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R&IEditorial Archives2000 — June 15 — Special Report

Seven people who are shaping the future of foodservice.

Moving into the second half of an event-filled year, it is clear that the pace of change and innovation will not slow.

Certain, too, is the industry’s determination to meet both change and challenge head-on. The individuals profiled here are confronting issues and molding business strategies in ways that determine the foodservice industry’s agenda far beyond the remainder of this year. Their ideas and ambitions merit attention; their successes or failures will have continuing impact.


  • President, Berman & Co., Washington, D.C.

Richard “Rick” Berman advocates a guilt-free environment. When the Washington, D.C.-based lawyer speaks through the Guest Choice Network newsletter or Web site, more than 30,000 operators chorus “right on.”

The 57-year-old lawyer and president of a public affairs firm that specializes in strategic research and communication created Guest Choice Network, a 4-year-old coalition of 30,000 restaurant and tavern owners, to connect operators and the public. Berman says consumers and operators must stand up against the food cops, health-care enforcers, bureaucrats and other naysayers who “know what’s best for you.’’

“Fat kills” and other alarmist messages intimidate people, says Berman, who believes, instead, that people should be able to smoke, eat red meat and enjoy a drink at lunch. He opposes the use of taxpayer dollars to restrict personal choice and influence behavior.

He also takes issue with groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving, labor unions, the Center for Science in the Public Interest and others. When MADD advocates jailing people who drink two glasses of wine and then drive home, Berman takes exception. When a Yale University professor supports a tax on high-calorie foods, Berman objects. No consumer needs to feel embarrassed or uncomfortable when ordering french fries, he says.

Guest Choice Network debunks messages by high-profile individuals such as CSPI founder Michael Jacobson: “When he issues a warning, he exaggerates in order to get media attention.’’

He urges operators and hospitality executives who “hope to be in business four years or more ... to anticipate changes in how government shapes policy. The demographics of an aging boomer generation plus a country that is growing in ethnic diversity will impact federal policy.”

As the second-largest employer in the country, the restaurant industry certainly will be affected, Berman says, adding that operators need to take a stand on taxes, Social Security and other issues before it is too late.

Before Berman started his firm in Washington, D.C., in 1986, he worked for 12 years with the Pillsbury Restaurant Group in Dallas. Another position at Dallas-based Steak & Ale provided experience in human resources and public affairs. Before that, he practiced labor and corporate law in the steel and automotive industries.

Berman urges operators to network to make changes and to promote freedom of choice. “It’s hard to do alone,’’ he says. “But if you put the big thinkers [in the hospitality industry] into play, you leverage power.’’


  • Chairwoman, National Restaurant Association, Washington, D.C.

Denise Marie Fugo, the newly elected chairwoman of the National Restaurant Association, knows she has only 11 months to make a difference. Unfazed, she’ll climb that Everest the way she lives life. With gusto, drive and humor. “I take one thing at a time,’’ says the wife, mother and CEO of a catering/ foodservice business in Cleveland.

Highly organized and able to focus, Fugo manages to add business trips and speaking engagements to her workweek even as she operates a foodservice business and raises three daughters. Being married to someone as equally disciplined is a bonus.

Years of volunteering on civic boards and business groups in Cleveland sharpened her talent for listening, negotiating and making decisions. Creating a restaurant business then retooling the concept to fit a changing urban scene in Cleveland gave her an insider’s perspective on operator problems.

As chairwoman, Fugo wants to see membership rise from 40,000 to 100,000 over three years. To attract and retain members, she insists that NRA services be more accessible, especially to small business owners. One way to accomplish this will be to capitalize on the power and reach of the Internet to show operators what the NRA can provide. The little guy can’t afford to do market research on consumer trends or hire an artist to redesign a logo or menu or pick legal brains about negotiating a lease. “But we can,’’ she says.

To overcome the labor shortage, the NRA and operators need to expand the role of unit managers and look for tomorrow’s leaders and role models in middle management, Fugo says. She also maintains that the industry needs to foster more programs that expose elementary and high school students to the challenges and benefits of a career in hospitality, and that colleges, universities and graduate schools need to be tapped for talent. Additionally, the diversity of consumers must be reflected in the labor force, she says.

After graduating with a degree in communications and behavioral science from Ohio University in Athens, Fugo went to New York City as the first female intern at Goldman Sachs in 1970. After marriage, she and her husband moved to Chicago where she earned a masters degree in business administration from the University of Chicago and worked in investments. With $40,000 profit from their rehabbed house, they returned to Cleveland and, in 1980, hatched Sammy’s at a time when nightclubs, coat-and-tie-style dining and raw bars were unheard of. Sammy’s recently reinvented itself as a banquet/catering/contract foodservice business.

Ralph DiOrio shares his wife’s talent for organization. “We don’t really have a social life, except for some home entertaining. All we do is work and raise kids,’’ he says.


  • Vice President, Marketing and Creative Services, Sodexho Marriott Services, Gaithersburg, Md.

Lisa Larsen Hill is the face behind Crossroads Cuisine, Marriott Corporate Food Services’ trend-setting food station concept that brought a whole new measuring stick to corporate foodservice.

Once again, Larsen Hill, 43, is poised to direct and shape the way corporate foodservice operates. She and her team have put their signature spin on a program that’s being rolled out to 1,300 of Sodexho Marriott’s 2,000 B&I accounts: I:Cuisines, a Web-based application gives Sodexho Marriott corporate accounts turnkey Web pages that can be customized as the operator sees fit. “It’s all tailored to the unit,” she says. “Customers can log on to see what’s for lunch in the cafeteria that day, put in catering orders, give online comments to the manager.”

Sodexho Marriott has put considerable muscle behind making sure I:Cuisines flies. The company has invested heavily in concept development, hiring a full-time Web master to support and expand the system, and employing a separate server to ensure client security.

In her new position with Sodexho Marriott as vice president of marketing and creative services, Larsen Hill plans to take full advantage of the Internet for the marketing staff as well as for operators.

“My team will be putting programs on the Web, creating search engines for sales people and operators that share best practices, catering menus, comments, business/marketing plans and more from accounts around the country. It’ll be an interactive, lively approach.”

Larsen Hill is constantly on the lookout for new ideas. “The challenge is always, what do we do next? How do we make people excited again?” she says.

“You can’t sit still. For example, we’ve rolled out new Crossroads decors, called ‘A Fresh Approach.’ Operators who want to update the look of their cafeterias can choose from three new looks: bistro, contemporary or classic. [Success is] a matter of constant reinvention.”

Larsen Hill’s path to I:Cuisines and Crossroads has taken her through Marriott Corporate Food Services as director of marketing. Before that she served as vice president of operations and sales at Bon Appetit Management Co., and got her start in marketing with USA Hosts as director of sales. She holds a degree in communications and broadcasting from San Francisco State University.

Still, none of her success has happened in a vacuum—behind Larsen Hill is a talented team. “You can have all the creativity in the world, but without the right people behind you [to make it happen], it’s nothing.”


  • Chef/owner, Kinkead’s; President, Council of Independent Restaurants of America,Washington, D.C.

Robert Kinkead Jr. is on a mission. He wants consumers, whose palates he believes have been numbed by excessive exposure to chain-concept fare, to rediscover the joy of dining in independent restaurants. His message is simple: “Independents are an important fiber in the fabric of America. They reflect the identity of the country’s regions, cities, towns, and people through the food they serve. Chains are about money.”

Kinkead feels so strongly about the chain restaurant phenomenon that he founded the Council of Independent Restaurants of America to spread the word of independents’ significance—and superiority. The 6-month-old association has 250 members.

Although Kinkead’s busy schedule—he is chef and owner of Kinkead’s, one of Washington, D.C.’s most highly touted restaurants—necessitated that he hire an outside firm to run CIRA, Kinkead remains very much in charge. As the group’s president, he travels around the country as CIRA’s representative to meet with independent operators in targeted cities such as Atlanta, Milwaukee and Seattle and to discuss issues specific to their areas.

Kinkead already has identified potential solutions to major problems: establish regional job banks to ease the difficulty of finding qualified restaurant employees, set up buying cooperatives that allow independents to compete with chain purchasing power, and buy advertising at group rates.

Kinkead’s ties to the independent tradition go back to his high school and college days when he worked in restaurants in his native New England. A self-trained chef, he was minority partner and chef at 21 Federal in Nantucket, Mass., and later in Washington, D.C. In 1993, Kinkead opened his namesake restaurant in the nation’s capital.

Good food is his passion, but he also knows that a restaurant is a business, not just a labor of love. And business knowledge is one area where owners of independents often fall short, says Kinkead. To rectify the situation, he often lectures at culinary schools on business practices and expects CIRA to eventually take on the role of educator.

“We have to get smarter about the business end of things because that’s where the chains thrive,” he says.


  • Director, The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, Napa, Calif.

Enlightenment hit Peggy Loar months after she started her new job. She realized her 26-year career in arts and museum administration was a dress rehearsal for what she considers her dream job.

As director of The American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, a $70 million project under construction in Napa, Calif. she draws on every skill and talent that made her a success in the art world and museum administration.

Her decisions on how to showcase America’s contribution in food, wine and arts ultimately will shape how America, and the world, understands and values that heritage.

The center is the dream of winemaker Robert Mondavi, who seeded the effort with $20 million.

A 52-year-old native of Cincinnati, Loar moved to Napa in May 1997 from Miami, where she served since 1987 as founding president and director of the Wolfsonian Museum and Research Center with sites in Miami and Genoa, Italy. Previously, she spent eight years as director of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Services and was director for the Institute of Museums Services, Washington, D.C., a federal agency that provides money for American museums.

Efforts to raise $50 million by the time the Center for Wine, Food and the Arts opens for Thanksgiving 2001 are on track, she says. She chose Thanksgiving, because “the holiday is a uniquely American festival that uses the rituals of the table to celebrate the interplay of cultures and ties between people and earth.’’

The center will be a platform and forum for visiting chefs and cooks, artists, theatrical performances, scholars, exhibits and social programs. “The celebration of food and wine is more than just a good time,’’ she says. “It is a source of insight into our past, present and future and a powerful way to address issues such as hunger, poverty and global food issues.’’


  • Chief Executive Officer, Burger King Corp., Miami

The past several months have been characterized by extremes for Burger King Corp., and not simply because of its recent introduction of a topping-intensive X-treme Double Cheeseburger. Since the beginning of the year, the chain has had to contend with the need to replace several top executives; the bankruptcy of its primary national food and supplies distributor; a revolt by some franchisees, who are unhappy with an upcoming increase in franchise royalties and want the chain bought back from parent Grand Metropolitan plc; and the accidental deaths of at least two children who choked on parts of its Pokémon kids meals toys.

And as it scurried to plug those holes in the dike, the other two members of the Big 3 burger chains have made competitive advances at Burger King’s expense.

Any one of those scenarios would be a daunting corporate challenge. Together they presage an extremely difficult year ahead for Dennis Malamatinas, Burger King’s 43-year-old chief executive. Grand Met transferred Malamatinas from the presidency of its distilled-spirits unit a little more than two years ago, when Miami-based Burger King’s market position was less shaky. How well Malamatinas can restore stability to the burger giant will test his personal managerial skills as well as the overall strength of the quick-service marketplace.

The task falls squarely on Malamatinas’s shoulders since the January resignation of North American Division President Paul Clayton, who assumed the chief executive’s post at Jamba Juice. Malamatinas has taken direct control of North American operations while seeking Clayton’s successor.

Of all the crises, distributor Ameri-Serve’s filing for bankruptcy protection and reorganization in March might put Burger King at the most risk, says Mark Kalinowski, restaurant research analyst with Salomon Smith Barney, New York. Burger King is shifting 5,700 North American units to other distributors by July 15, and has experienced disruptions in deliveries as it makes the switch, Kalinowski says.

Malamatinas, who declined to be interviewed for this story, assured operators at its recent franchisee convention that he has a “clear strategy for moving the brand forward” that includes enhanced equipment (such as a redesigned kitchen layout) and technology, plus what he called “a ruthless focus” on increasing new-product development and improving marketing.

New television advertising already has begun airing, with “Got the urge?” as its new tagline. Malamatinas clearly has the urge to transform the Burger King system. The question is how quickly he can get it done.


  • Senior Vice President, U.S. Menu Management/New Concepts Officer, McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill.

Tom Ryan is big on the word innovation. That’s good since expectations are high for Ryan who recently assumed the role of senior vice president of U.S. menu management/new concepts officer for McDonald’s.

At McDonald’s headquarters in Oak Brook, Ill., Ryan prefers to surround himself “with active imaginations and people with a passion for food.” “Doing things in the marketplace that no one else has had success with before” also qualifies as innovative, says Ryan. Consider McSalad. There is nothing new about salad, but shaking it in a travel-friendly cup to neatly distribute the dressing is different. But even that new twist is too limiting.

For Ryan, innovation is the umbrella that covers all aspects of creating a menu item, from concept to marketplace. Ryan has implemented a new mode of operation at McDonalds, one he has followed for nine years. (Before joining McDonald’s three years ago, he was a product development executive at Long John Silver and has had experience in marketing and management at Pillsbury and Pizza Hut.)

He uses teams—or “strategic business units”—comprised of people from marketing, operations, advertising, food technology, culinary, market research and finance. They brainstorm, seek opinions from consumers and study other segments, from other quick-service concepts and grocery stores to fine dining and casual family eating.

As they study food trends, the teams are hearing a clear demand from consumers for more robust flavors. “There is a growing tendency to accept and crave increasingly robust flavors—some may be ethnic and some not. We are covering all those bases that are appropriate for the brand,” Ryan says.

To wit, the company is testing in various markets burgers with jalapeo jack cheese, barbecue bacon, hickory-smoked bacon and Louisiana hot sauce mayonnaise. An Asian chicken sandwich with toasted sesame bun and red chiles also is being sampled. “We’ve got more stuff in the pipeline than we ever have had, but I’m not going to tell you what they are,” Ryan says.

Certainly, ideas aren’t developed only behind the office door. “My personal lifestyle has a major revolving emphasis for food,” Ryan says.

Vacations are food-centered and Ryan has a custom of inviting other couples to indulge in four-day weekends eating five-square meals a day.

“It’s a major part of what makes me tick,” he says.

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