My QuickPicks
Register now to activate

Contents At A Glance

R&I ? Editorial Archives ? 2004 ? July 1 ? Special Report
Top 400 Table of Contents

Top 400 Snapshots

Jack in the Box
While a great deal of industry attention properly has gone to McDonald?s turnaround last year, no other chain has done more to rethink and reposition itself than has Jack in the Box. It kicked off 2003 with its acquisition of Qdoba Mexican Grill and followed that with a series of moves to refine and upgrade the Jack in the Box concept. One was the opening of its 70,000-square-foot Innovation Center, housing test kitchens, consumer-research rooms and more. The management team was strengthened with the promotion of Linda Lang to president and COO from executive vice president overseeing marketing and operations.

Chairman and CEO Robert Nugent?s ?brand-reinvention initiative? is on display in two San Diego locations. The two JBX test units (named after the company?s stock ticker symbol) differ from standard stores in décor and service style?both of which are more upscale?as well as in name.

While those tests continue, Jack in the Box has introduced a variety of menu items that go well beyond the burger-category norm. The most recent is the Southwest Chicken Pita (r.), combining fajita-style chicken slices, black beans and roasted corn, with salsa on the side. Other introductions have been a feta-cheese-laced Greek salad, and Pannidos, with deli meats and cheeses in foot-long ciabatta baguettes.

Culinary innovation never stops at IHOP. But don?t expect surprise changes on the menu at the 1,165-unit chain. Everything on the 125-to-140-item menu is benchmarked and supported by months of consumer research, says Patrick Lenow, director of communications. ?The menu is designed to balance familiar foods with an element of surprise,?? he says.

One example is the chain?s Super Stacker, introduced in 2003. These sandwiches combine popular proteins (steak, chicken and turkey) with vegetable fillings (sautéed onions and peppers), cheese and breads spread with flavorful dressings such as ranch or honey mustard. ?We?re driven by customers? tastes. We can?t get too far out,?? says Lenow.

The chain earns customer loyalty with 47 years? dedication to the breakfast daypart. While pancakes remain king, one item, Stuffed French Toast, introduced in 2003, has developed a faithful following. The dish (r.) consists of cinnamon raisin bread, stuffed with sweetened cream cheese, dipped in batter, grilled and topped with fruit and whipped cream. A limited-time item, it originally was menued for only eight weeks last year to whet appetites and earn repeat visits. But consumer research and focus groups convinced IHOP to add the French toast to the core menu. ?It ranked with stuffed crêpes as most popular item in the limited-offerings category in 2003,?? says Lenow. ?Customers even order it for dessert. It?s that indulgent.??

Boston Market
Fast-casual pioneer Boston Market is launching a lineup of quality- and business-building initiatives in a quest to regain the momentum of its heyday in the early 1990s. Among the notable additions: seasonal menus and nightly dinner specials, both traditionally found at more-upscale casual or fine-dining restaurants.

Available from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m., dinner specials include such offerings as grilled mango chicken and North Atlantic baked cod; fire-roasted tomato bisque and strawberry shortcake are among seasonal menu selections. Boston Market restaurants in Houston continue tests of additional items such as roast sirloin, toasted gourmet sandwiches and for the first time in the company?s history, separate lunch and dinner menus.

?Through our research, consumers told us that even though they love traditional Boston Market favorites, they wanted new tastes?menu items that are more provocative and special,? says Mike Andres, president and CEO.

In a bid to boost customer convenience, the chain is testing home delivery in four Eastern markets and will launch holiday sales of whole, cooked turkeys and bone-in, spiral-sliced hams beginning in November. Boston Market also is testing branded deli products in two supermarket chains.

El Pollo Loco
Out to prove it is the ?master of the flame,? El Pollo Loco has found just the man for the job. Tall, dark and handsome, a spokesman known only as El Caliente (Spanish for ?the hot one?) holds court over a fiery grill in the company?s new television spots. Emphasizing the quick-service chain?s signature grilled citrus-marinated chicken, he proclaims, ?Women want to dine with me, and men want to grill like me.?

The new campaign seeks to bring the concept a personality that leverages its Mexican flavor profile, says Chief Marketing Officer Karen Eadon. ?As a smaller brand, we have to make our media dollars work harder. People see these commercials once and remember them,? she says.

In its May debut, the first television spot introduced El Caliente behind the grill, with flames responding to his every command. The commercial promoted El Pollo Loco?s limited-time offer of a free Mexican Caesar salad with the purchase of an 8-, 10- or 12-piece meal. Sixty-second radio spots will complement the mainly television-focused campaign, which also launches the company?s new tagline, ?Taste the Fire.?

Old Chicago
Rock Bottom Restaurants? only franchised concept (its Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery units are company owned), Old Chicago hadn?t signed many franchise deals over the past few years. That now has changed, with the concept revving its expansion engine and planning to add 100 locations by 2008 (versus 10 Rock Bottom units). Franchised stores report higher average sales volumes than do company locations, which is ?energizing the whole company to keep up, and that?s good,? says Buck Warfield, Rock Bottom?s senior vice president for development. He describes Old Chicago?s positioning as ?a well-scrubbed neighborhood joint,? with an $8.54 (food only) average check that niches nicely between fast-casual and casual-dining competitors.

A recently opened Old Chicago unit in Eden Prairie, Minn., (r.) is the look and size of the concept?s future, Warfield says. At about 6,400 square feet, it is smaller than most Old Chicagos, but its 280 seats are about the same. Pizza continues to be the concept?s mainstay, but other sections of the menu have been revamped with an eye to competitors. Chili?s menu was the model for new sandwich and burger offerings, T.G.I. Friday?s for appetizers, though with added twists all Old Chicago?s own, Warfield says.

Max & Erma's
Bob Davis keeps secrets. The executive chef of Max & Erma?s, Columbus, Ohio, refuses to divulge formulas but he teases about recipes. When asked about the chain?s new 16-ingredient barbecue sauce, the professional research chef reveals he uses four varieties of peppercorns. ?I researched the taste by sampling at regional and national barbecue cook-offs. Ours is Memphis-style but with a sweet heat. It lingers in the mouth.? The zing in the fruit for strawberry shortcake comes from maceration. ?The liquid is alcohol-free,? he says, ?because we?re a family restaurant.?

With a background in product development and test-kitchen management, Davis approaches menus with fun as well as healthful dining in mind, and with a reverence for classic cooking techniques. ?I?m a chef first, not a nutritionist,? he says. Items earmarked for dieters (low fat, low carb) have appropriate nutritional information. Sandwiches are served with salad sides, not french fries. But the fryer does turn out wicked onion rings made with the chain?s ?secret batter.?

Davis? latest sandwich offering is a variation on the classic Italian salad, Calabrese, a mix of fresh tomato, fresh basil, mozzarella and vinaigrette that is served on a ciabatta roll. ?My cooking is about freshness,? he says, citing the fresh mint garnish on Max & Erma?s strawberry shortcake.

Pollo Tropical
Revenue growth hasn?t been a problem for Pollo Tropical?systemwide sales have jumped 63% since 1999?but the chain?s menu had been static for several years. Half and quarter chickens marinated in a blend of tropical fruit juices, spices and herbs and then grilled are its core product; others include roast pork, ribs and side dishes such as plantains, yucca with garlic sauce and black beans. Where it traditionally wasn?t strong was in sandwiches.

That changed in March when the 19-year-old chain?a subsidiary of Carrols Corp. (which also owns Taco Cabana and is a major Burger King franchisee)?introduced a line of sandwiches (r.) at its 50 South Florida units. The Tropical Grilled Chicken Sandwich includes two chicken breasts prepared with a marinade that includes pepperdew, a sweet and spicy South African pepper. The grilled chicken is served on a toasted baguette. A Grilled Chicken Caesar Sandwich also piles two chicken breasts on a baguette, along with a special house Caesar dressing. For pork lovers, the Roast Pork Tropical Sandwich includes a sweet, house-made barbeque. Each sandwich menus at $4.69.

Palm Restaurant
Aggressive growth may not be on the menu for Palm Restaurants, but the high-end steakhouse chain will dish up a meaty new addition this fall. The company is opening its 30th location at the Tropicana Casino and Resort in Atlantic City, N.J., as part of a new $245 million dining, entertainment, retail and spa complex.

Palm Management Corp. President and Chief Operating Officer Fred Thimm compares the opportunity to the potential Las Vegas held before the city became a top dining destination.

?Wolfgang Puck?s Spago and Palm were among the first world-class restaurants in Las Vegas. People said to us then, ?Why would somebody pay $60 for a lobster when they can get it free at a buffet?? We thought there was a percentage of people who wanted quality. Now people say the same thing about Atlantic City,? he says.

Dubbed The Quarter at Tropicana, the completed complex will create in one property the largest indoor dining, entertainment, retail and spa complex in Atlantic City. Palm?s 8,000-square-foot restaurant will seat about 250, including private dining space for 100 guests.

Once the project is complete, the company will set its sights on the opposite coast: Palm plans to open in San Diego in 2005.

Old Spaghetti Factory
In a typical Old Spaghetti Factory restaurant, every inch of the average unit?s 9,500 square feet is precious. That?s why the chain is watching the impact of a new pantry system installed in three units. The pantry occupies 100 square feet and employs one designated worker. It functions to increase efficiency for servers by freeing them from such chores as assembling salads, filling bread/butter orders and plating desserts.

?The pantry system allows servers to spend more time in the dining room with guests,?? says Chris Hein, vice president of marketing. The chain is evaluating the system and may add pantries to future units or existing ones depending on space.

Pantry staffers scoop and refreeze ice cream portions, prepare salad dressings, thaw and rotate dessert stock and assist cooks with food prep. The L-shaped station in the Vancouver, Wash., unit comes outfitted with refrigerated drawers, a line counter and bank of three freezers. ?Servers like the system,?? says Bill Roller, general manager of the 325-seat restaurant. ?They can handle an extra table. It also improves portion control. One person is responsible, not 16 servers.??

Sirloin Stockade
In 1966, Tom Ford became the first dishwasher hired at Sirloin Stockade?s flagship restaurant in Oklahoma City. Since then, his responsibilities have expanded just a bit: In January, the longtime shareholder, director and franchisee, along with three other company veterans, formed Stockade Cos. LLC to purchase the chain for an undisclosed amount. Ford, now president and CEO, heads an ownership team that includes Terry Harstad, chief operating officer; Steve Schmidt, chief financial officer; and Doug Freiling, chief financial officer for Ford?s franchise company, T. Ford Enterprises.

Their company oversees not only 78 Sirloin Stockade units but also seven Coyote Canyon restaurants and 16 Montana Mike?s locations. All three concepts remain in expansion mode, Harstad says, but management views mountain-lodge-themed, casual-dining chain Montana Mike?s as Stockade Cos.? main growth vehicle.

?We continue to have very strong results with our buffet brands, but ... it takes a relatively sizeable market to keep one of those as a viable, ongoing entity,? Harstad says. ?With Montana Mike?s, we have a little more flexibility in the market. We have the ability to go into small-town America, middle America and metropolitan markets.?

Green Mill Restaurant and Bar
For its first four decades, the Green Mill was the single soda fountain/restaurant Myron Roth opened at the corner of Hamline and Grand avenues in St. Paul, Minn. Chow mein for a nickel was the menu draw. Since Chris Bangs (now the chain?s CEO) and two other college students bought it in 1975, Green Mill Restaurant and Bar has grown to 34 full-service units throughout the Midwest plus six kiosks in supermarkets. Last year, Bangs and President Todd King took the brand into a new channel, putting Green Mill-branded salad dressings and wing and barbecue sauces on grocery shelves throughout the Twin Cities.

Thirteen of its units are attached to hotels, including a franchised restaurant adjacent to a Hampton Inn that opened earlier this year in Bemidji, Minn. Overlooking a lake, the restaurant offers dockside delivery service. But lodging adjacencies have lost their luster with the hotel industry?s decline in the past several years, says King. Future expansion will be directed to free-standing and end-cap sites in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. With real-estate costs rising and the company eyeing smaller communities for growth, a downsized prototype?4,700 square feet versus the current average 6,000?is under consideration. Also on the agenda are programs to boost bar business at existing units. These include remodels and the rollout of touch-screen games for bar patrons.

Manhattan Bagel Co.
Creating an atmosphere that encourages guests to linger over expanded menu offerings (and boost check averages) is driving change at New World Restaurant Group. The company?s Manhattan Bagel Co. concept is expected to morph into a new fast-casual brand, Manhattan Bakery Café, that will offer longer hours of operation and a menu that includes soups, salads, desserts and coffee drinks. Updating existing bagel stores will take years, says David Ammons, vice president of marketing. The company offers four redesign modules to accommodate space constraints and varied budgets.

The revamped bakery/cafe design is in response to customer demand for more fresh items, a more-comfortable atmosphere and greater convenience. The first unit, opened in Bucks County, Pa., in May, operates from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., seven days a week. It captures a wider audience by staying open three hours longer than most Manhattan Bagel stores. An expanded line of hot and cold sandwiches on eight breads, plus new breakfast items, such as egg sandwiches, wraps and specialty baked goods will appeal to a broader audience, he says. ?Revitalizing the Manhattan Bagel brand is part of a corporate initiative to revitalize all brands,?? says Ammons. ?It?s a planned evolution around our baking heritage.??

Daily Grill
For every guest comment he receives about food at the Daily Grill restaurants, Bob Spivak reads three that have to do with service. ?Service is really how people are judging us today,? says Spivak, president and CEO of the traditional American chain?s parent company, Grill Concepts Inc. That?s why the 15-year-old concept recently stepped up training programs for all employees. For managers, training has expanded from six to eight weeks with added focus on how to manage in the 21st century. Spivak says the program emphasizes a counseling rather than dictatorial style in order to create a positive environment with open communication.

For front- and back-of-house hourly employees, training now takes two weeks instead of one, with increased recipe and menu concentration and more job shadowing of other positions. Selling?opposed to order taking?is a key focal point for servers. ?The seven dreaded words a server can open up with are, ?May I get you something to drink?? instead of ?It?s really warm out today. How about some fresh-squeezed lemonade?? or ?We offer three cabernets by the glass. Would you like to try one??? Spivak says. ?I?m not talking about selling just for the sake of improving check averages, but rather to let guests know what?s available.?

BD's Mongolian Barbeque
Billy Downs, founder and name-behind-the-initials of BD?s Mongolian Barbeque, is carefully managing the 12-year-old chain?s concept. He hosts an annual Brand Camp for unit managers and vendors to ensure that the guest experience is the same at each restaurant. That?s especially important with BD?s service style: guests choose meat, seafood or vegetables from a buffet-style display for their stir-fried-to-order entrée. Servers are trained to suggest proven combinations or help with customization while keeping the process upbeat and fun.

With plans to add seven new units this year, expanding even further beyond its Ferndale, Mich., base, Downs also knows that seasoned executive counsel will help keep the company from growing faster than it can manage. That?s one reason Downs last month tapped Deborah Fratrik to join the company as chief operating officer. Fratrik previously served as vice president for operations, innovation and training for Metromedia Restaurant Group in Plano, Texas. Earlier, she was a Denver-based division president for Golden Corral. Fratrik says she looks forward to guiding BD?s ?from a regional power to national recognition.?

What most drives growth at Fatburger are the focus and vision of Keith Warlick, the chain?s president and CEO. ?We?re right on schedule for sustained growth,? he says. The 59-unit chain has received signed agreements for more than 250 new franchised restaurants. ?That?s $3 million each, nonrefundable,? says Warlick.

The company reshuffled management recently and added marketing, training and recruitment specialists. ?We?re focused on finding the right people to grow the brand,? says Warlick. ?I?d rather open one restaurant a year with people who knows what they?re doing, instead of crashing and burning the way some operators do.?

Warlick believes in training and customer service. Each franchisee attends an eight-week session at the chain?s headquarters that includes hands-on experience in local units, weekly quizzes and a final exam that covers everything from flipping burgers to cleaning tables. ?This isn?t the movies or professional basketball. This is the restaurant business,? he says. ?Key to our success are great location, food and service. We?re not in a rush. We want to get it right the first time.?

Frullati Cafe & Bakery
Scottsdale, Ariz.-based Kahala Corp. quietly has been amassing an impressive array of concepts and becoming a major player in nontraditional sites such as malls, airports and noncommercial operations. In 2001 the holding company netted bankrupt chicken concept Ranch *1, following that last year with the addition of fledgling Asian concept Samurai Sam?s Teriyaki Grill and 386-unit Mexican chain Taco Time. Earlier this year it made another move, purchasing the 255-store Great Steak & Potato Co. chain. These join a brand portfolio that also includes juice chain Surf City Squeeze, sandwich concept Rollerz and Frullati Cafe & Bakery.

How Kahala has nurtured Frullati is indicative of its strategic game plan. Initially a smoothies concept, Frullati has been given a broader menu to increase its appeal. Grilled sandwiches such as the Frullati Fantastico (marinated chicken breast, tomato, sliced red onion, ranch-style dressing and pepper Jack cheese on grilled focaccia), cold sandwiches on sourdough rolls, nine-grain bread, croissant or sliced focaccia, and hot soups are menued. The wider menu has made Frullati attractive beyond malls. One franchised unit operates within Denton Regional Medical Center in North Dallas; a corporate store is in the Tex Ins Activity Center on Texas Instruments? Dallas headquarters campus.

You may also like...
Percolating Profits
- November 1, 2005
2004 Ivy Awards: Ristorante Caterina de Medici
- May 15, 2004
2004 Forecast - Agenda Watch
- January 1, 2004
Fresh, Fast, Flavorful
- September 15, 2003
Interace: Tim Ryan
- August 1, 2003
Institutional Giants: Best Practices
- September 15, 2002
Institutional Giants
- October 15, 2001
Melting Pot?
- May 1, 2001
Net Working
- April 15, 2001
Urban Lure
- September 1, 2000
Copyright© 1999-2006 Reed Business Information, a division of
The Reed Business logo, Restaurants & Institutions, R&I, Chain Leader, Foodservice Equipment & Supplies and FE&S are registered trademarks. All rights reserved.
Use of this web site is subject to its Terms and Conditions of Use. View our Privacy Policy. .