Piling It On

March 30, 2015

OhCal Foods rides acquisition to No. 1 in Subway franchising.

Fine, Howard 1500030901a_r100x80
2015 Los Angeles Business Journal. All rights reserved.

Once the earl of sandwich in Southern California, Hardeep Grewal is now the reigning king of Subway restaurant franchising nationwide.

Grewal’s OhCal Foods, which oversees Subway franchises in Los Angeles and Orange counties, has just acquired franchise development rights for all of Virginia; Washington, D.C.; and most of Maryland in a deal that makes him Subway’s biggest franchise developer. By far.

OhCal bought the territory from Feldman Group of McLean, Va., in a sale that closed late last month and nearly doubled the size of the company’s hoagie holdings overnight. The Woodland Hills company now oversees about 2,170 Subway locations, or 8 percent of all Subways in the United States.

Put another way, Grewal’s territory now includes one out of every 12 Subways nationwide. That’s more than double the next biggest franchise developer.

For years, OhCal had been battling Feldman for the distinction of being the largest franchise developer for Subway, which is the world’s largest franchise operation and is owned by Doctor’s Associates Inc. of Milford, Conn. But with Feldman’s 1,000 stores now part of OhCal’s kingdom, Grewal has taken the crown.

“This deal put us over the top,” Grewal said.

But the deal is about much more than bragging rights. OhCal’s revenue also figures to grow substantially. As a franchise development agent, OhCal matches franchise operators with sites and helps existing franchisees with marketing, quality control and lease negotiations. OhCal gets a cut of both franchisee ownership transactions and royalty payments that the franchisees make to brand parent Subway.

Grewal said the nearly 2,200 franchisees now under OhCal’s supervision bring in about $1.3 billion in annual sales. Franchisees pay 8 percent of their sales in royalties to Subway, which comes to $104 million a year from OhCal’s restaurants.

Most of those royalty payments go to Subway corporate, but OhCal gets a slice. Grewal would not say exactly how much his company receives, but said it can be up to one-third of total royalty payments.

That would translate to as much as $35 million a year for OhCal in royalty revenue alone, not to mention money it makes from franchise ownership transactions in its territory.

Unexpected path

Grewal, 59, became a Subway magnate almost by accident. Born in Punjab, India, he attended school in Montreal and moved to Los Angeles with his wife. Patwant, in 1986, when he got a job as controller at a subsidiary of Mitsubishi Corp.

He entered the world of Subway franchising not for himself, but for Patwant. who was looking for something to do.

In 1989, he bought her a Subway franchise. The money was good enough that Grewal eventually left his desk job. He opened some stores and took over other underperforming ones until he amassed a total of 24.

But Grewal saw that the more lucrative end of the sandwich business was in becoming one of Subway’s 200 or so franchise development agents. Development agents have a guaranteed revenue stream without many of the overhead costs that franchisees face.

In 2006, Grewal sold most of his Subway locations and purchased OhCal, which at the time oversaw 446 Subway franchise stores in Los Angeles County. He later purchased the development rights for Orange County and part of the province of Ontario, Canada. Today, OhCal oversees 663 Subway stores in Los Angeles County, 246 in Orange County and 260 in Ontario.

OhCal’s purchase of the franchise development rights from Feldman gives it oversight of an additional 760 Subway stores in Virginia, 82 in Washington and 111 in Maryland. The Maryland territory does not include the Baltimore metro area. Add in about 50 stores in that region that only open for the summer tourist season, and the total is just over 1,000.

Grewal said it was the prospect of getting the franchise development rights to the market around the suburbs of Washington that made this deal so attractive. The region has seen explosive growth in recent years, driven by the spread of federal government jobs and an expanding roster of defense and national security contractors.

“There have been so many new buildings going in at universities, hospitals and government-related facilities,” he said. “That means a lot of new locations coming up.”

From Subway corporate’s perspective, putting this lucrative East Coast market in the hands of a development agent with a proven track record was crucial. Subway has to approve any sales of development territory.

“There are many areas of the business that a development agent for the Subway brand must handle, and Hardeep and the OhCal team excel all around,” said Don Fertman, chief development officer with Subway’s corporate office. “Now with the move into another one of our showcase territories–the D.C., Virginia and Maryland area–we are looking forward to what they will accomplish there in making an already great market even better.”

In the family

Grewal has sent his son, Jesse, to manage the newly acquired territories. A nephew already runs the Canadian operations.

He said he intends to add about 30 stores a year, with many of those coming in the Washington area. As a development agent, OhCal scouts out potential sites for stores, then prepares to offer the sites to the nearest franchisee.

But it’s not only about adding stores. Grewal said his other goal is to improve same-store sales at existing franchises, a job made harder in the last couple of years as the sandwich chain’s highly successful “$5 Footlong” promotion has wound down.

“No question that sales growth has been slowing, both because of the overall economy and because that campaign has ended,” he said.

To counteract this, Grewal said he wants OhCal’s marketing efforts on behalf of its Subway franchisees to focus more on the tastes of millennials, who are now in their 20s.

But OhCal’s job won’t be easy. Because Subway has gotten so big–there are now 27,000 Subways nationwide–the rate of new franchise formation in the United States has naturally slowed, said Darren Tristano, executive vice president of Technomic Inc., a Chicago food industry research firm.

Not only that, but Tristano said Subway’s size makes it increasingly difficult to find high-quality locations for new franchise stores, making Grewal’s strategy of focusing on boosting same-store sales all the more important.

“That’s where a development agent like OhCal can be particularly useful, since they can bring to bear the marketing and branding resources that franchisee owners may not have,” Tristano said.

Another pitfall is that OhCal’s business model itself might not survive over the long term. Subway was a pioneer in using franchise development agents, a practice used by other franchised businesses through the years. But that model has lost favor in the franchise industry in general, with Subway one of the last remaining holdouts.

“The trend in franchising has been toward centralized control, both to maintain quality and to cut out the extra cost of development agents,” said Kevin Burke, managing director at Trinity Capital, a West L.A. investment bank that specializes in restaurant deals.

To his point, there have been occasional reports of Subway cutting back on the numbers of development agents in the United States and on the lengths of their contracts.

But Grewal isn’t very concerned. Not only is he now Subway’s largest franchise developer, he also has many years left on his contracts with the chain–about 13 years for his Southern California territory and about 27 years on the newly acquired areas.

“That’s plenty of time,” he said. “Enough so that my son can take over for me.”

Healthy Hoagies Subbing In

August 6, 2014

getimageCanadians crave quality ingredients, ethnic twists on beloved meal of the masses, study suggests

Vancouver Sun

Copyright © 2014 Vancouver Sun

Almost everyone in Canada – a whopping 94 per cent of us – eats at least one sandwich a week, with 35 per cent eating a sandwich at least every other day.

But according to a new report by Technomic Inc. – a research and consulting firm focused on the food industry – healthy options are more important than ever.

The Canadian Sandwich Consumer Trend Report found today’s shoppers place more importance than ever on the quality of the sandwich, from the bread to the meat, cheese and condiments.

The majority of us say healthy sandwich options are a priority at lunch (57 per cent) and dinner (56 per cent).

And just 44 per cent say they’re satisfied with the “healthfulness of sandwiches away from home.” Which, in a way, is good news for all those café owners out there: there’s room for growth. “Operators need to focus on the quality of their sandwiches to help drive traffic and steal share,” Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic Inc., said in a release. “Certain concepts can emphasize sandwich quality and improve health perceptions at the same time through better-foryou sandwich claims, such as fresh, artisan or made-from-scratch.” A growing number of shoppers also say they like to try new or unique flavours on sandwiches: 27 per cent, up from 21 per cent in 2012.



Canadians eat, on average, 3.3 sandwiches per week

35 per cent of Canadians eat a sandwich at least every other day

39 per cent of the sandwiches we eat are not made at home, but purchased elsewhere

60 per cent of the sandwiches we buy are takeout meals

48 per cent of us buy grab-andgo sandwiches

44 per cent would like healthier sides with our sandwiches

21 per cent of us – and 32 per cent of 25- to 34-year-olds – would like more ethnic sandwich options at restaurants



Top 5 on the menu

Sandwich/wrap Appearances

Chicken 834

Veggie 406

Steak 204

Mixed protein 181

Pork 179

Source: Technomic MenuMonitor survey of 4,747 menu items in Q2 2014


How many of us order a sandwich away from home once a month or more for the following:

Our Top 3 lunch sandwiches

Burger: 23%

Sub/hoagie/hero: 19%

Deli: 10%

Our Top 4 dinner sandwiches

Burger: 32%

Sub/hoagie/hero: 22%

Chicken-breast sandwich: 7%

Deli: 7%

Fastest-growing condiments/sauces

Honey 55%

Tartar sauce 25%

Jam 22.2%

Caesar 20.3%

Tomato sauce 20%

Marinara 16.7%

Sauerkraut 15%

Pico de gallo 12.5%


mayonnaise 12.5%

Mango salsa 11.1%

Source: Technomic MenuMonitor survey of 2,058 menu items from Q2 2013 to Q2 2014

February 14, 2013



Foodservice Interchange 2013

March 4, 2013
Allstream Centre, Toronto

Meet One of Our Speakers

Darren Tristano, Executive Vice President, Technomic, Inc. will share key insights into the evolution of foodservice trends. Learn about trends migrating from the US and Internationally into Canada as well as some home grown Canadian influences making an impact elsewhere.  You won’t want to miss learning about the newest trends for 2013 and what these could mean for your business:

  1. Snacking, small plates and sharing blur traditional dayparts. Changing dining habits are impacting all dayparts. Consumers want their meals and snacks when and where it’s convenient. Expect chefs to get more creative by paring down traditional entrées into creative small plates, looking to street trucks for snacking inspiration, and incorporating more ethnic flavours and ingredients into sharing dishes.
  2. Taking chicken to new heights. The better-burger trend has spread like wildfire across Canada. Building off the burger trend, chefs will turn to the humble chicken as the next workaday food primed for a gourmet update. Look for increasing use of high-quality birds raised locally, naturally and humanely.
  3. Veggies find more prominence on the plate. Expect to see not just more locally sourced, in-season fresh veggies siding up to proteins, but more vegetarian entrées as well.
  4. Asian breaks out. From the burgeoning ramen scene in Toronto to Japanese tapas restaurants in Vancouver, expect to see interest in the multitude of food cultures that Asia has to offer. This includes not just up-and-coming Southeast Asian dishes from Vietnam, Singapore and Malaysia, but regional Chinese and Japanese fusion as well.
  5. Specialty approach to beverages. Artisan preparation and ethnic flavours are not just hot food trends—chefs are exercising their creativity beyond the plate with beverage innovation too. Restaurants are now crafting everything from craveable small-batch sodas to exotic refreshers like South American aguas frescas. Consumers are also seeking more authenticity at restaurants, particularly when it comes to ethnic dining. We’ll see more and more food-and-beverage pairings that complete an ethnic dining experience.

Date: March 4, 2013
Registration and Networking Breakfast: 7:45 a.m. – 8:30 a.m.
Conference: 8:30 a.m. – 1:30 p.m.
For complete details: contact FCPC – Heather Spencer, heathers@fcpc.ca or 416-510-9050

International Imports: Overseas Chains Look to U.S. for Growth

September 7, 2012

Note: This post originally appeared as a Technomic white paper. Download .pdf file.

In Japan’s busy city centers, the line for McDonald’s queues out the door. The Sphinx sees KFC as it looks across the desert. Restaurant chains are a prime export for the United States, as companies see an escape from the crowded domestic market.

But at the same time U.S.-based chains look to global markets for growth, many chains from outside our borders are finding ample opportunity to expand their concepts and compete in our homeland.

U.S. operators ignore these international imports at their peril. In their effort to stay ahead of the competition, operators must identify and monitor their competition—both domestic chains and global concepts—examining performance data, menu and marketing updates, and expansion plans.

Growing List of Imports
Over the years, as Technomic has been building its intelligence on international markets—now including Canada, the U.K., Brazil, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Australia and Mexico—and the restaurant brands that lead those markets, it continues to uncover concepts that are looking at the United States for expansion opportunities. Chains such as Tim Hortons, Le Pain Quotidian and, more recently, Red Mango have led the way for a growing list of contenders eyeing the U.S.

What they see when they examine the U.S. market is a consumer who spends almost half their food budget at restaurants, and one who is eager to try new ethnic flavors. U.S. consumers are also ethnically diverse themselves, and many are well-traveled and already familiar with global foodservice brands.

Overseas operators also see large cities and small, some of which may look a lot like the markets in which they successfully operate at home. The real-estate experts in this group will spot the many good locations left by domestic operators and other businesses that couldn’t make it through the economic downturn and slow recovery.

Challenges and Opportunities
There are certainly challenges to overcome to opening in a new country, especially one as saturated as the United States. Beyond the usual complexities of offering a compelling point of differentiation at what consumers feel is the correct price point and keeping up with their busy and demanding lives, an overseas operator is at a disadvantage simply by being located outside the country. A new country’s supply chain methods, legal and governmental regulations, and human resource issues have to be understood and addressed. This means the operator must find partners, franchisors or trusted employees to handle Stateside business and operations.

But there are also opportunities for concepts that feed consumer needs, stay ahead of food and dining trends and manage unit economics. Those with a strong brand and niche, well-defined menu and value proposition have a chance of capturing the attention—and eating-out dollars—of American consumers.

Concepts to Watch
Following are profiles of 10 concepts in varying stages of expansion within the United States. We didn’t select them based on size or seniority. They are merely a diverse group of concepts from around the world that offer something different that gives them the potential to thrive in America. Some have achieved success through the authentic cuisine of their homeland, but others are making leaps with models that they believe are primed for success with U.S. consumers.
What they have in common is attention to consumer trends, such as better-for-you cuisine, a convenient and flexible format, or focus on authentic or innovative flavors.

Nando’s Peri-Peri, formed in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 1987, is a quick-casual chain specializing in peri-peri chicken, a Portuguese-style preparation of poultry basted with a spicy, vinegary sauce that gets its heat from the African Bird’s Eye chile. Portuguese beers and wines provide an authentic accompaniment. Units, averaging 3,800 square feet, operate primarily in high-visibility sites that often have multiple levels. Nando’s restaurants are uniquely constructed and designed, often reflecting the country in which they operate. Interior design elements typically include natural materials such as marble and antique oak, bold African artwork and large potted plants. Nando’s has entered numerous international markets and made its U.S. debut in Washington, DC, in 2008.

Why it’s worth watching: Nando’s pleases flavor-seekers and has strong global brand awareness, operating in three dozen countries on five continents.

Gyu-Kaku, founded in 1995 in Tokyo, is a chain of contemporary casual-dining restaurants offering Japanese-style barbecue. It specializes in yakiniku (Japanese for “grilled meat”), in which guests cook their own marinated bite-sized meats, seafood and vegetables over individual smokeless braziers. Averaging 3,500–4,000 square feet, units are located in urban and suburban areas with heavy foot traffic such as shopping malls and lifestyle centers. Interiors are modern and characterized by Japanese-influenced artwork, dark woods, exposed brick and sheer fabrics. Large dark tables provide communal and private seating. Six years after its Tokyo debut, the chain entered the U.S. market with the 2001 opening of a West Los Angeles location.

Why it’s worth watching: Japanese barbecue is underrepresented in the U.S., and Gyu-Kaku gives it a distinct spin with its cook-it-yourself platform and social element.

Little Sheep Mongolian Hot Pot, established in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China, in 1999, is a casual-dining restaurant chain with an interactive, cook-it-yourself Mongolian-food focus. Customers dip meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes into hot broth at their table to cook them. Signature items range from lamb shoulder, to shrimp meatballs, to mussels and clams. Units occupy at least 4,000 square feet and feature lustrous and contemporary décor with Mongolian murals, calligraphy and bamboo. After launching in Baotou, the chain expanded further into China as well as Taiwan, Japan and Canada. The first U.S. Little Sheep restaurant opened in 2006 in Union City, CA.

Why it’s worth watching: Yum! Brands Inc. owns a portion of the chain and is looking to acquire a majority stake in the company via a $573 million takeover bid.

Guzman Y Gomez, launched in Australia in 2006, is a fast-casual Mexican taqueria that prides itself on being one of the first concepts to bring authentic Mexican food and Latin culture to Australia. The chain celebrates all things Latin: the region’s music, art, personality and especially the food. It specializes in burritos, mini burritos, tacos and bowls prepared with a choice of meat or vegetables and various toppings. It operates both small walk-up operations in food courts and lifestyle centers and larger units, which have TVs, foosball tables and billiards, and a bold décor heavily incorporating the brand’s yellow-and-black color scheme. Units also typically feature exposed brick, framed black-and-white photos and potted cactus plants. Since its founding, Guzman Y Gomez has expanded across eastern Australia.

Why it’s worth watching: Guzman Y Gomez has carved out a niche in Australia as one of the only chains offering authentic, made-to-order Mexican fare, and aims to compete against fast-casual Mexican leaders.

Pie Face, started in 2003 by an American living in Sydney, is a quick-service bakery-café chain known for its freshly baked sweet and savory pies marked with smiley-face designs on the crust. Popular varieties include chunky steak and Thai chicken curry. Stores are counter-service operations that occupy as little as 160 square feet. Whenever possible, they stay open 24 hours a day. Rows of pies and other pastries are showcased in glass cases, and red and black menu boards list the brand’s offerings. After getting under way in Sydney, the chain opened stores throughout Australia and began franchising in 2009. In early 2012, the chain made its U.S. debut, opening a unit in New York City—the first of many planned for the Big Apple.

Why it’s worth watching: Pie Face is bringing Aussie-style handheld, savory meat pies to American consumers, who may be open to this portable and inexpensive meal option.

PAUL, which traces its roots all the way back to 1889 in Croix, France, is a chain of fast-casual French-style bakery-cafés. The concept is designed to evoke a traditional French bakery, where patrons grab a quick bite to go or sit and relax with friends. Units, typically inline shops located along the high street, feature rustic French décor with the look and feel of a village bakery. Design elements include signature black storefronts, exposed interior brickwork and sculptured woodwork. In its present-day form, PAUL opened in 1963 in France. It eventually expanded into a number of countries before it opened its first U.S. unit in Washington, D.C., in May 2011.

Why it’s worth watching: The bakery-café segment continues to perform well, and PAUL differentiates itself with French-inspired décor and traditional French baguettes.

Pret A Manger, founded in London in 1986, is a grab-and-go sandwich concept emphasizing convenience and speed. Pret A Manger, French for “ready to eat,” specializes in prepackaged sandwiches, soups, salads, sushi and breakfast pastries. Food is made daily in-house with natural ingredients and then stocked in stainless-steel, temperature-controlled cases. Any food that is not sold by the end of the day is donated to local charities. Restaurants seat 20–30 customers, measure about 1,500 square feet and feature a bright, modern décor. Units reflect and preserve their European roots with staff members from Europe and from each unit’s host country. Pret A Manger expanded abroad with the 2000 opening of a unit in the Wall Street area of New York City.

Why it’s worth watching: The chain is in the midst of developing what it calls “Pret Local,” an interpretation of the original concept that offers more of a fast-casual positioning in a suburban setting.

YO! Sushi, which debuted in London in 1997, is a conveyor-belt sushi concept (known as “kaiten” in Japan) that aims to make Japanese food accessible and affordable. Freshly made sashimi, sushi maki rolls and nigiri circulate on a moving conveyor belt, and customers grab their dishes right off the belt. They may also order off the menu. Food is served on color-coded plates, each of which corresponds to a different price point; a staff member counts the plates to tally the bill. Store locations range from urban business districts to high-end department stores and airports. YO! Sushi made its U.S. debut in mid-2012 in Washington, D.C.’s Union Station and is planning 30 additional U.S. locations.

Why it’s worth watching: YO! Sushi’s interactive platform, combined with its exhibition sushi preparation, make for a unique and fun dining experience.

Freshii, founded in Toronto in 2005, is a healthy fast-casual concept that offers salads, wraps, bowls and burritos in signature as well as build-your-own varieties. The concept also stands out with eco-friendly initiatives in packaging and paperless marketing. Averaging 150–1,500 square feet, units are in high-traffic urban areas and feature contemporary décor, shelves lined with packaged snacks, and grab-and-go cases stocked with bottled beverages. Rapid expansion began in 2009 with a master franchise deal for the Chicago market. Eventually the chain expanded across Canada and the U.S. before entering Europe and the Middle East. Long-term expansion plans call for 1,000 units by 2015.

Why it’s worth watching: Freshii fills a dual niche within the rapidly growing fast-casual segment: an eco-conscious chain specializing in healthy, fresh fare.

Giraffas, established in Brazil in 1981, is a limited-service chain specializing in Brazilian favorites. The family-owned chain’s signature item is a create-your-own burger with a choice of filet mignon, chicken, ground beef or meat substitute, and a selection of sauce and toppings. The concept goes beyond burger-joint fare to offer traditional Brazilian steak and meat entrées at moderate price points. Units vary in size from 750–3,000 square feet and in location from kiosk to freestanding restaurant. Interiors are contemporary and evoke the feeling of an African safari with tufted rugs and giraffe murals. In mid-2011, Giraffas opened its first international unit, a U.S. store in North Miami.

Why it’s worth watching: Giraffas, already well-established with some 350 stores in its native Brazil, has firmly set its sights on U.S. expansion, calling for additional locations to open over the coming months.

Like many industries, restaurant operators have become global in nature. Just as American chains have found fertile ground around the world in which to grow, internationally based chains are looking at the United States as a market to expand their brand and further develop a platform for growth. U.S. operators should view these new entries not as “flash in the pan” concepts but as true contenders challenging them for traffic and dollars.

Technomic currently tracks major chain operators and menu trends in 10 countries including the U.S., Canada, Mexico, U.K., France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Australia. Market intelligence for these countries is available through our industry leading online Digital Resource Library and MenuMonitor.

The hottest new trend in casual dining? The ‘breastaurant’

May 10, 2012

From Twin Peaks to the Tilted Kilt, sexed-up dining chains are popping up everywhere

by Anne Kingston on Wednesday, April 25, 2012

If you’ve not yet heard of “breastaurants,” gird yourself: they’re about to roll out across Canada. And this new generation of mammary-centric casual dining chains—with their slick thematic formats, man-cave mentality and hyper-friendly female servers schooled in “touchology”—makes Hooters seem downright quaint.

First out of the gate is Tilted Kilt, a Tempe, Ariz.-based “Celtic”-themed sports pub chain whose servers wear tiny tartan tops and micro-mini kilts. Originating in Las Vegas in 2003, the Hooters-Brigadoon hybrid has 60 locations in the U.S. with 15 franchises in development. Its first Canadian location opened in Edmonton last December; a Toronto franchise will open in June, with a Calgary outpost slated for July. “We’re racing to have it finished before Stampede,” says Mark Hanby, Tilted Kilt’s vice-president of development. Hanby admits the company “had serious butterflies” about opening in Edmonton, but now expects the chain’s average annual per-location sales of US$2.7 million to be higher north of the border, in part because of higher prices. The Calgary location is 8,000 sq. feet, bigger than the chain’s average 6,000- to-6,500 sq.-foot floorplan in the U.S. Hanby, who has scouted the country, says Ottawa, Halifax and Saint John, N.B., are ripe for the concept. He hopes to see six locations in the Toronto area by the end of 2013.

Over the past decade, the “breastaurant” has emerged as the second-fastest growing sector in the casual dining industry behind upscale burgers, says Darren Tristano, an industry consultant with Chicago-based Technomic, Inc., who coined the “breastaurant” neologism in 2007. Puns and plaid go with the territory. Addison, Tex.-based Twin Peaks, founded in 2005, has 20 U.S. locations with plans for another 30 by year-end. It exploits an Alpine lodge theme with “scenic views” provided by “Lumber Jill” servers in skimpy plaid shirts and hiking shorts. Canada is on Twin Peaks’s radar, says marketing director Meggie Miller: “We’ve received lots of interest and we’re open to seriously considering qualified [franchisee] candidates.” Meanwhile, regional players are thriving in the U.S., among them Brick House Tavern & Tap, Honey Shack, and Bone Daddy’s House of Smoke, which boasts “BBQ, beer, and Daddy’s girls” in midriff-baring sweaters.

“Breastaurant” customers are 80 per cent male, range in age from 21 to 35, and are not necessarily single, says Tristano. Tilted Kilt’s clientele skews slightly older at 38, says Hanby, who notes they’ve had success near Florida retirement communities and military bases.

As retrogade as it may appear, the “breastaurant” trend is propelled by current cultural and economic trends. The spectre of scantily clad women that made Clearwater, Fla.-based Hooters a target of outrage when it opened in 1983 is now engrained culturally, down to near-naked barristas manning “sexpresso” stands in the Seattle area. Vancouver-based Earls Kitchen and Bar, for example, has morphed from casual preppy servers in the 1990s to female servers in form-fitting black cocktail gear. “We’ve grown up,” says Cate Simpson, spokeswoman for the 63-location chain. She admits some servers’ skirts are so short they’re thinking of imposing a dress code: “They look great but we have to keep a standard.”

The fact that Hooters allowed its brand to wither provided an opportunity, says Tristano, as did the availability of locations with good lease rates due to the economic downturn. Hooters, a US$1-billion juggernaut with 455 locations (11 in Canada), has become as dated as its servers’ suntan-coloured pantyhose and orange nylon shorts. Sales declined more than 7.5 per cent last year. Over a dozen locations have closed and its CEO recently jumped ship to Twin Peaks.

The “breastaurant” concept resonates amid economic and gender-role uncertainty. They’re proletariat men’s clubs, soothing public man caves where guys go to bond, drink cold beer and watch the game without being told to put the toilet seat down. Sales are 50 per cent alcohol; menus are defiantly masculine: pulled pork, burgers and wings. Twin Peaks taps into to the mindset with its slogan: “Twin Peaks is about you, because YOU’RE THE MAN!” Brick House Tavern & Tap offers built-in “man caves”—seats of four nestled in front of big-screen TVs. Bone Daddy’s even has a free “VIP” club.

It’s an ethos that fits with what the American cultural critic Susan Douglas calls “enlightened sexism”—the notion that formerly “sexist” depictions of women are harmless, even fun, when presented with an ironic wink. “We’re a place that makes fun of men; women are this, sports are that,” Twin Peaks CEO Randy Dewitt has said.

The big draw, says Tristano, is attentive, friendly service. “It’s all about the ambiance and the servers,” he says. “You don’t go for the food.” Tilted Kilt’s Hanby agrees: “A lot of people are selling beer and food. So to win we’ve got to be spectacular and different.” He boasts of Tilted Kilt’s “upbeat atmosphere” and “entertainment in the form of interaction.” Guests don’t just ogle the servers, they’re given permission to engage, he says. “They can open their mouths, they can have a dialogue.”

Tilted Kilt servers, or “cast members,” as they’re known, are “sassy,” “sexy fun,” and “sexy smart,” Hanby says. Training focuses on how to make a connection with the guests and provide entertainment value. “Most of the girls have a shtick, and we work with them to develop it.” Tilted Kilt’s CEO Ron Lynch has spoken of servers employing “touchology”—touching the table often, and making guests feel at home. “Sometimes waitresses are providing the best part of a guest’s day,” he says.

Twin Peaks’s servers even connect with regulars on social media, sharing what shifts they’ll be working and daily specials. Such friendly details provide ample opportunity to “upsell,” industry-speak for increasing the bill. At Twin Peaks, for instance, servers taking a beer order will ask, “Do you want the ‘man size’ or the ‘girl size’?”

Hanby, who talks of “keeping it PG13,” insists the line between banter and flirting is not crossed: “It should not be sexual in any way, shape or form.” He doesn’t shy from the “breastaurant” label but says they don’t use it internally: “We never refer to our servers using a part of their anatomy,” he says. “We’d never put the ladies in a position that would objectify them,” a comment at odds with the publication of the annual women of Tilted Kilt calendar. Hanby doesn’t deny the concept is based on the “sex sells” truism. “There’s sex appeal involved,” he says. “We don’t back away from that. It’s part of life every day, everywhere.”

Expect more of it. Tristano sees room for another 500 “breastaurants” in the U.S. and 200 to 300 in Canada. Small chains are starting to jump on the trend, he says. As for the female-equivalent “chestaurant,” Tristano sees little likelihood of that: “Women are more focused on the food experience,” he says. “There’s a big difference in what men want.”

Meanwhile, the Tilted Kilt has registered its cutesy-naughty name internationally. Asia and former Eastern Bloc countries are ripe for expansion, Hanby says. As for taking the concept to Scotland, home of the first tilted kilt? “That’s not on our agenda,” he says. “Yet.”

Technomic Identifies Six Canadian Foodservice Trends for 2012

January 10, 2012

Technomic Identifies

Technomic Identifies Six Canadian Foodservice Trends for 2012

CHICAGO, Nov. 10, 2011 /CNW/ — Shifting consumer preferences and growing competition continue to play bigger roles in Canada’s foodservice industry, with numerous implications for menu, technology and venue innovations at Canadian restaurants. Looking forward, Technomic see these six trends as growing in importance in 2012:

1. Revisiting the classics: Limited-service restaurants are tinkering with some of Canadians’ favourite foods, thinking up new variations of classic quick fare such as burgers and pizzas. With “better burger” chains leading the way, more restaurants will find ways to dress up classic Canadian comfort foods with artisan and premium ingredients. We’re primed to see more tricked-out poutines, pizzas with exotic and unexpected toppings, new takes on the classic donair, and new concepts devoted to luxe burgers with lush accompaniments.

2. Chefs scale back: While fast-food chains are busy rolling out gourmet and indulgent comfort foods, chefs at full-service and fine-dining restaurants will be wowing diners who want approachable food that’s flavourful yet wholesome, indulgent yet not in a gorge-yourself way. Chefs will be crafting dishes with fewer ingredients, simpler preparation techniques and locally-sourced products. Not only does the scale-back approach allow chefs to showcase the flavours of a small set of carefully chosen ingredients, it also emphasizes the skillful preparation required to take a few simple items and create a culinary masterpiece. Utilizing fewer ingredients will also allow chefs to showcase center-of-the-plate stars like locally-sourced meat and seafood.

3. Kids’ menus come of age: The healthfulness of the food that children consume remains a growing concern of parents. Operators will continue finding ways to revamp their kids’ menus to appeal to children and parents alike. Over the next year, more restaurants will update their kids’ menus by adding baked or grilled dishes instead of fried items and replacing high-calorie sides with more healthful options. Chefs will also continue dropping staid children’s fare such as chicken nuggets and hot dogs in favor of more sophisticated dishes better suited to little ones’ budding palates.

4. Disposed to disclose: More than ever, restaurant-goers want to know exactly what they’re consuming, from the origin of the beef they’re eating to the exact calorie content of the margarita they’re sipping. This intensifying interest in food and beverage health, coupled with increasing pressure for regulation on menu labeling, means that restaurants will have to start disclosing information about the calories, fat and salt that goes into their food. At the same time, restaurants will continue highlighting their use of local, natural and wholesome ingredients to bolster health perceptions of their food and drink.

5. The new tech connection: The rapid emergence of smartphones has opened a new door through which operators can reach their target audience. Today’s consumer gravitates toward what’s quick and easy, and operators have adapted their practices to provide convenient restaurant tools available at the touch of a finger. Apps, social-media pages and daily deals are just the beginning. Look for restaurants to begin adopting more cutting-edge technologies–such as location-based platforms like Foursquare and near-field communication payment services–to develop even deeper connections with their guests.

6. Format flexibility: Independents and chains alike are taking their concepts down new avenues to better reach today’s consumer. Convenience is now a critical component in the overall eating-out value equation, and operators will create added convenience with new and innovative dining venues. More operators will embrace new concept models ranging from food trucks and high-tech urban prototypes to fast-casual and scaled-down offshoots of full-service eateries. These flexible venues will help operators immerse themselves in high-traffic areas and bring the concept closer to the consumer.

View the full article on CNW Telbec

Poultry has room for growth on breakfast menus and for snacking occasions

September 26, 2011

Canadian consumers recently polled by Technomic say they eat chicken more frequently than any other type of meat. Yet despite this high rate of consumption, consumers indicate that opportunities still exist for new poultry applications during breakfast or for snacking occasions.  

Younger consumers are the most likely to look for chicken on the breakfast menu, with twenty one percent saying they eat chicken for breakfast at least once per week compared to just nine percent of all chicken consumers. Nearly a quarter of consumers eat chicken as a snack at least once a week.

“Poultry is a very versatile protein that can be positioned in a number of ways for different day parts,” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. “We’ve seen an increase in the number of turkey items on breakfast menus, and also some high-profile additions of chicken items positioned as snacks.”

To help food industry professionals stay abreast of current issues and evolving consumer need-states in the poultry category, Technomic has developed the Canadian Center of the Plate: Poultry Consumer Trend Report.

Findings include:

  • For poultry, attributes related to fat and sodium content resonate most strongly with consumers as an indicator of healthfulness, and call-outs related to natural processing—especially those that state a lack of additives such as steroids or hormones—are most likely to increase consumer price thresholds.
  • Humane animal treatment and environmentally sound practices are of increasing importance to consumers, with more than 50 percent indicating both of those items as important to them.
  • Both limited-and full-service restaurants have increased their use of turkey on the breakfast menu since 2008, positioning turkey sausage and bacon as a lighter, more healthful alternative to pork.

Canadian casual dining chains could benefit from additional lunch options

September 26, 2011

A new study by Technomic finds that nearly one third of Canadian consumers say they would visit traditional or upscale casual-dining restaurants for lunch more often if their meal could be served in 30 minutes or less.

Technomic EVP Darren Tristano says the survey points to strong opportunities for Canadian chains. “Canadian operators are in a great position to drive lunchtime traffic by offering flexible lunch options, or perhaps by simply making consumers aware of options they don’t yet know are available. The casual dining marketplace is not as saturated in Canada as it is in the U.S, so chains that are able to position themselves well in this day part could really develop an advantage.”

To help operators and manufacturers stay on top of casual-dining trends and evolving consumer needs, Technomic has developed the Future of Casual Dining: Canadian Consumer Trend Report.

Interesting findings include:

  • About a quarter of consumers say they visit traditional casual-dining restaurants once a week or more.
  • Four of five consumers who say they have been patronizing specific locations based on promotional offers as a way to cut back at traditional and upscale casual-dining restaurants indicate they will continue doing so even after a fully realized economic recovery.
  • Consumers expect continuous innovation at casual-dining chains, with more than two in five upscale casual-dining customers and one in three consumers who visit traditional casual-dining restaurants indicating it is very important that these locations offer menu items and limited time offers featuring new and unique flavours.

Canada’s Top 200 restaurant chains improve results, face continued challenges

September 26, 2011

The Top 200 Canadian Restaurant Chains, which account for over $25 billion and nearly 60 percent of the Canadian commercial restaurant industry’s total sales, experienced a $741 million, or 3 percent increase in sales in 2010. While that number is an improvement over 2009, it does reflect an industry still operating in a difficult economic environment. Unit growth was modest, with the net addition of 73 new restaurants, down from 290 net new units in 2009.  

“The industry is continuing to grow. But looking at a breakdown within the Top 200 chains we see that just less than half had positive growth, while 86 of the Top 200 chains experienced declining sales,” says Technomic EVP Darren Tristano. “The key for operators is to understand where that growth is occurring and implement lessons learned throughout the industry into their own business models.”

To help those aligned with the Canadian foodservice industry stay abreast of opportunities and trends, Technomic has teamed with Kostuch Media to release the Top 200 Canadian Chain Restaurant Report.

Findings include:

  • Tim Horton’s continued to lead the Canadian foodservice industry in terms of both sales and units. McDonald’s and Subway both outpaced Tim Horton’s sales growth, but came in second and third respectively in terms of total sales.
  • Of the Top 200 chains, 91 experienced growth in 2010. A total of 17 chains grew at a rate greater than 20 percent, 14 grew between 10 and 20 percent, and 60 chains grew between 0 and 9 percent. 23 chains had sales that were flat from 2009 to 2010.
  • New entrants into the Top 200 include a broad variety of restaurants. Midscale family style restaurants, limited service, fast casual and traditional casual dining chains are all represented by new entrants into the Top 200.