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R&IEditorial Archives2003November 1 — Food for Thought

An offer too good to resist

Maintaining customer relations paid off when Philadelphia-based Aramark Corp. announced the expansion of its contract with The Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City. Their relationship dates to 1982 when the contractor was awarded linen and laundry service responsibilities. The new five-year contract includes foodservice as well.

Though the hospital had used other contractors in the past, it has been self-operated for the past five years following Mount Sinai’s merger (now terminated) with New York University Hospital, according to Phyllis Schnepf, senior vice president of hospital operations. Aramark will manage patient food and nutrition services and retail food operations as well as patient transportation for the 1,171-bed facility and campus (below). It also will help rebuild the main kitchen to include cook-chill operations. “Aramark’s proposal was very comprehensive,’’ says Schnepf. “It was the right thing to do in terms of value. They will manage approximately $25 million in annual expenses.’’

Aramark already has scored positive results with a redesign of the hospital’s The Plaza Cafeteria. The operation went from a scattered design to a marketplace concept with independent cooking stations and retail outlets. Since the makeover, sales have jumped 50%, she says. All work was completed over Labor Day weekend. “We worked through the third shift. We never closed,’’ Schnepf adds.

Service counts: A study of quick-service customers by Greenwich, Conn.-based NFO World- Group found that prompt, personalized service is more valued than promotions or rewards. Reasonable wait times also are important, but patrons are willing to wait longer for freshly prepared meals.

A little help from his friends

Banking on the philosophy that it’s not just what you know but who you know, Compass Group North America has enlisted restaurateur and entrepreneur extraordinaire Phil Romano for an exclusive partnership designed to spread the company’s reach across the United States, particularly in the Southwest.

Romano, creator of such well-known concepts as Fuddruckers and Romano’s Macaroni Grill, will act primarily as a liaison between the Charlotte, N.C.-based contract-foodservice giant and potential business contacts in and around his Dallas home base. “I know a lot of people here and have a lot of connections in the industry—universities, major companies, arenas, stadiums,” Romano says. “Compass has a lot of neat deals and brands they own that could be beneficial for a lot of people down here.”

Duration of the partnership is open-ended, and Romano will remain at the helm of his own company, Romano Concepts, which owns and operates Dallas restaurants Nick & Sam’s Steakhouse and Who’s Who Burgers. He also directs a charity group, Hunger Busters.

Duck appeals on more than one front. Depending on the part of the bird and how it’s prepared, diners are in store for varied and delightful experiences.

Anthem: Crispy-skinned duck confit with arugula salad and cranberry beans
Meritage: Duet of New York foie gras and duck confit with syrah-elderberry essence

Pili.Pili: Roast duck apicius (honey, Roman spices, turnips, squash and apple purée)
West Town Tavern: Duck-leg confit, mashed parsnips, caramelized shallots and thyme

Lucques: Grilled duck breast with baked ricotta, warm figs, speck (bacon) and dandelion salad

Cesca: House-made potato gnocchi, braised duck and crisp garlic
Marseille & Kemia Bar: Roasted duck breast, duck confit, shiitake mushrooms and baby spinach

Lewis University: Grilled breast of muscovy duck with wild-mushroom sauce, seasonal risotto and baby vegetables

Bern’s Steak House: Crisp roasted duck with guava-orange-macadamia sauce or green-peppercorn sauce

Bangkok Joe’s: Roasted duck with chrysanthemum-cinnamon sauce
Equinox: Breast of muscovy duck, black mission figs, young spinach and banyuls bird jus

Good-time Charlie

Charlie Trotter has taken on new challenges in an environment markedly different from his Chicago home with the creation of C, a new restaurant in the One&Only Palmilla resort in San Jose del Cabo on Mexico’s Baja Peninsula. The 152-guest-room property, owned by Nassau-based Kerzner International Ltd., has undergone an $80 million remodeling. The restaurant is set for a soft opening at Christmas before the resort’s formal reopening in February.

The C menu will differ from that at Charlie Trotter’s, “lighter but still fun and interesting” while emphasizing seafood “with Mexican and Caribbean overtones,” he says. In the resort setting, “people won’t want to sit for a three- or four-hour meal.” Special tasting menus will be created for the chef’s and wine-room tables. Room service will be handled from a kitchen separate from but adjacent to C’s and will offer the same style cuisine along with a few traditional hotel offerings such as a children’s pasta and burgers, “but with a twist,” Trotter says.

Guillermo Tellez, a longtime chef and consultant with Trotter in Chicago, will be chef de cuisine at the Palmilla operation.

The Culinary Institute of America will use the largest single gift from individuals to create a 32,500-square-foot landscaped plaza on its Hyde Park, N.Y., campus. The $4.6 million gift from William Anton and his wife, Patricia Miller Anton—founder-chairman and president-CEO, respectively, of Washington, D.C.-based foodservice contractor Anton Airfood Inc.—also will allow construction of a much-needed, two-tier parking structure below Anton Plaza.

“Patricia and I have been very blessed by this industry,” says William Anton. “We wanted to give something back, and what better way is there than [to contribute to] the CIA, which has done so much to upgrade the image of our people and to make this a real profession that is becoming an honored profession.”

When completed, the plaza, overlooking the Hudson River, will provide a central gathering place for CIA students and faculty as well as a venue for hosting special events.

William Anton is vice chairman of the CIA’s board of trustees; Patricia Miller Anton serves as a member of the corporation.

Something cooking in the kitchen

Taking advantage of the continued fragmentation of the casual-dining and quick-service segments, veteran restaurateur Paul Fleming seeks to slide a third concept between his upscale-casual P.F. Chang’s China Bistro and fast-casual Pei Wei Asian Diner concepts. Fleming (above) will co-develop a new Asian-themed restaurant, Paul Lee’s Chinese Kitchen, in a 50-50 venture with Tampa, Fla.-based Outback Steakhouse Inc.

Positioned as a casual, suburban restaurant, Paul Lee’s will offer a dinner-only menu of traditional Chinese dishes. The company aims for a $14 check average, a figure lower than the average at P.F. Chang’s but higher than Pei Wei’s. A curbside takeout program will be a key focus for the concept.

Greg Carey, former chief operating officer for P.F. Chang’s and a development partner in Pei Wei, will serve as president of the new brand. Locations for Paul Lee’s are yet to be determined, but Outback spokeswoman Stephanie Amberg confirmed that eight leases were being negotiated at press time.

Fleming and Outback have a similar partnership to expand his Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar concept, which operates 20 units in 13 states.

Ivy idea

The newest of five facilities to be completed as part of Middlebury College’s (Ivy ’99) Commons Initiative, Ross Commons is the Middlebury, Vt., college’s first residential dining hall to have a display kitchen. Students enjoy the open-kitchen policy, says Associate Director of Dining Services Matthew Biette, and now there is even more opportunity for interaction with faculty and staff. “Everything’s out front,” he says. “Food is made for our customers right in front of their eyes.”

East, west, and northwest

Students returning to Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., this fall found University Dining Services rebranded as “nuCuisine,” a unified campus-wide foodservice program boasting expanded menus and services. Research among students, faculty and staff revealed negative connotations for the dining services department’s previous formal name and found strong interest in international cuisines, says Paul Komelasky, district manager for Gaitherburg, Md.-based contractor Sodexho USA.

Nutrition, quality, innovation and expertise are hallmarks of nuCuisine, Komelasky says. Using Marco Polo’s travels as the concept’s culinary guide, the Savoy all-you-can-eat cafe in Allison Hall showcases Northern European foods, while Silk Road in the Foster-Walker complex serves Asian specialties.

Other dining venues offer international specials as well. A visiting-chef program will introduce students first to Indian cuisine (which ranked second to Chinese in student interest) and later to North African, Middle Eastern and other influences. Facilities across campus have been expanded or remodeled (with several adding extended hours) as part of the nuCuisine program, Komelasky says, and the number of executive chefs (all with commercial-restaurant experience) has risen to six from the previous two.

The nuCuisine program was created to fit Northwestern’s needs, not only because one in five students is from outside the United States but also because “Evanston has 90 restaurants and just about any ethnic cuisine you can name. We needed to compete, to look at campus dining as a city within a city,” Komelasky explains.

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

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