ago.

The 28-year-old company had as many as 300 U.S. restaurants before it began pruning locations in the recession. Each restaurant typically employs 30 to 40 people, Ritter said.

Competition has hurt Fazoli’s, Tristano said.

The U.S. market is saturated with chains, including Panera Bread and Noodles & Co., that serve pasta and pizza. Plus, Fazoli’s straddles a blurry line between fast food and the more upscale fast-casual segment, which includes operators such as Chipotle and Au Bon Pain.

“That’s not a terrible place to be. The problem is, you’re lumped in to some extent with fast food because of the drive-thru and the price points, but the quality is not at the level of a fast-casual restaurant,” Tristano said. “That’s not to say it’s not good quality, but there are so many concepts with customized, prepared-to-order food.”

It didn’t help that Fazoli’s had just a handful of local stores. A franchise needs 20 to 25 locations in a big market to build loyalty and brand awareness, Tristano said.

Still, Fazoli’s seems to have righted its ship: The company said in December that same-store sales were up in 65 of the prior 68 months, including a 3.1 percent jump year over year in November. It opened 10 new franchises in 2014 and 2015.

And restaurant operators continue to salivate over the Southern Nevada market, Tristano said.

“Las Vegas has the demographics and growth that many chain brands are looking for,” he said. “Not all of the markets in the United States are growing, but you’re seeing housing development and population growth there, and that’s a big deal. Chains tend to be prioritizing growth markets.”


Shrinking sales pushing Bonefish Grill chain to close 14 restaurants, restructure

February 22, 2016
Justine Griffin, Times Staff Writer
Tampa Bay Times
Wednesday, February 17, 2016 11:12am
http://www.tampabay.com/news/business/retail/bonefish-grill-to-close-14-restaurants-and-restructure/2265710

Times files
Bonefish Grille on North Dale Mabry Highway.Bonefish Grill will close 14 restaurants this year as the seafood chain restructures following several quarters of disappointing sales results.

Tampa-based Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of Bonefish Grill, Outback Steakhouse, Carrabba’s Italian Grill and Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, announced Wednesday that it expects the 14 Bonefish Grill locations to close within the year. Bloomin’ took a pre-tax charge of $24.2 million during the fourth quarter of 2015 in connection with the closures. No specific stores were named.

“We needed to strip out the complexity that had impacted the core service at Bonefish and focus on what wasn’t broken,” said Bloomin’ Brands CEO, Liz Smith, during an earnings call Wednesday. “We’ve done that. It’s important to look beyond quarter to quarter. We expect 2016 to be a strengthening and momentum story for Bonefish Grill as we move through the year.”

Sales were down at Bonefish Grill by 5.4 percent for the months of October through December as compared to same period in 2014. Sales for the quarter were down a combined 2.8 percent at all Bloomin’ restaurant brands in the U.S.

Bonefish Grill, which was intended to be the leading brand for new growth in Bloomin’ Brands’ restaurant portfolio last year, saw the steepest declines. This is the third quarter of decline for the chain, which is in a competitive class of “polished casual” chain restaurants, and tends to be more pricey than dining experiences like a TGI Fridays or Olive Garden. The menu quality is similar to restaurants like Seasons 52 or Carmel Cafe.

But Bonefish’s biggest competitors are independent restaurants, said Malcolm Knapp, a restaurant economist in New York City and the founder of Knapp-Track, an industry tool used to track restaurant sales.

“Bonefish is in a good spot where they can appeal to a higher demographic because the food quality is good,” Knapp said. “But independent restaurants are getting bigger and there are a lot of really great chef-driven places out there. With the shrinking size of the middle class, restaurants are seeing less frequency from consumers, who have a lot more choices.”

An “anti-chain” movement from a younger demographic has changed the way consumers are spending their money and hurt chain restaurants like Bonefish. Millennials and generation X-ers are looking for value but often opt to try a locally owned restaurant rather than a chain.

“This is a symptom of a bigger issue,” said Darren Tristano, president of Technomic, a Chicago-based food research firm. “Fast food and fast casual concepts continue to do well but casual dining is staying stagnant. It doesn’t help that Bonefish is a seafood restaurant, which has its ups and downs and isn’t as broadly appealing as steaks or Italian.”

Nevertheless, Knapp believes Bloomin’ is taking the right steps to get Bonefish Grill back on track this year. The company named Gregg Scarlett as Bonefish’s CEO in March 2015. Founding Seasons 52 chef, Clifford Pleau was hired away to Bonefish in Sept. 2014. Since then, the restaurant chain has simplified its menu and instituted an updated look inside newer restaurants.

“They are clearly in the middle of a turnaround,” Knapp said. “Bonefish is not young. The market has moved on from them. But it’s not unusual for large chains to do some pruning like this periodically.”

Bonefish Grill opened two new restaurants in the U.S. from September to December 2015, bringing the total count to 210. The company opened more than a dozen Bonefish locations from 2014 to 2015. However, Smith said in August that development for Bonefish would stall until sales improved.

Carrabba’s Italian Grill also had a shake up in leadership. Bloomin’ Brands announced that Mike Kappitt was named president the day before Bloomin’ released its fourth quarter results. Kappitt will be responsible for leading operations and development of the Carrabba’s brand in the U.S. He most recently served as the senior vice president and chief marketing officer of Bloomin’ Brands. The former president, David Pace, left the company to become CEO at Jamba Juice last month.

Bloomin’ Brands fourth-quarter revenue was $1.04 billion, down 5.3 percent from the fourth quarter of 2014. The company’s net income for the fourth quarter was $17.7 million, down from $22.4 million the year before. Earnings per share were 14 cents for the quarter, down from 17 cents in 2014. Sales were down for the quarter at brands across the U.S. Sales in international markets were up — Outback Steakhouse sales in Brazil saw a 7.3 percent increase. The company operates 75 Outback Steakhouse restaurants in Brazil and 75 in South Korea.

Shares in Bloomin’ Brands fell nearly 11 percent Wednesday to $15.10 despite strong daily gains by all the major U.S. stock markets. The company’s stock price has not been this low since 2012.