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R&IEditorial Archives2005February 1 — R&I Insider

Sweet Retreats
Pastry chefs from Los Angeles to Atlantic City are opting out of others’ kitchens in favor of their own sweet retreats. Can America’s sweet tooth sustain the wave of dessert-driven concepts?

“I don’t think you ever know when you’re ready; you just do it,” says Mindy Segal, who spent the last five years as pastry chef at mk in Chicago, of her February debut, HOTCHOCOLATE. In addition to desserts, the casual spot’s menu includes appetizers, sandwiches and seasonal entrées and sides at dinner.

Self-taught baker Steve Himelfarb followed a different path to his 5-month-old New Orleans Cake Cafe & Bakery. He opened the specialty shop—selling light lunch fare as well as slices of fresh cake, cupcakes, tarts and other desserts—after years of baking chocolate cakes and selling them door-to-door for $3 a slice.

Other fresh-from-the-oven, dessert-themed eateries include:

  • Brlée: The Dessert Experience, part of a $280 million expansion of Atlantic City’s Tropicana Casino and Resort, opened in November 2004 with Tavern on the Green and Four Seasons San Francisco alum Jemal Edwards at the helm.
  • Almondine, an October 2004 debut from Hervé Poussot, former pastry chef at Le Bernardin and Windows on the World in New York City, and Jacques Torres, owner of Jacques Torres Chocolate Haven across the street. Fresh-baked organic breads join a lineup of French and American pastries.
  • Angel Food Bakery (r.), Chicago, where Stephanie Samuels specializes in plays on familiar treats such as Twinkies, whoopie pies and s’mores. Ultra-rich European-style hot chocolate also is a draw. Samuels, ex-pastry chef at Erwin Dreschler’s Metropolis and a food stylist, also sells custom cakes, pastries and cookies.
  • Jean-Philippe Pâtisserie in Las Vegas’ Bellagio Hotel & Casino’s new Spa Tower bears the name and showcases the talents of the resort’s executive pastry chef, Jean-Philippe Maury.
  • Riding on the Rim
    America’s devotion to quick-service restaurants is mere puppy love compared to the adoration shown in many Asian countries, and McDonald’s is the No. 1 object of affection. Schaumburg, Ill.-based ACNielsen’s research finds that while 35% of Americans say they enjoy a QSR meal at least once a week, consumption ranges from 41% in China to 50% in Singapore and 59% in Malaysia, topping off at 61% in Hong Kong. Not all those meal occasions happen at U.S.-owned brands, but McDonald’s (above) is the top choice (international or local) of 64% of Asian QSR diners polled by ACNielsen (versus 54% of Americans and 75% of Europeans).

    Dinner is the most-popular QSR occasion in most countries, although takeout breakfasts prove especially strong in Thailand, Hong Kong and Malaysia (where 71% of QSR aficionados say they like to start their days there). Only 12% of Asian consumers polled say they never opt for a takeout meal, versus 18% of Europeans (with Danish, Swedish and Italian diners most resistant to QSRs).

    Ivy Idea

    University of Georgia Food Services (Ivy ’95) solicits recipes from parents in its annual “Taste of Home” event. The 17-year-old tradition brings in hundreds of recipes, says J. Michael Floyd, department head at the Athens campus. More than 100 recipes are served on a special day in the dining commons; parents with featured recipes receive a commemorative plate and a 6,000-serving-size version of their recipe. The best dishes from the event are incorporated into UGA’s menus. “We encourage parents to strive for a collection of four plates to honor their children’s academic enrollment,” Floyd says.

    Menu Focus
    A bounty of proteins of any sort—plus veggies and a healthy helping of heat— served atop pasta or rice, defines jambalaya, the Creole staple that has entered the culinary mainstream.

    Andouille sausage, prawns, chicken, bay shrimp, ground beef, tomato, jalapeos and red-pepper flakes with linguini

    Magnolia’s Southern Cuisine:
    Chunks of spicy andouille sausage, chicken, shrimp, oysters and crawfish tossed with rice and served with mixed vegetables

    Kirkwood Community College:
    Shrimp jambalaya

    Judson College:
    Chicken jambalaya

    Mimi’s Cafe:
    Chicken breast, shrimp, Cajun sausage and pork loin in Creole tomato and vegetable broth atop penne pasta (r.)
    Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza: Jambalaya pizza with Cajun chicken, mozzarella and Cheddar cheeses, shrimp, sausage, green peppers and spicy tomato sauce topped with diced tomatoes
    Red Star Tavern: Shrimp, chicken and andouille sausage in spicy Creole sauce with rice
    California Pizza Kitchen: Blackened chicken and shrimp in a spicy Jambalaya sauce with crawfish, andouille sausage and tasso ham served on linguini

    Comings and Goings
    A variety of reasons—disappointing 2004 results, ownership changes or personal decisions to move on to other challenges—has resulted in executive changes at some of the industry’s most visible brands. Atlanta-based Church’s Chicken, the third-largest chicken chain, sold in December by AFC Enterprises for $390 million to Crescent Capital Investments, is being directed by new CEO Harshavardhan Agadi. Most recently a consultant but earlier president and COO of Little Caesars, Agadi succeeds Hala Moddelmog, who left after the Church’s sale was announced.

    Jean Birch (r.), president of Corner Bakery Cafe since 2003, has assumed the presidency of another of Dallas-based Brinker International’s brands, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, following the resignation of John Miller. Birch earlier worked on Yum! Brands’ Taco Bell and Pizza Hut concepts.

    Madison, Ga.-based Avado Brands, which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in February 2004, brought in former Bertucci’s president-COO Rick Barbrick as CEO last fall. He’ll build his own management team following the resignation of Robert Andreottola, president of Avado’s Don Pablo’s and Hops Grillhouse & Brewery chains.

    Larry Johns left Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based Cousins Submarines after little more than a year as president. John Pryor succeeds him while Co-founder Bill Specht continues as CEO. Also ending a one-year tenure was CEO Rod McDonald of The Colony, Texas-based Pizza Inn. He resumed his previous position as secretary and general counsel with the naming of Robert Page as CEO. Page has held executive posts with Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant, Romacorp and Pizza Hut franchisee NPC International.

    Thoroughly Modern
    New York City’s Union Square Hospitality Group (USHG), operator of fine-dining fixtures such as Gramercy Tavern and Union Square Cafe, has taken an artful turn, taking on foodservice operations at the recently renovated Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). Drawing 8,000 to 10,000 visitors daily since reopening in November, MoMA’s new foodservice options range from quick-service cafes to the casual Bar Room and more formal The Modern restaurant.

    Gabriel Kreuther—previously executive chef at Atelier in The Ritz-Carlton New York, Central Park—created a small-plates menu influenced by his Alsatian heritage for the 100-seat Bar Room (r.), while The Modern’s 85-seat dining room’s prix-fixe dinner and la carte lunch menus go upscale, “making them different experiences for diners,” says Ana Marie Mormando, USHG managing director for MoMA operations. Intended as a destination even for nonmuseum-goers, The Modern also has a separate street entrance.

    Funding from the Danish Design Project helped procure Danish furniture (including some pieces in MoMA’s collection) and tableware for The Modern. Staff uniforms were specially commissioned for the two restaurants.

    Consumer Beat: Is Low-Carb Kaput?
    Low-carb diets gave foodservice operators and food marketers something to talk about with consumers in 2004, but the conversation may be running out of steam. New York City-based researcher Datamonitor USA reports that U.S. food companies introduced 3,375 low- or no-carb products in 2004, a huge increase from 633 the previous year, and many restaurants scrambled to cut carbs in menu items as well.

    But how many diners in 2005 will opt for lettuce-wrapped burgers such as Carl’s Jr.’s low-carb version of its Six Dollar Burger (r.)? Indications are low-carb mania is ebbing, but not necessarily wasting away. Port Washington, N.Y.-based NPD Group says its research found 9.1% of consumers saying they were on Atkins or a similar low-carb diet in January 2004. By November that figure was reduced to 3.6%.

    Cambridge, Mass.-based Opinion Dynamics Corp. suggests that foodservice venues needn’t chuck all their low-carb options just yet. Yes, their research shows the percent of consumers saying they follow a low-carb diet was 11% in January 2004 before declining to 8% in October, but true believers are holding fast: The 9% describing themselves in October as very likely to be on a low-carb diet in two years was only slightly less than March’s 10%. Additionally, 51% of those who fell off the low-carb bandwagon say they intend to climb back on in the next two years.

    Table Turns
    Don Yamauchi (earlier at Le Francais in Wheeling, Ill.) replaces Takashi Yagihashi as executive chef at Tribute in Farmington Hills, Mich. Yagihashi will join Chef Eric Klein (alumnus of Los Angeles’ Maple Drive and Spago Beverly Hills) in opening restaurants (a Japanese concept and a steakhouse, respectively) in the Wynn Las Vegas resort, scheduled to open in April. ... Chef Gregory Short (formerly of Loft at Montage Resort & Spa, Laguna Beach, Calif.) succeeds Richard Reddington as executive chef at Masa’s, San Francisco. ... Chef-owner Lenny Robinson (Anis, Mosaic) opened Les Fleurs de Lis Café in downtown Atlanta. ... Restaurateur Johnny Vinczencz welcomes Chef Dwayne Adams and Pastry Chef Malka Espinel to Johnny V, Fort Lauderdale, Fla. ... Stephen Anderson (alum of Red Lobster and Harvey Hotel Corp.) is new vice president for menu and culinary innovation for Nashville, Tenn.-based chain Logan’s Roadhouse. ... Clay Conley has taken over as chef de cuisine at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental, Miami. ... Restaurateur Brian Matzkow opened Sapa in New York City with Patricia Yeo (r.), formerly of the city’s AZ, as executive chef. ... Chef-partner Kevin McCarthy, former owner of Armadillo Café, Davie, Fla., opened KM at The Grapevine, Plantation, Fla. ... British-born Executive Chef Robert Gadsby, creator of Noé Restaurant at the Omni Los Angeles Hotel, opens Noé Resaurant & Bar (previously La Reserve) in Houston’s Omni Hotel. ... Sommelier Gregory Castells, formerly of Le Bec-Fin, Philadelphia, replaces Christophe Rolland as sommelier at Bastide, Los Angeles. ... Executive Chef Peter Ferroe (alumnus of Court of Two Sisters restaurant) takes over the kitchen at newly renovated Living Room Steak and Lobster House, New Orleans.

    Rock and Roll
    Reality television’s notion that a top-to-bottom makeover can solve any problem is no stranger in the restaurant world. Cary, N.C.-based Bear Rock Cafe hopes that its recently launched metamorphosis will spark a much-needed turnaround. Riding high on the success of the growing, 6-year-old bakery-cafe, President and CEO Gary Bryant told R&I in August 2003 that the then-18-unit chain would add 10 more units that year and open 25 to 35 more in 2004. But the company’s unit count is now just 33, and plans call for a lower target of 20 new stores this year.

    According to a recent report in The (Raleigh, N.C.) News & Observer, Bear Rock franchisees attribute problems to the chain’s difficulty in standardizing stores, expanding on schedule and turning profits. With a $2 million injection of private equity funds, the company reportedly is taking several actions, including the December naming of new COO Clyde Harrington, a 25-year industry veteran; hiring culinary consultants to make over the menu; and working with a design firm on décor and branding efforts. Bear Rock also will put programs in place to better manage inventory, decrease purchasing prices and automate supply and labor-cost analysis for franchisees.

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