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R&IEditorial Archives2003April 15 — Food for Thought

Milwaukee Independents Link Up

Unchain the brain and support independent foodservice operators. Thats the message 25 restaurateurs in Milwaukee are communicating to local customers. To bolster sales and awareness of independent restaurants, members of Milwaukee Originals, a three-year-old chapter of the Council of

Independent Restaurants of America (CIRA), are running full-page ads and buying radio spots to promote their Savor Local Flavor campaign.

The aim of the ads and of CIRA is to enhance the visibility of independent restaurants, which are overshadowed and overspent by chains.

Joe Bartolotta, chef-owner of three restaurants, including Mr. Bs Bartolotta Steakhouse (l.), claims support for independent restaurants strengthens the city.

Were part of the community, he says. Money spent in our operations stays here. People see us at charity events and recognize our faces. You dont get that with chains,he contends.

McGlinchey points to the collective buying power of chains and their ability to purchase supplies at lower costs. Such clout enables chains to sustain financial losses longer than can most independents. The resulting loss of smaller operations such as ethnic eateries, neighborhood barbecue spots and mom-and-pop delis eventually drains a citys culinary and cultural diversity, he says.

Were passionate about people, not just numbers.

Menu Focus

The quest for bold flavor enhancers doesnt have to lead to Thai chiles or Japanese wasabi. A root herb grown in many parts of the United States, horseradish packs eye-popping punch on a growing number of menus.

Thyme: Tomato and mozzarella salad with balsamic vinegar, fresh horseradish and watercress

Brasserie Vert: Chilled filet mignon with horseradish potato salad

University of Wisconsin: Rack of lamb with gin-and-horseradish demi-glace

Subway: Horseradish Steak & Cheese Sub
Wildfire: Filet mignon wrapped in bacon, with horseradish crust

Brix Restaurant: Grilled filet mignon with roasted garlic-potato purée, baby vegetables and horseradish-oxtail sauce

535: Turkey and avocado on baguette with horseradish mustard and tomato

Boston Colleges Hillside Cafe: BC Beef Wrap with roast beef, horseradish spread, mixed greens, Swiss cheese, diced tomatoes and red onions on flatbread

Union Square Grill: Pulled-pork sandwich on ciabatta with horseradish coleslaw and chipotle barbecue sauce

An(other) American Place

Chef-restaurateur Larry Forgiones An American Place restaurant has been reborn at a new address: inside retailer Lord & Taylors Fifth Avenue flagship store in New York City. Located on the fifth floor, the restaurants latest incarnation (its most recent one, in the citys Benjamin Hotel, closed last year) opens with a sleek, art deco entrance leading to a limestone-and-marble dining room. The décor, designed by Lord & Taylor Creative Director Manoel Renha, features a soft palette of natural earth tones including ivory, tan and beige. Banquettes lining the walls and granite-top tables of four provide seating for 100.

Forgiones menu reflects the farm-fresh, seasonal, all-American foods for which he is known. It offers main-course salads, specialty luncheon entrées, American flatbread pizzas and a selection of light desserts.

Next month, Forgione will open a second restaurant inside the vast department store. The more-casual, sixth-floor Signature Cafe will serve soup, salads, sandwiches and gelati.

Obesity Fights Maine Event

Maine has offered itself as a battleground on which to wrangle over solutions to the nations rising obesity rates. State Rep. Sean Faircloth (D-Bangor) recently introduced a five-bill legislative package, components of which would require restaurant chains with more than 20 units to post nutrition information in their units and also ban sales in schools of soft drinks and snack foods with eight or more grams of fat per serving.

Lobbying Maine legislators in support of the bills has been the Center for Science in the Public Interest; working to defeat the proposals are the National Restaurant Association and the Center for Consumer Freedom. All three organizations are based in Washington, D.C. Similar legislation requiring posting of nutrition breakdowns has been introduced in the New York State legislature.

Oak Brook, Ill.-based Mc-Donalds Corp. responded to the debate by launching a new online tool. Its .com Web site allows consumers to select up to five menu items and calculate calories, grams of fat and other meal data. The site also can make menu recommendations within provided calorie or fat limitations.

IVY Idea

The University of Iowas Memorial Union (Ivy 93) holds a contest to select the theme for its final luncheon of the academic year. The winner helps create the menu and assists chefs. Greg Black, foodservice director at the Iowa City campus, says the competition is so popular, guests come across the Iowa River to participate. Last years theme, the game Monopoly, featured dishes such as Marvin Gardens Salad, Park Place Peas and Onions, and Boardwalk Bourbon Pecan Pie. Menu cards resembled the games properties and tables sported Monopoly money.

Reaching the Apex

Irving, Texas-based Apex Restaurant Group LP moved from obscurity to the ranks of the largest restaurant holding companies following its deal to acquire the Ponderosa, Bonanza and Steak and Ale brands from Metromedia Restaurant Group of Plano, Texas. Metromedia said it wanted to focus attention its 305-unit Bennigans Irish American Grill & Tavern concept (l.).

Apex has been managing operations for three casual-dining chainsHarrigans Chophouse Grill, Left at Albuquerque and Semolinabut we wanted to move to the ownership side and do it with an acquisition with some clout, says Clayton Dover, Apex vice president of marketing. The three Metromedia conceptswith combined annual sales of more than $800 millionwere appealing because they are established brands with experienced management and solid franchisee groups, he said.

Doug Barber, president of Metromedia Family Steakhouses, and Bill Spae, president of Steak and Ale, will join Apex when the acquisition is completed. No purchase price was disclosed.

In a separate management move, John Dasburg resigned as chairman of Burger King Corp. in Miami to join Chicago-based cargo airline DHL Airways as its chairman and CEO. Brad Blum continues as Burger King CEO; Robert Nilsen is president.

Steins Next Chapter

Depressed consumer spending, higher labor costs, frigid weather and construction delays challenge the most seasoned operators. Neil Stein is no exception. The Philadelphia-based restaurateur recently filed for Chapter 11 protection under the Federal Bankruptcy Act for three of his four restaurants. Striped Bass, Avenue B and Rouge will remain in operation while Stein reorganizes; Bleu at the Sheraton Rittenhouse Square Hotel was not included in the filing.

Stein, an outspoken leader in revitalizing Philadelphias downtown, has no intention of leaving the business, according to Kelly Croce, spokeswoman for Steins Meal Ticket Restaurants. He faces $1.5 million in city and state tax liens and judgements for delinquent business, liquor and employee taxes. Croce says the threat of losing liquor licenses gave Stein no choice but to file.

Factors behind the filing include losing $1 million in the now-defunct Fishmarket in 2001, losses due to the premature opening of Avenue B in September 2000, and construction delays in the opening of neighboring The Kimmel Center for Performing Arts, which reduced the traffic Stein had anticipated.

Filing Chapter 11 allows indebted businesses to stay in operation for a time while repaying debts, according to Stein lawyer Aris T. Karalis, who insists the operator will be on sound financial footing within six months.

Separately, Minneapolis-area restaurateur Phil Roberts closed his Girarrosto Toscano restaurant in Eden Prairie, Minn., opened little more than a year ago.

Contributors: Scott Hume, Allison Perlik, Margaret Sheridan, Laura Yee.

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