Americans are returning to one of life's simple pleasures—dining out.
From Brinker International Inc. to McDonald's Corp. to Starbucks Corp., restaurant chains are serving more customers. That's boosting bottom lines and increasing confidence that the worst is firmly in the rear-view mirror.
"Consumers are more confident today, dramatically more confident today then they were especially one year ago," Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc. co-Chief Executive Montgomery Moran said on a conference call Wednesday. "It looks like the consumer is out spending again."
Chipotle's first-quarter profit rose 49%, with sales up 16% from a year earlier, including new restaurants, and increased customer visits. Former parent McDonald's posted a first-quarter earnings gain of 11% on revenue that rose 10%, with U.S. sales pitching in with a 1.5% gain over a year ago. Starbucks said more customers were coming through its doors for the first time in more than two years, pushing up sales at stores open a year by 7% over last year.
Panera Bread Co. this week said it expects to report first quarter sales at company-owned stores open at least a year rose 10%. It also lifted its forecast for company-owned restaurants this year to between a 6.5% and 7.5% comparable sales gain.r to between a 6.5% and 7.5% comparable-sales gain.
Jeremy Karlin, an attorney in Galesburg, Ill., said he and his wife have been dining out less frequently, and favoring "more economical" restaurants when they do go out. "We can justify ordering what we want because we go out less," he said.
Sales at quick-serve and family-style restaurants open at least a year have been up four of the past six weeks, research firm NPD Group reported, something that hasn't happened in 11 months. Still, the firm expects the industry will remain weak for the next seven months.
Restaurants haven't been able to raise prices. Instead, they have developed new, lower-cost items or reduced costs by substituting lower-priced ingredients in their recipes.
McDonald's Chief Executive Jim Skinner said Wednesday that he doesn't expect to achieve sales gains by raising prices, given weak jobs creation. "I don't believe that the spending levels are going to get back to pre-recession," Mr. Skinner said, "until people have some confidence over the fact that they're going to have a place to go to work and put food on the table at home or away from home."
At Yum Brands Inc., owner of KFC and Pizza Hut, lower prices have become a way of life. First-quarter sales at Pizza Hut were driven by a successful promotion, said CEO David Novak. "We were simply too expensive and now we're working on ways to sustain this value," he told analysts last week.
Chipotle finance chief John Hartung said the restaurant hasn't had any menu price rises "for over a year," and while he expects food and labor costs to creep up this year, "I think we'll be patient before we rush into any price increase," he added.
Consumer food prices were up only 0.2% last month even as producer prices rose 2.4%. That means restaurants aren't passing along their higher costs.
Ben Rhodes, who runs Club 41 in St. Augustine, Ill., said his March and April business rose about 7% compared with last year after "a pretty slow winter." Diners "seem to be a little more budget aware" these days, he said. "Midpriced steaks, like sirloins and flat irons, are pulling customers off of filets and T-bones," Mr. Rhodes said.
Still, higher beef prices are a concern. "I'm nervous about raising prices right now. All that said, I'm optimistic about the year," he added.
The septuagenarian servers at Sam's Grill on Bush Street are notoriously gruff, but one of them drops the act after Tyler Florence orders the Hangtown Fry.
"Hey, you're the guy on television, ain't you?"
Months later, when Florence strolls into the Financial District's crowded Barbacco during the Friday lunch swarm, heads swivel and fingers actually point at the celebrity chef. Florence is immediately greeted by owner Umberto Gibin.
"Thank you for the flowers, sir," says Gibin. "They were lovely."
Florence, you see, sent congratulatory flowers to Barbacco after its big three-star review.
The cherubic-faced Food Network star has been a common sight in the Financial District lately, and as Barbacco's bouquet can attest, he is doing his best to fit in with his neighbors as he prepares to unveil his first restaurant, Wayfare Tavern, in June.
It will be housed in the former Rubicon, one of San Francisco's most storied restaurants and once upon a time a breeding ground for some of the city's best chefs. As if that isn't enough, Florence is also opening two more restaurants - El Paseo in Mill Valley and a rotisserie shop in Napa - soon thereafter.
For the Marin resident, it makes perfect sense.
"If you ask parents if it's easier to have triplets or have a kid every two years, they'd say having triplets is easier, because you do everything at one time," he explains.
Now 39 years old, Florence is entering his 15th year on the Food Network. His latest show - a cross-country race called "Food Truck Wars" - starts filming this week. But as evidenced by the burn scars on his forearms, he spent years in New York kitchens before fame arrived. More than a decade later, he's ready to make a splashy return to the restaurant game.
He's picked a doozy for his flagship; 558 Sacramento St. has long been one of the city's most revered spaces, best known for its reign as Rubicon under mega-restaurateur Drew Nieporent. Florence is reinventing it as a gathering place inspired by the city's Barbary Coast era.
A working fireplace topped with a stuffed mammal head is slated for the ground floor, just past the raw bar and open kitchen. The second floor will feature a billiards room; in the adjacent alley, Florence plans a beer garden. There's a lot going on.
"We're doing three restaurants between now and August. For me, it's really just the next level of growth," he says.
That enterprising mentality seems to define him. During the aforementioned Barbacco lunch, where his shiny new iPad also gets its share of stares, Florence takes phone calls, casually tossing about six-figure dollar amounts between bites of risotto.
What do you do? Later, when asked how he describes his job to his children, he has a frank answer.
"I'm a businessman. And I love food."
Florence isn't a chef by any typical definition: He's an entrepreneur who lists moguls like Ralph Lauren and Martha Stewart alongside chefs Charlie Palmer and Tom Colicchio as his role models. He's taken his brand to unprecedented places: organic baby food, a $4.99 iPhone app and, in October, his own wine label. Oh, and the guy has 181,000 followers on Twitter.
"The food community expects their chefs to be poor, little humble guys that hunt mushrooms by the third moonlight of the third full moon of the month," he muses. "I've set myself up to have a vertically integrated, multitiered company."
Then there's Applebee's. In 2006, Florence became the face of the chain, quickly opening the floodgates of criticism (and jokes) from industry cohorts who saw the endorsement as a sellout. That said, the ends might have justified the means.
$3 million "I wouldn't be here now if it wasn't for that opportunity," which, he says, netted him nearly $3 million.
Though he's unsure if he would do it again, the Applebee's money made the next steps possible in the midst of a recession: a house in Marin, a retail shop and, eventually, a restaurant empire. Soon he will replicate the Napa rotisserie shop across America, with a second location already scheduled for SFO's new terminal and leases looming at several high-profile malls.
So what's the endgame?
"I want to have a winery up in Sonoma where my wife and I can just kick back, play with our grandchildren and watch the grapes grow," he says. "And I'm starting that process now."
It's not going to be easy. Yes, there will be epic crowds on day one at Wayfare Tavern. Neighborly flowers aside, there will also be reviews, Yelpers and a city wary of the cult of the celebrity chef.
But Florence doesn't seem worried.
"Everything I've done in my entire life boils down to this moment. You know, it's really my game to lose."
Rest assured, San Francisco will be watching.
Eating at Tyler's Tyler Florence plans to open the following restaurants this summer:
Wayfare Tavern: 588 Sacramento St., San Francisco.
El Paseo: 17 Throckmorton, Mill Valley.
Tyler Florence Rotisserie & Wine: 710-740 Main St., Napa.
Read more: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/04/22/DD951D10JV.DTL&type=food#ixzz0lwkYH6yu
TEN years ago, Matthew Beason’s duties as a restaurant manager here included driving to the airport to retrieve a weekly shipment of duck confit and pâté from New York.
“We couldn’t even buy anything like that around here,” said Mr. Beason, who went on to open Six Plates Wine Bar, now one of many ambitious restaurants around Durham. “Now, virtually every place in town makes its own.”
Of the rivalrous cities that make up the so-called Research Triangle — Chapel Hill, Raleigh and Durham — Durham 10 years ago was the unkempt sibling: scruffy and aging.
“There was no one on the street at night, just the smell of tobacco drying in the warehouses,” Mr. Beason said.
Now, a drive around town might yield the smell of clams from the coastal town of Snead’s Ferry, steaming in white wine, mustard and shallots at Piedmont restaurant; pungent spice and sweet fennel from the “lamby joe” sandwich at Six Plates; and seared mushrooms and fresh asparagus turned in a pan with spring garlic at Watts Grocery.
The vast brick buildings still roll through the city center, emblazoned with ads for Lucky Strike and Bull Durham cigarettes. They are being repurposed as art studios, biotechnology laboratories and radio stations.
More important for food lovers, hundreds of outlying acres of rich Piedmont soil have “transitioned” from tobacco, and now sprout peas, strawberries, fennel, artichokes and lettuce. Animals also thrive in the gentle climate, giving chefs access to local milk, cheese, eggs, pigs, chickens, quail, lambs and rabbits.
“You can see the change, just driving from here to the coast,” two hours away, said Amy Tornquist, the chef and an owner of Watts Grocery, a restaurant near the Duke campus. Ms. Tornquist, 44, has lived in the area all her life. “You never saw sheep when I was young, you never saw cattle in the fields — it was all tobacco all the time,” she said. Ms. Tornquist’s restaurant isn’t blatantly farm to fork: it’s simply a given in Durham these days.
“One of our farmers said that at this point, it would make more sense for us to list the things on the menu that aren’t local,” said Drew Brown, a chef-owner of Piedmont, a restaurant a few steps from Durham’s farmer’s market and right next door to the city’s public herb garden.
Spring is just blowing into the Triangle, bringing strawberries, mushrooms and the first Sugar Snack carrots and small white turnips. “We’re raising things I never would have dreamed of,” said Michael Brinkley, a farmer whose family farm in nearby Creedmoor produced up to 60 acres of tobacco until about five years ago, when the Brinkleys shifted entirely to produce.
There are still plenty of good places for a barbecue plate, excellent French bistros like Vin Rouge and Rue Cler, and some white-tablecloth dining rooms, both traditional and modern.
But the most intriguing cooks here have a few things in common: an understanding of how to give a menu a sense of place; a true love of pork and greens in all their forms; and a lack of interest in linens and glassware. Watts Grocery, for example, looks like an upscale sports bar, but it tastes like a Southern-artisanal Union Square Cafe.
“In the old days, people would have to get out of here to really learn about food,” said Matt Neal, the owner of Neal’s Deli in Carrboro, near Chapel Hill, where he grew up.
These days, a chef here is made by learning all the ways to cook cornmeal and butcher hogs, not by taking a Grand Tour of Europe followed by hotel school in Switzerland.
Tanya Catolos, the pastry chef at the formal Washington Duke Inn in Durham, moonlights at the city’s farmer’s market, selling handmade “Pop’t-Arts” filled with Nutella or jam from a vintage Airstream trailer. “You can be very playful with food around here” she said. “People really get it now.” (She’ll be making local-rhubarb ones soon.)
The food at Neal’s Deli is resolutely everyday and American — like breakfast biscuits stuffed with egg and sausage — but the eggs are steamed tender with a touch of pepper and parsley, and the wide, crisp biscuits are mixed from high-fat local buttermilk and organic flour from a nearby mill that’s been held by the same family for nine generations. The sausage patty is from Cane Creek Farm in Alamance County, where Eliza MacLean, an owner of the farm and a former veterinarian, advises farmers across the state on the transition from tobacco to pork. Every bit of that care comes through in the flavor of the finished product, a stunning bargain at $3.25.
Mr. Neal prides himself on high-quality, low-brow food, like a house-made porchetta sandwich with spinach and pickled peppers, served with a bag of Zapp’s potato chips from Louisiana. “I honestly do not know how to make a soufflé,” said Mr. Neal, whose father, Bill Neal, was the founding chef of Crook’s Corner and La Residence in Chapel Hill and one of the most famous chefs in the South until his death in 1991.
Bill Neal, his son added hastily, certainly did know how to make a soufflé. “But soufflés are not what I want to cook,” he said.
What Mr. Neal and others like him do want to cook are full-flavored versions of the food they learned at their parents’ elbows, and in influential local kitchens like Crook’s Corner, Nana’s and Magnolia Grill, where many of them polished their craft. The tender cornmeal butter cakes at Watts Grocery are like a combination of a French financier and Southern spoon bread; at Six Plates, the slick-sounding sautéed crawfish on red pepper polenta with tomato broth is a take on shrimp and grits, the Carolina coastal classic.
Mr. Brinkley, the farmer, says that his family’s farm, and many others, might not have made it through the loss of the tobacco cash crop without the lucky coincidence of the rise in the local food movement. Now, chefs compete over his lady peas, pink-eyed peas and butternut squash — a relatively exotic vegetable here, he said, where the sweet potato was once the king of the winter table.
Then again, “We’re also working hours I never would have dreamed of,” he said, adding that raising such diverse crops and marketing them has more than doubled his workload. He makes weekly appearances at the Durham farmer’s market. Mr. Brown, of Piedmont, said that the farmers there are treated like rock stars, that dogs and babies abound and that hipsters mingle with hippies.
As Mr. Brinkley said, “It’s a lot different from dropping off your tobacco at the station and picking up your check.”
By JULIA MOSKIN
On many weeknights last year, in the depths of the recession, Tursi’s Latin King restaurant in Des Moines closed one of its three dining rooms and pared its kitchen to a skeleton crew.
Now, all three rooms are open on most nights, and the kitchen is busy again.
“These last couple of months are a lot better than they were last year,” said Robert James Tursi, whose family owns the restaurant, an upscale establishment that specializes in steaks and Italian food. Food sales were about 10 percent higher in February and March than they were during the same months a year ago, he said.
Restaurants all over the country are beginning to see signs of a potential recovery after a dismal 2009. Sales at some restaurants have risen in the last few months, and the industry has hired thousands of additional workers.
“There’s no question about this,” said Harry Balzer, chief industry analyst at the NPD Group, a market research firm that tracks sales at 47 restaurant chains with a total of 103,000 outlets. “There’s a recovery going on.”
Mr. Balzer said that March sales at restaurants open for at least a year were up 1 percent compared with March of last year. While that might not seem like much, it broke a string of 10 months of negative sales. He cautioned that while the sales trends were uneven across the industry, almost half the chains he tracks — mostly fast-food and family dining restaurants like Denny’s — had begun showing gains.
Still, many restaurant owners and executives said they expected the rebound to be slow and halting.
“Right now, we’re starting to see a few more people come in,” said Larry Reinstein, chief executive of Fresh City, a chain that sells sandwiches, salads, burritos and stir fry dishes at 18 outlets in the Northeast. But he quickly added, “The typical consumer is still cautious of what they’re spending.”
Echoing other industry executives, Mr. Reinstein said that as long as overall unemployment remained high, restaurants would struggle.
John S. Glass, an analyst with Morgan Stanley, said the uptick in restaurant sales paralleled recent gains in retail sales, which also had been hailed as a sign of returning consumer confidence.
“Going out to eat is an emotional decision, not a considered purchase,” Mr. Glass said. “It’s not like thinking about a new car or an appliance. It’s, ‘I feel better, let’s go out and treat ourselves.’ It’s probably a combination of the end of a long winter and the end of a long recession.”
And for the entire restaurant industry, the recession has been long indeed.
Total industry sales were down 2.9 percent last year in inflation-adjusted terms, according to Hudson Riehle, senior vice president for research at the National Restaurant Association. The year before they fell 1.2 percent. The association predicts a third year of decline this year, although the projected drop is just 0.1 percent. Mr. Riehle said that the industry had never before experienced even two consecutive years of real sales declines, making the current contraction unprecedented.
But now, restaurant owners are clearly feeling optimistic enough to do some hiring. In the first three months of 2010, the restaurant and food service industry added 42,500 jobs, adjusted for typical seasonal hiring patterns, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Even so, Mr. Riehle noted that the industry still had 251,000 fewer jobs than it did in December 2007, when the recession began.
Several major restaurant companies will report first-quarter financial results this month, offering more insight into the health of the industry.
On Wednesday, Yum Brands, the parent company of Pizza Hut, KFC and Taco Bell, reported that sales at Pizza Hut rose 5 percent in the first three months of the year, compared with sales at the same stores a year ago, while same-store sales fell 2 percent at Taco Bell and 4 percent at KFC.
The increase in Pizza Hut sales was partly the result of a heavily marketed promotion offering any pizza for $10, the company said.
“We’re still in a challenging environment,” said Jonathan Blum, a Yum spokesman. But he said the results were an improvement over the last quarter of 2009, when sales fell 12 percent at Pizza Hut, 8 percent at KFC and 5 percent at Taco Bell.
“We’re trending in the right direction,” he said.
Malcolm M. Knapp, an industry analyst, said that even higher-price restaurants like steakhouses recently began showing some improvement.
That would be welcome news to white-tablecloth chains like Ruth’s Chris Steak House. Although Ruth’s Chris has not yet reported its first-quarter financial results, the company reported a sales decline of 19.5 percent last year, on the heels of a 10 percent drop in 2008.
Mr. Knapp said he had also seen an encouraging trend in sales at casual dining restaurants, a category that includes chains like Applebee’s, Chili’s and T.G.I. Friday’s. Monthly sales are still below year-ago levels, he said, but the declines are moderating.
Among fast-food restaurants, Sonic was hit especially hard during the recession. The drive-in burger chain, known for its roller-skating car hops, said sales at its approximately 3,500 stores declined 13 percent from December through February, compared with the same period a year ago. The chain said the drop was partly caused by harsh winter weather, but the ailing economy also played a major role.
Buddy McClain, who owns 71 Sonic stores in the South, said that while sales were not growing, they had finally stopped falling in March at his Mississippi and Alabama outlets.
But in Florida, a state hit hard by the recession and the collapse of the real estate market, year-to-year sales comparisons have been negative for 17 consecutive months. In March, he said, sales at his Florida stores were 15 percent below the already reduced levels of a year ago.
“Everybody’s working harder and making less money, which is not what we call the American way,” said Mr. McClain, who has owned Sonic franchises for 32 years. “We’ve been through four so-called recessions since I’ve been in Sonic, and nothing has been near to this.”
By WILLIAM NEUMAN
Minneapolis' Oceanaire Inc., the high-end seafood restaurant chain that tumbled into insolvency last year, will live on to ply its delicacies of the deep -- but under a new owner, Houston-based Landry's Restaurants Inc.
Oceanaire filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy reorganization in July, one of scores of restaurant chains felled by a recession that bit deep into consumers' discretionary spending. Oceanaire closed four restaurants, but its other 12 outlets remained open, as is custom in Chapter 11, while the company looked for financial relief.
That relief is expected to come in a $24 million deal with Landry's, a publicly traded company with a stable of over 20 restaurant brands, including Rainforest Cafe, a concept also born in Minnesota. The deal needs federal bankruptcy court approval, which could come as early as next week.
The sale would provide $6.6 million for Oceanaire's creditors, while Landry's would assume about $17 million in Oceanaire debt, said Terry Ryan, Oceanaire's chief executive.
Oceanaire started as a single Minneapolis outlet in 1998. It was part of Parasole Restaurant Holdings -- progenitor of such other well-known Twin Cities restaurant concepts as Manny's Steakhouse and Chino Latino -- until it was spun off in 2001.
Oceanaire's majority owner has been New York-based Clarion Capital Partners, though it's now poised to lose its equity, Ryan said, a common occurrence in a Chapter 11 bankruptcy.
Oceanaire has been one of the Twin Cities' most successful restaurant exports in recent years. The company still operates in nine states, according to its website. The restaurants are built to feel like great seafood supper clubs of the 1930s and 1940s.
"It's a very well-operated business that got caught in some unfortunate leases and some bad economic times," said Tilman Fertitta, Landry's chief executive. "We love the fresh seafood aspect. We feel it fits in with our restaurants."
Landry's operates 174 restaurants nationwide, including 75 in Texas, and many of its holdings feature seafood.
Don't expect Landry's to mess with Oceanaire's basic concept, Fertitta said. "There will not be any changes of any substance at the restaurant level."
He added that Landry's will continue expanding Oceanaire, pointing to its growth track record with Rainforest Cafe, which it bought in 2000. Fertitta said Landry's has opened about one new Rainforest outlet every year since then, and is currently operating about 25 of them, including one in the Mall of America.
In 2006, Landry's bought 80 percent of T-Rex, a dinosaur-themed restaurant concept developed by Steve Schussler, who also created Rainforest Cafe.
By MIKE HUGHLETT, Star Tribune
With just about a gazillion pictures of food on blogs and websites, accessible at the touch of a BlackBerry button, it might seem a little ho-hum to stage a museum show of food photography.
But an exhibition at the Getty Museum called "In Focus: Tasteful Pictures" is anything but boring.
In just one room, the exhibition, drawn from the museum's permanent collection, traces food photography over 150 years, from the mid-19th century to today. It includes meticulously staged still lifes, a performance art photogram and an enormous jumble of contraband food.
Not one of these pictures is made with a digital camera, said Virginia Heckert, associate curator in the museum's photography department and curator of the exhibit.
She said the images are meant to illuminate the history of photography, not just show off what someone ordered in a restaurant. The pictures also are intended to show how the photographers used the technical aspects of their art.
The exhibit came to be in part from a desire to show for the first time "Supper With Heinecken," by Floris Neususs and acquired in 1999 from Susan and Graham Nash, he of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young fame.
The 1983 piece — a photogram the size of a dining table and placed in the center of the one-room show — was made after a workshop that the photographer Robert Heinecken gave for Neususs' students. Auto reversal paper was spread over a table in a darkroom with only a safelight on, Heckert said.
The guests sat, and the paper was exposed for five seconds at the start of the meal and again at the end of it, with food and drink spilled all over. The resulting photo shows hands and wine glasses, a bottle opener, noodles and forks, grapes and shadowy forms that are hard to discern. The guests also signed their names.
"Everyone wants to leave their mark. No one wants to be forgotten," Maite Gomez-Rejon, who combines art and food in classes she gives at museums and elsewhere, said after seeing the show. The picture, she said, reminded her of ancient Roman floor mosaics that depicted fish heads, lemons and other food people ate.
The piece documents the ephemeral activity of the meal. "It's kind of messy, but it's also fabulous," Heckert said.
In contrast, the oldest photographs in the exhibit, made in the 19th century, mimic the composition and style of Old Masters still-life paintings.
In a studio photograph, Adolphe Braun presents a boar posed with its snout to the ground, between vine-covered branches. The horn and the gun of the hunt sit alongside.
"It's carefully staged to emulate the aesthetic standards" of higher arts such as painting, Heckert said.
Such pictures also show tastes change. "People would have been salivating" over the boar in its time, but today it seems grisly, she said.
That also might be because the painted boar is more appealing than the photographed one, which "just looks like a dead animal," Gomez-Rejon said.
The exhibit includes work by Man Ray, Weegee, Edward Weston and Roger Fenton.
One set of photographs, taken in the 20th century, shows off the mechanics of the art, focusing on cropping, abstractions, shadows and the elimination of the context of the subject — everyday foods like noodles, bananas and chocolate bars.
Among them is the exquisite "Peas in a Pod," taken about 1935 by Edward W. Quigley. The picture makes it impossible to see the peas just as nourishment; they're elegant and weighty.
Although all the pictures are of food, they're not all necessarily about food, said Heckert, who considered nearly 100 pictures for the exhibit. For example, a 1930 Weston photograph of five ripe, spotty bananas tangled in a basket is about the shape, "how the camera could reveal that essential form," not unlike his photographs of nude women, she said.
A few photos were taken for commercial use. Among the latter is a photograph by Man Ray from 1931 called "Kitchen (Cuisine)" and commissioned by a Paris utility company to promote the use of electricity. It shows a bed of rice topped by a chicken that's scrawny by today's standards. From its tail end emerges a coil, added in the darkroom and suggesting a heating element. It's hard to imagine that picture endearing people to the L.A. Department of Water and Power.
The two most recent pieces, including one from Martin Parr's "British Food" series that is on view for the first time, show food in ways that can be unsettling.
Parr's 1995 piece is made up of 24 small photographs, among them a full breakfast, white bread on a white plate, and a plate of bangers, or sausages, that look a bit like slimy worms. The garish nature of the pictures helps create an impression of the British "not really as a culture that savors food," Heckert said.
The final picture, taken in 2005, shows an astonishing pile of plant and animal contraband confiscated from travelers at JFK Airport in New York over just 48 hours. Near the center is a whole pig's head. There also are African cane rats infested with maggots, all manner of fruit and Andean potatoes. Taryn Simon's photograph, with its lush, saturated color, documents a modern moment and captures the feeling of a Baroque still life, Heckert noted.
For Gomez-Rejon, many of the pictures told stories. And Simon's reminded her of her Texas childhood, near the border of Mexico. When her family would bring mangoes back over the border, she recalled, her mother would light a cigarette to mask their scent. She imagines the owners of the contraband as people like her family, but who happened to get caught.
The exhibit is part of a series at the Getty called "In Focus." Others in the series have included "The Nude" and "Making a Scene"; "Tasteful Pictures" runs until Aug. 22. "Still Life" opens in September. firstname.lastname@example.org
Thomas Keller runs a food empire that started in Napa Valley but now extends to New York, Beverly Hills, Calif., and Las Vegas. The chef's flagship restaurant in Yountville, the French Laundry, has three Michelin stars, as does his New York restaurant, Per Se.
Mr. Keller recently discussed celebrity chefs, his favorite places to eat and the differences between running restaurants in various parts of the country (hint: there isn't much of a difference). The 54-year-old Napa Valley resident chatted while at the Pebble Beach Food and Wine festival last week—in between a demonstration on how to perfectly roast a chicken and preparing a nine-course dinner for 100 guests:
WSJ: There is an influx of celebrity chefs opening restaurants in Napa County. Is it becoming a bit like Las Vegas?
Mr. Keller: I don't think Vegas is a bad thing. As long as the chef respects his standards and his reputation, then he is going to do really good food. Vegas had the image at one point that chefs went there to make a lot of money, but I don't think that's really the case.
When you think about Napa Valley, it's the only place in our country where people go to eat and drink. That's all they go there for. It's not New York City, where you've got the cultural aspect of it, where you can go to the MoMA or the Statue of Liberty. Napa's got the greatest wineries. You've got to have great restaurants. Wine and food just go together. So from a chef's point of view, where would you want to be?
In New York, people come to Per Se because it's a closing [of a deal] or they're going there before the theater—there are all these different reasons to go to restaurants. But in Napa Valley, that's it. They're there to eat and drink.
WSJ: So what's the difference between operating a restaurant in Napa and New York City?
Mr. Keller: Outside of local regulations, really nothing. They're unique in the sense of their place, French Laundry being in the country in Napa Valley and Per Se being in the middle of an urban environment. For example, we have the three-acre garden in Napa that we can't have in New York City because that would be a big part of Central Park and I don't think they would like that.
WSJ: How are the diners different?
Mr. Keller: They're not. You're not the only person that it sounds odd to, and I'm not sure why, because when you're dealing at that high-end level, it's the same type of client. It's the person that appreciates the quality.
We don't think about our guests. We think about what we're doing. We do what we believe in, not what our guests want us to do.
WSJ: What do you make of the trend of celebrity chefs?
Mr. Keller: I don't understand the celebrity chef thing. [The media] can give it and take it away, so it's something that's really irrelevant to me.
When I started cooking, it didn't exist. There were certainly no national celebrities in the restaurant industry. There were a few around the world but those were always associated with France where there has always been that deep respect for the culinary world. Our culture didn't have that.
Of course, what Americans do the best is to elevate things to unrealistic platforms without a lot of foundation behind it. We fall into this trap of having to have celebrities.
WSJ: You're a celebrity chef, though.
Mr. Keller: I don't establish myself as a celebrity. You would establish me as a celebrity. I try to keep arm's length at it.
WSJ: How have celebrity chefs affected cuisine?
Mr. Keller: It's certainly made it better. The quality of the produce that we have in our stores is because chefs demanded better products from suppliers. Guests would come into my restaurant, see baby lettuce, go to their marketplace and say, "Where can I get baby lettuce?" All of a sudden the demand is created.
WSJ: What are your favorite places to eat in the Bay Area?
Mr. Keller: Certainly, Chez Panisse has always been a favorite place to eat, for me. In San Francisco, I'd probably have to say Delfina, although I haven't been to Delfina for five years probably. Taqueria [on Mission and 24th Street]. That's a great restaurant.
Write to Ben Worthen at email@example.com
Wingstop Restaurants Inc., one of the fastest growing chains in the country, has been sold to an affiliate of an East Coast private equity group.
Terms of the deal between Richardson-based Wingstop and Atlanta-based Roark Capital Group weren't disclosed.
Founded in 1994, Wingstop had been 64% owned since 2003 by a Massachusetts private equity firm called Gemini Investors, according to Wingstop's president and CEO, James Flynn.
Earlier this year, Gemini said in a filing in the Federal Register that one of its funds, Gemini Investors IV LP, planned to "provide equity and debt financing to finance the acquistion" of Wingstop.
In an interview Monday, Flynn referred questions about that filing to Gemini. "I have no idea about that," he said.
Gemini's president, James Goodman, was not immediately available for comment Monday afternoon.
With more than 440 restaurants operating in the United States and Mexico, Wingstop clocked around $305 million in revenue last year. Flynn said he expects 2010 sales to be closer to $360 million. The company said in a news release Monday that it plans to open more than 60 restaurants this year.
Read more: Wingstop Restaurants Inc. sold to Roark Capital Group - Dallas Business Journal:
Dallas Business Journal - by Jeff Bounds Senior staff writer
Read more: Wingstop Restaurants Inc. sold to Roark Capital Group - Dallas Business Journal:
Genetically engineered crops have provided “substantial” environmental and economic benefits to American farmers, but overuse of the technology is threatening to erode the gains, a national science advisory organization said Tuesday in a report.
The report is described as the first comprehensive assessment of the impact of genetically modified crops on American farmers, who have rapidly adopted them since their introduction in 1996. The study was issued by the National Research Council, which is affiliated with the National Academy of Sciences and provides advice to the nation under a Congressional charter.
The report found that the crops allowed farmers to either reduce chemical spraying or to use less harmful chemicals. The crops also offered farmers lower production costs, higher output or extra convenience, benefits that generally outweighed the higher costs of the engineered seeds.
“Many American farmers are enjoying higher profits due to the widespread use of certain genetically engineered crops and are reducing environmental impacts on and off the farm,” David Ervin, the chairman of the committee that wrote the report, said in a statement.
However, added Dr. Ervin, a professor of environmental management and economics at Portland State University in Oregon, “These benefits are not universal for all farmers.”
Nor are they necessarily permanent. The report warned that farmers were jeopardizing the benefits by planting too many so-called Roundup Ready crops. These crops are genetically engineered to be impervious to the herbicide Roundup, allowing farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds while leaving the crops unscathed.
Overuse of this seductively simple approach to weed control is starting to backfire. Use of Roundup, or its generic equivalent, glyphosate, has skyrocketed to the point that weeds are rapidly becoming resistant to the chemical. That is rendering the technology less useful, requiring farmers to start using additional herbicides, some of them more toxic than glyphosate.
“Farmer practices may be reducing the utility of some G.E. traits as pest-management tools and increasing the likelihood of a return to more environmentally damaging practices,” the report concluded. It said the problem required national attention.
More than 80 percent of the corn, soybean and cotton grown in the United States is genetically engineered. The crops tolerate Roundup, are resistant to insects, or both.
American farmers were the first to widely adopt the technology and still account for about half of all the engineered crops grown. The crops are also being widely grown in Latin America and parts of Asia but still largely shunned in Europe.
The rapid adoption of the crops is evidence that American farmers see the technology as beneficial.
Nevertheless, in the fiercely polarized debate about genetically modified crops, there is little agreement on anything. Critics have issued studies saying that uses of the crops have led to increased pesticide use and has had only a minimal effect on crop yields.
The National Research Council report was prepared by a committee of mainly academic scientists and relied primarily on peer reviewed papers.
Still, the report is not likely to win over critics of the crops.
One critic, Charles Benbrook, who reviewed a draft of the report, said the conclusion that the crops help farmers might no longer be true, or might not be true in the future. That is because the report relies mostly on data from the first few years, before prices of the biotech seeds rose sharply and the glyphosate-resistant weeds proliferated.
“This is a very different future,” said Dr. Benbrook, an agricultural economist who is chief scientist at the Organic Center, which promotes organic food and farming. “The cost is going to be way higher. The environmental impacts are going to go up fairly dramatically.”
As prices of the biotech seeds have risen sharply, even some farmers are now starting to question whether they are worth it. Just last week, Monsanto, the leading agricultural biotechnology company, said it would lower the prices of its newest genetically engineered soybeans and corn seeds because farmers were not buying as many of the seeds as it had expected.
The Department of Justice is now investigating whether Monsanto, which has patents on some of the fundamental technology including the Roundup Ready system, is violating antitrust laws, unduly increasing prices or hindering innovation.
The National Research Council report addresses this issue briefly without mentioning Monsanto. It says that issues of proprietary terms “has not adversely affected the economic welfare of farmers who adopt G.E. crops.” But it said there is some evidence that the availability of non-engineered crops “may be restricted for some farmers.”
The report said that the use of Roundup Ready crops has led to a huge increase in the spraying of glyphosate but a nearly concomitant decrease in the use of other herbicides. That is a net environmental benefit, the report said, because glyphosate is less toxic to animals than many other herbicides and does not last that long in the environment.
The use of herbicide-tolerant crops has also made it easier for farmers to forgo tilling their fields as a way to control weeds. So-called no-till farming helps prevent soil erosion and the runoff of rainwater containing sediments and chemicals.
The improvement in water quality could prove to be the largest benefit of the crops, the report said, though it added that efforts should be made to measure any such effects.
Still the biotech crops are only one factor promoting no-till farming. The report said that about half of soybeans were already being grown with little or no tillage by the time Roundup Ready soybeans were introduced in 1996. That rose to 63 percent in 2008.
The other major class of genetically engineered crops is the so-called BT corn and BT cotton, which contain bacterial genes allowing the plants to produce an insecticide.
The report said that use of chemical insecticides has declined as the BT crops have spread. In areas of with heavy insect pressure, it said, the use of the crops has increased farmer income because of higher yields and reduced expenditures on insecticide.
The report said that when genetically engineered crops were first introduced, some had lower yields than conventional varieties, a finding often cited by critics. But the report said that newer studies show either a modest increase in yield or a neutral effect.
Those bland sandwiches sold by airlines to economy-class passengers? They’re on the way out.
Even as the last major airline — Continental Airlines — is ending free economy-class meals on domestic flights this fall, carriers are changing their whole approach to food.
Air Canada has introduced healthy food options, like vegetarian sandwiches and yogurt parfaits, and Alaska Airlines has a new healthy snack pack. American Airlines is working with Boston Market. JetBlue is about to start selling food on select long-haul flights. Some carriers are expected to offer combination meals and other promotions similar to those available at fast-food restaurants.
And United Airlines is testing the sale of some food items sold on domestic flights, and a variety of sandwiches, in its Red Carpet lounges at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Los Angeles International Airport. It will also let passengers preorder in-flight food by the end of the year.
The new offerings are in large part the result of the new economics of in-flight food. Kevin Jackson, managing director of consumer marketing for US Airways, said that when airlines gave away food, “the motivation was to minimize cost.” Now that most airlines are selling food, they have an incentive, he said, to “provide better choice and quality for passengers.”
In addition, the airlines are competing with new restaurants and take-out food businesses in the airports. Executives of HMSHost and OTG Management, which operate airport food businesses, said sales were thriving, and to-go options — Wolfgang Puck Gourmet Express, California Pizza Kitchen’s stand-alone airport kiosks and Cibo Express, among them — were proliferating, particularly since the demise of free food on most domestic flights.
With many more options on the ground, most hungry travelers seem to be bringing food on board. A survey conducted by Forrester Research in the fourth quarter of 2009 found that 19 percent of leisure travelers and 21 percent of business travelers bought a meal or snack on a plane in the previous year. If a free in-flight meal was not offered, only 6 percent of travelers polled in Zagat Survey’s 2009 airlines poll said they typically purchased food on-board, but 56 percent said they bought it in the airport.
Indeed, in-flight food sales are not huge money-makers for the airlines. Tom Douramakos, chief executive of GuestLogix, a company based in Toronto that makes the hand-held devices and software used by most North American carriers for in-flight sales, said carriers generated a net profit of only 5 or 10 cents on a $10 sale of in-flight food. But, he said, gross profit on sales of in-flight liquor generally can go as high as 50 to 80 percent on a $10 drink.
That may explain the growing offerings of elaborate specialty drinks on flights. These include Virgin America’s absinthe and Sprite cocktail, United Airlines’ Trader Vic’s mai tai cocktails on Hawaiian flights and a pomegranate martini served by Delta Air Lines and US Airways. Carriers continue to serve free nonalcoholic drinks on most flights.
For the most part, American airlines stopped serving free meals in economy class on domestic flights after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks cut deeply into their profits. As airlines sought new ways to generate revenue and cut costs, food was one of the first places they looked.
Jim Compton, Continental’s executive vice president of marketing, said in an e-mail message that the airline expected that introducing in-flight food sales this fall would “add about $35 million per year to our bottom line.” According to Henry H. Harteveldt, travel analyst for Forrester Research, most of this profit will come from eliminating the cost of serving free food.
The airlines’ adoption of GuestLogix’s equipment, used by flight attendants for what are usually credit card sales of food and drinks, and to keep track of inventory, makes the sales process easier for both carriers and passengers: Airlines can monitor the popularity of items and use the information to provision flights, while travelers do not have to fumble for change and can get expense receipts for purchases.
Mr. Douramakos predicted that GuestLogix’s technology would allow airlines to offer more combination meals, including a drink, snack and sandwich or salad, an option now available on Air Canada. He said he expected carriers to distribute coupons with food or drinks bought in-flight, good for discounts on future purchases, and also to deeply discount items that remained unsold as a flight progressed. The technology, he added, will allow airlines to operate more like restaurateurs.
The question is whether all the changes in on-board food will actually influence travelers’ behavior. Richard Wong, a transportation lawyer in Washington, said he refused to buy food in-flight “because there’s nothing attractive about it” and prefers to dine on hamburgers and French fries sold by Five Guys at Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport.
On the other hand, Rob Volpe, a market researcher in San Francisco who is an elite-level participant in United Airlines’ frequent-flier program, said he was a devotee of United’s on-board food items, like a yogurt parfait and snack boxes with small portions of a variety of items. And he has purchased the parfait and a mozzarella and tomato sandwich at Red Carpet lounges.
“I’ve been buying snack boxes since they were first rolled out, and I’m always delighted to be offered something healthy,” he said. “It’s kind of a picnic in the air. It’s one less thing I have to carry on board when I have bags, and it’s something I don’t have to think about while I’m trying to get to my flight.”
However in-flight food sales change in the future, one thing will probably remain constant: Snacks like Pringles and candy will undoubtedly remain best sellers.
When there are “healthy and less healthy options,” the less healthy are always more popular, said Paul Platamone, who supplies food to airlines for LSG Sky Chefs, an in-flight catering company.
“It has to do with the travel mentality,” he said. “When you’re on the road, you become a bit more indulgent.”
By JANE L. LEVERE Published: April 12, 2010
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