Raymond Blanc has inspired chefs around the UK to start their own kitchen gardens for the freshest possible produce
When female diners visit the loo at the top London restaurant Pied à Terre, they will be in for a surprise: Marco Pierre White will be staring back at them through the window. And no, the Hell’s Kitchen chef hasn’t turned Peeping Tom — his photograph is stuck on the head of a scarecrow, to keep pigeons out of the two Michelin-starred chef Shane Osborn’s rooftop kitchen garden (the Knorr apron his mischievous finishing touch). “I’m going to change the picture every couple of months,” Osborn grins. “Michael Winner is next, with a pinny that says ‘Calm down dear’.”
He is very proud of his new roof garden, which he started sowing last autumn. This year he has added plants that he has propagated himself, from seeds grown on a windowsill. It’s small, measuring just six metres by four, yet it grows nearly 200 plants, including 15 different herbs and numerous edible flowers, from borage to caraway. There are also various vegetables and fruits, from Jerusalem artichokes to redcurrants, all of which Osborn uses in his innovative dishes.
“I started the garden initially to teach the guys how to grow things,” he says, “but I also wanted to plant a seed in people’s minds that we can all help the environment in some small way.” He has installed a wormery and a 650-litre composter — which is fed by food scraps from the kitchen — but hasn’t quite sorted out the water problem yet. At present it takes two chefs armed with buckets to keep the garden watered every day, and the only access is through a window. “But they love it: it’s a great place to hang out between service. And to be able to pick stuff this fresh, especially the flowers, which haven’t got a long shelf life, is quite something. There’s loads of empty roof space in London, so use it.”
Space isn’t something that worries your country house hotel. Following the lead of top French chefs such as Michel Bras and Alain Passard, who have elevated the kitchen garden to a new level, they have revived traditional potagers that once fed grand families and are now feeding us.
These kitchen gardens have become attractions in their own right, where head chefs team up with head gardeners to get the best out of their produce at hotels such as Mallory Court, near Leamington Spa, and the most ambitious of all, at Le Manoir aux Quat’Saisons, in Oxfordshire, where Raymond Blanc and his brigade wander the gardens in their whites, snapping off broad beans and digging up artichokes under the watchful eye of drooling guests, stomachs rumbling at the prospect of a freshly picked dinner.
One of the most established is the organic kitchen garden at the celebrated Lancashire hotel and restaurant, Northcote Manor. “I think one of the best things is that it makes you more creative,” says the head chef, Lisa Allen. Thanks to the green fingers of her boss, the chef proprietor Nigel Haworth, Allen now gets as excited about vegetables and herbs as she does about meat and fish. “I’ve got so much more respect for produce now I’ve actually seen how things grow. Our focus at the moment is old English varieties: we’re trying eight different potatoes at the moment, each with their own flavour, and 15 different types of cress. It stimulates the mind. We’re always finding ways to use up all the produce,” she says.
Matthew Tomkinson, the head chef of the Michelin-starred Terrace restaurant at The Montagu Arms Hotel in Hampshire, agrees. “There’s nothing like a glut of courgettes to force you down the road of experimentation,” he says. “It has given us an opportunity to go back to a time when Nature dictates.”
This is the first year for the hotel restaurant’s kitchen garden, developed on land adjacent to the property that was bought last year. “It was a jungle, and a great leveller. I’ll never forget the sight of our general manager pulling down trees, and our chefs ripping up roots.”
There are now herbs galore (lemon verbena is a current favourite), plus a polytunnel filled with strawberries, tomatoes and other vegetables, an asparagus bed, and beds each for runner beans and red fruits. “Chefs used to turn their noses up at produce if it was misshapen or dirty; now I can’t keep ours out of the garden,” says Tomkinson.
A bowl of homegrown produce at reception encourages guests to take an interest in the garden, which is overlooked by the restaurant’s floor-to-ceiling windows. The installation of hen houses has proven so popular that there has been a noticeable decline in chicken orders at dinner: “Sometimes there are up to six couples standing here watching us feed them — yes, we are all beginning to reconnect with Nature in some way.”
You could argue that Matthew Owsley-Brown has gone native. The Norfolk-based chef sold his popular fish restaurant in Burnham Market last year to create a catering company with a difference: one that grows and rears its own produce for the business. In addition to planting fruit, vegetables and herbs at their new five-acre home in the village of West Bilney, near Swaffham, the Owsley-Brown family are now the proud owners of two Gloucestershire Old Spot pigs. “This first year has been a bit of an experiment. We’ve been finding our inner hippy,” he laughs.
Owsley-Brown has already constructed a commercial kitchen in one of the outbuildings and is planning a series of pop-up restaurants in the sunny courtyard from August, alerting potential diners of the dates via Facebook and Twitter.
The polytunnels, donated by a local farmer, are now packed with different Mediterranean vegetables, while out on the plot are an array of vegetables and fruits. “Yes, you make mistakes,” Owsley-Brown says, “but it’s the only way to learn. You’ve just got to do it.”
What to Serve With the World Cup
Cape Town's burgeoning restaurant scene reflects city's many cultures
People come to Cape Town for its fine beaches and waterfront—they have since the 1600s, when the Dutch established it as a watering stopover for ships trading with the East. They come for the sports: The city will hold eight World Cup matches this June. They come for the history, to see Robben Island, where Nelson Mandela spent most of his imprisonment.
But few visitors come for the food.
Daniela Bonanno, who works here for New York-based custom-vacation company Absolute Travel, thinks that may change. A spurt of high-caliber restaurants has transformed the dining scene, she says. Where the top places once offered French cooking, often heavy and meat-based, now chefs are training abroad, offering a wide variety of international influences while keeping ingredients local.
As in New York, Vancouver and London, the dining landscape represents a confetti of global cuisines reflecting the many cultures of Cape Town's almost three million people. Given the oceanfront setting, seafood plays a big role in menus, as do local meats such as ostrich, karoo lamb and springbok, an antelope variety that's the national animal. And, peri-peri, a piquant red chili, is also common as a side sauce or flavor addition.
Peak tourist season is during South Africa's summer from November through March, and although temperatures usually don't exceed the mid-80s, there can be some exceptionally hot days, especially in January. The slow season is the winter months of May through August. The average daytime temperature is mild at around 55 degrees, but July and August are the height of rainy season where many days can be wet and windy. Cape Town doesn't get big crowds during September, October, March and April, and the sunny days with temperatures in the 60s make these ideal visiting months.
Several weeks ago—Cape Town's fall—my husband and I tried five restaurants, many of them opened in the past few years, that Capetonians said would give us an idea of their hometown's cuisine.
This place in the Camps Bay area, a chic South Beach equivalent full of trendy eateries and bars, got its start as a fish store in Johannesburg. "Customers began asking if the store could cook the fish they picked," says owner Skippy Shaked. Diners still get to select their fish from a large case—usually including several prawn types such as the prized tiger, crayfish, the South African version of lobster, and filets of the codlike kinglip and Cape salmon from the restaurant's own fisheries. The fish is grilled only with a touch of fish spice, and served with sauces including peri-peri and sweet chili apricot on a bed of fries and Asian style stir-fried vegetables. Make sure to see the sunset.
Gordon Ramsay, the feisty task-master of reality-television show Hell's Kitchen, runs this year-old spot at the One&Only hotel. Each of the seven restaurants of this name around the world has a distinct menu—including, in Cape Town, Namibian oysters, Mozambican langoustines and grilled eland, another South African antelope. The towering space also has an open pastry kitchen turning out desserts such as malva pudding, a kind of caramelized cake dating back to the days of Dutch rule. The 5,000-bottle cellar claims to be one of the largest in the country—heavy on South African wines, of course.
After a decade in Australia's Blue Mountains, Cyrillia Deslandes returned home to South Africa and brought along her husband, Laurent, from France's Loire Valley, as chef. In late 2007, the duo opened this restaurant. Mr. Deslandes applies French techniques to local ingredients. While some dishes, like the braised farm pig trotter, are always available, a half-dozen different starters and four entrees are added each day, usually new recipes. The white mussels in a beurre-blanc sauce from Saldanha Bay on South Africa's west coast are so meaty they could be mistaken for scallops. A seared steak comes from a farm in the north, and a Provençal fish soup is rich with chunks of local crustaceans. Mr. Deslandes also regularly gives springbok filet, veal shoulder and karoo lamb stew a French treatment.
In the 19th century, Indians were brought to South Africa to work as indentured servants, and today they're one of the country's prominent ethnic groups. There are four Bukhara restaurants throughout South Africa; we visited the original in Cape Town's Central Business District, which has a long glass-walled kitchen and offers all the standard North Indian dishes. Many Indian eateries don't do beef justice since it's forbidden in Hinduism, but here the beef pudina marinated in mint uses South African beef, often likened in quality to the highly regarded Argentine meat. A tandoori chicken was free of the pasty orange flavor too often common in this dish.
THE GRAND CAFE & BEACH-
In an airy converted beachfront warehouse overlooking Table Bay, the restaurant's seating spills out onto a large terrace and the beach itself. A chic set packs it every night. Owner Sue Main is a globetrotter and her menu reflects that: The prawn tempura is via Japan, the 3-foot-long crispy pizzas topped with thin slices of local parma ham are inspired by Italy, Steak béarnaise is from Paris, and the Waldorf salad comes from the States. As for the crayfish sandwich—Cape Town's answer to the New England lobster roll—Ms. Main cuts the meat into small pieces (it's almost always served whole), mixes it with homemade mayonnaise and tucks it into a soft bun.
Flying through Johannesburg is the only way to reach Cape Town from the U.S. without a stopover in Europe. Daily nonstop flights to Johannesburg include South African Airways from New York's JFK (the return flight stops in Dakar) and Delta Air Lines from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport in Atlanta. From Johannesburg, there's frequent service to Cape Town; the flight lasts about two hours.
Where to Stay:
One&Only Cape Town—This 131-room, supremely luxurious hotel with a contemporary style opened last year just off the waterfront. Rates per night start at 6,000 rand ($815). www.oneandonlyresorts.com Cape Grace—The 120-room grand dame of Cape Town's luxury accommodations, on the waterfront and decorated in a traditional Cape Malay style, was refashioned in December 2008. Rates start at $550. www.capegrace.com . De Waterkant Village—Amid cobblestone streets in a historic neighborhood between the waterfront and center area, this collection of self-service cottages, apartments and bed and breakfast style rooms has affordable, well-appointed accommodations. www.dewaterkant.com . Rates start at 950 rand.
The Five Restaurants: Details
Codfather, 37 The Drive, Camps Bay, 021-438-0782, about $50 a person. The Grand Café & Beach, Haul Road, off Beach Road, Granger Bay, www.thegrand.co.za, 021-425-0551, about $35 a person with a glass of wine. Maze, One&Only Cape Town, Dock Road, Victoria & Alfred Waterfront, 021-431-5222, about $40 a person with a glass of wine. Bizerca Bistro, Jetty Street, Foreshore, www.bizerca.com, 021-418-0001, about $35 for two-course meal with a glass of wine. Bukhara, 33 Church Street, www.bukhara.com, 021-424-0000, about $30 a person.
— Shivani Vora is a writer based in New York.
Private investment firm Mill Road Capital LP said Monday that it will buy the owner of Fresh Mexican Grill, Rubio's Restaurants Inc., for about $91 million.
The deal prices Rubio's outstanding stock at $8.70 per share, which is a 14 percent premium to the company's Friday closing stock price of $7.66. Mill Road currently owns about 5 percent of the restaurant operator's shares.
The board unanimously approved the acquisition, which is expected to close in the third quarter.
Rubio's said in October that it was looking into its strategic options, including a potential sale of the company.
Shares of Rubio's Restaurants rose 84 cents, or 11 percent, to $8.50 and reached a 52-week high of $8.60 in earlier trading Monday.
In a segment crowded by competition, these are the 10 people who matter most. By Ellen Koteff
Never before has innovation been as essential to running a successful quick-serve restaurant concept.
During what has turned out to be the most daunting recession in our nation’s history, innovation has been the driving force for the concepts that are beating the odds.
Often, the inspiration for innovation comes from the top, and that certainly holds true for the following leaders, who were selected from a wide-ranging list of successful operators.
These chain executives are making a tremendous difference in the quick-service industry, both inside and outside of their own brands.
They inspire their thousands of employees to improve products, services, or operations, and, as a result, are making a difference in their customers’ lives.
Though many operators have picked up the innovator baton since the recession began back in 2007, these industry stalwarts have made innovation a priority for years. And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
David Novak has been blazing innovative trails for more than 25 years. Now that journey has him taking on the world.
As chairman and CEO of Yum! Brands Inc., parent of such brands as Taco Bell, KFC, and Pizza Hut, Novak says his company’s mission is to be “The Defining Global Company that Feeds the World.”
“I view our 37,000 restaurants—in 100 countries—as laboratories where we can experiment, learn, and share best practices on a global scale,” he says.
“Our scale is an advantage in so many ways. In just three years, our World Hunger Relief effort has generated massive awareness, volunteerism, and funds for the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) and other hunger relief organizations saving millions of lives.” To date the initiative has raised $60 million for WFP.
That’s a tall order for a marketing major from the University of Missouri.
During his 20-year tenure with the company, including 10 as its chief, Novak has more firsts than even he can count. But much of his success is rooted in his ability to inspire his team members to bring their A-game.
“In our culture, we believe that everyone can make a difference regardless of where they are or what function they work for. Some of our greatest innovations come from our franchisees,” Novak says.
“My constant challenge to everyone is to ask, ‘What can I do now to get breakthrough results in my piece of Yum?’”
Among the hundreds of innovations during Novak’s run is the iCHING internal business network, which allows employees worldwide to collaborate and share best practices; the Achieving Breakthrough Results high-impact leadership training; an aggressive international expansion program; and such popular menu roll outs as the Kentucky Grilled Chicken product line.
“Building knowhow is one of our How We Win Together principles that defines our culture,” he says. “It’s a key to innovation.”
“Breakthroughs come when we get people with knowledge thinking creatively. I also like to practice ‘pattern thinking’: the ability to make connections, pick up on consumer insights or trends, and apply what’s going on in the world to our business.”
And that business has been moving full steam ahead. Last year marked the ninth consecutive year that Yum opened more than 1,000 restaurants outside the U.S.
The company is ranked No. 239 on the Fortune 500 list, with revenues of nearly $11 billion in 2009.
And that’s the kind of innovation every stakeholder likes to see.
Jeff Harvey inhabits a world where innovation is the rule, not the exception. Charged with bringing profitability and long-term growth strategies to Burgerville, the 39-unit gourmet burger chain based in Vancouver, Washington, the affable CEO has brought several innovations to the chain since joining the company in 2004. Though it already had a solid reputation for embracing sustainable values, under Harvey’s leadership it continues to push that envelope by increasing its base of local suppliers and offering more seasonal items.
Since its inception in 1961, the company has always maintained a commitment to fresh, local, and sustainable offerings through partnerships with local businesses, farms, and producers. It is a process the CEO wholeheartedly embraces and continues to grow.
In 2009 he introduced beer and wine, as well as monthly specials inspired by a fresh, seasonal ingredient.
Harvey also opened up the drive thrus to bicycles and introduced a mobile food truck, the Nomad.
“The Nomad food truck came from seeing a lot of well-trained chefs opening up their own food carts,” Harvey says. “I was struck by the vision of opportunity they saw, and it started me thinking about what street food meant to the rest of the world. I saw a huge loyalty among the patrons.”
Harvey also introduced a pilot program that lets customers know the nutritional value of their order when they receive the receipt.
In addition to overseeing the chain’s many food-related innovations, Harvey has been responsible for “greening” Burgerville’s restaurants, making them more energy efficient to operate.
Converting used trans fat–free cooking oil into biodiesel fuel, expanding its leadership development training, implementing recycling and composting programs, creating an affordable employee health care program, and encouraging the company-wide use of wind power are just some of the initiatives that have left competitors scratching their heads.
Harvey, whose background is in electrical engineering, is a self-described “information hound” and a “a lifelong student of transformation.”
“We’ve all had experience with incremental change, but transformational change is something very different. At Burgerville we believe your best strategy is an innovative strategy.”
It’s a safe bet that Harvey already is working on the next chapter in Burgerville’s “transformational change.” And if you’re wondering where his next innovation might come from, wonder no more.
“I am really intrigued these days with packaging, and I have been paying close attention to delivery models, or how you get the food to the guests.”
A true entrepreneur since the age of 17, Fred DeLuca doesn’t shy away from innovation. As cofounder and president of Milford, Connecticut–based Subway, DeLuca isn’t afraid to take risks or listen to the advice of others.
“The owners of our 32,000 stores share a tremendous entrepreneurial spirit, so innovation comes naturally to them,” DeLuca says. “So we’ve built local option capability into the Subway system. That allows many different owners the ability to experiment simultaneously.”
And many of those experiments have hit pay dirt.
“The ideas are constantly flowing, and some of them have had lasting effects for the entire chain,” he says. “For instance, Subway’s ‘$5 Footlong’ campaign was started by a franchisee, and within a year it became a national promotion.”
Since 1965, Subway has had a healthier menu than many other quick-serve operations. Through the years DeLuca further established that healthy halo with marketing efforts such as the Jared Fogle commercials, which touted Fogle’s 245-pound weight loss from eating a six-inch Subway sandwich at every meal.
This year’s tie-in with the Biggest Loser television show further solidifies the sandwich chain’s marriage with a healthful image. The chain is paying $1,000 for every pound contestant Shay Sorrells loses.
Now with more than 32,400 stores in 91 countries, Subway continues to roll out new initiatives to keep up with a demanding marketplace.
A Buffalo Chicken submarine sandwich, with only seven grams of fat, was introduced last year, as well as the company’s new mobile site, which has a restaurant locator with a map function.
The brand also joined Energy Star, which is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Department of Energy, encouraging businesses and homes to conserve energy. To that end, Subway relocated several distribution centers next to vendor manufacturers, switched to energy-saving light bulbs, and made its napkins from 100 percent recycled materials.
The innovations keep coming from inside the franchisee community, and DeLuca couldn’t be more proud.
“A franchisee developed one of our newest and most unique stores, which is now about 100 feet in the air in the Freedom Tower construction site at the World Trade Center,” DeLuca says. “That store moves 15 feet higher every few weeks as the steelwork is put in place. That innovation keeps the food close to the construction workers as the building is built, saving time and money.
“Another store was built in a church in Buffalo, where the pastor uses the store to provide job training for local youngsters.”
In Sue Morelli’s world, extensive customer research is the catalyst for all innovation. Morelli, president and CEO of Boston-based Au Bon Pain since 2005, has systematically put her stamp on the bakery café by paying close attention to others.
“We do a lot of guest research and, in fact, just finished with a pretty major focus group of more than 50 hours with our heavy users,” Morelli says.
During her presidency, Au Bon Pain introduced a new product line called Portions, which features a selection of 14 dishes made fresh daily, packaged individually. Each one is 200 calories or less. The Portions line focuses on vegetables and proteins as the main ingredients, retailing for $2.99 (without meat) or $3.49 (with meat).
“Innovation is a great word, and it’s complex,” Morelli says. “It has a lot of components: consumer trends, culinary savvy, and talent. And at the end of the day it has to be grounded by product profitability, the economics have to make sense.”
According to Morelli, another area heavily impacted by research is speed of service. Au Bon Pain recently underwent a major remodeling program, introducing a design that allows customers to serve themselves.
As a result of the recession, Morelli says consumers are doing more with less. In an effort to capitalize on the new reality, she is pushing the chain to offer “better basic foods that are affordable, fresh, and nutritious and served with speed and warmth.”
The 240-unit Au Bon Pain, which means place of good bread, is poised to grow both domestically and internationally.
“We keep a close watch on all the competitors, from fine dining to quick service,” she says. “Our executive chef, Tommy John, has the power to drive the concept. He has an extraordinary pulse on the consumer palate.”
The company, which was founded in 1976, rolled out a new café called the Bistro in 2006 and has a wide range of real estate applications to offer. In addition, the chain was recognized for its use of touchscreen terminals that offer nutritional information to the guests.
“In our business it is just so easy to put stuff out there and test it,” Morelli says. “Patrons are looking for higher quality at the same speed they used to get quick service, and they have a real good sense of what is real quality.”
Few would deny that Howard Schultz is singularly responsible for what is best described as a coffee revolution. As chairman and CEO of Starbucks, Schultz has taken his desire to create a company with soul and ridden the innovative waves through many highs and lows.
Schultz, who had ceased overseeing the company as CEO for eight years, was called back into service in 2008.
In Starbucks’ latest wave of innovation, he and his creative team have taken an old favorite, instant coffee, and repackaged it. And it has arrived with significant fanfare.
“We have worked for nearly 20 years to develop an instant coffee that offers customers the quality and taste they expect from fresh-brewed Starbucks coffee, and a unique and convenient way for them to enjoy it,” Schultz says. “This is a big move for us—the opportunity to reinvent a category, create new rituals, and grow our customer base is substantial.”
Since joining Starbucks in 1982 and buying it in 1987, Schultz has overseen and inspired numerous innovations, not the least of which was creating a warm atmosphere that customers want to visit time and again.
Serving the first latte in 1984 introduced many Americans to espresso beverages. In 1987, FlavorLock technology allowed Starbucks to ship freshly roasted coffee to customers far away, opening up international markets.
Then, in 1996, Starbucks moved popular beverages to grocery shelves around the world. Along the way music infused the Starbucks experience, and several noncoffee items were offered for sale.
It also can be argued that the chain created a whole new vocabulary for ordering coffee and gave customers an entire language by mastering the Starbucks menu. Tall nonfat latte, no foam, anyone?
In the foodservice industry, Starbucks distinguished itself by being one of the first companies to offer employees working at least 20 hours per week comprehensive health coverage and an employee stock-option plan.
Those moves contributed to one of the lowest turnover rates in the industry and also improved employee morale.
Through it all Starbucks continues to prosper. In the first quarter of fiscal 2010, ended December 27, 2009, Starbucks reported $2.7 billion in revenue, a 4 percent increase over the same quarter a year earlier. Store unit count now numbers more than 11,000.
Despite these many successes, Schultz continues to push his team of more than 142,000 partners forward.
“Starbucks is known around the world for not only serving great coffee, but for continually innovating and listening to our customers along the way,” says Dub Hay, Starbucks’ senior vice president of coffee and tea. “Pushing the limits of what others think will work is nothing new for Starbucks.
“We believe the market is ripe for this innovation—we will continue our journey of listening to consumer’s needs, and providing them with great-tasting solutions.”
Stan Sheetz may straddle the fence between convenience stores and foodservice, but when it comes to innovation, he is strictly out in front. The CEO and president of the privately held Sheetz Inc. makes it his business to stay one step ahead of his one million customers each day.
“I think innovation should be driven by the customer and what they need,” Sheetz says. “Secondly, it should be driven by what we as a company need to efficiently serve the customer. That’s where the genesis of our technology has come from.”
Based in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Sheetz operates 368 stores in six states and maintains annual revenues north of $4.4 billion.
In 1994, Sheetz wondered if his technology vendor could develop touchscreen software that would allow the customer to select made-to-order menu items that were illustrated with pictures.
“Within a month we had a working prototype, and after we installed the first touchscreen our volume went up 12 percent immediately,” he says. Some of this bump in sales Sheetz attributes to customers who couldn’t read or write.
Sheetz also was one of the first retailers to offer pay-at-the-pump gas, an innovation that has been widely imitated. More recently, Sheetz launched a state-of-the-art, $46 million, 140,000-square-foot Sheetz Bros. Kitchen that delivers fresh, ready-to-eat products to all of the company’s stores.
“This really lets us control waste, and every store gets a delivery every single day of the year, including Christmas,” Sheetz says.
“From the standpoint of efficiency, this system allows us to automatically reorder those food products.” Consequently, Sheetz says, the company’s instock percentage is 99.97.
Another recent change is the introduction of frequent-buyer cards, which supply the company with the buying habits of their customers.
“These cards allow us to monitor what our customers are buying, and how frequently they purchase it. This then lets us send them coupons for the things we think they will be interested in,” Sheetz says.
“It allows for individual customer direct marketing.”
Also on the drawing boards for Sheetz is an app for the iPhone, which would tell a customer where the nearest Sheetz location is, as well as continuing tests on drive thrus.
It appears the search for new technologies to improve the customer experience at Sheetz is here to stay, and in all likelihood, so is innovation.
It takes a lot more than hard work and intelligence to wrestle innovation from a company that is more than 50 years old and the size of McDonald’s, but Jim Skinner has done that and more during his six-year tenure as CEO.
Skinner’s winning strategy, christened Plan to Win, focused all team members’ attention on improving service, food, and ambience and not necessarily on opening new stores.
“Every function that we have is best in class,” Skinner says. “That’s what it means to be an industry leader. I’ve only had two jobs, a lieutenant in the United States Navy and McDonald’s, both extraordinary organizations, both best in class.”
Since taking over the burger giant, which now has 32,000 restaurants worldwide, Skinner has restructured the company, redesigned the restaurants, and revolutionized the menu. Aside from the addition of premium coffee offerings, McDonald’s menu also features healthier choices such as Fruit & Walnut Salads and Chicken Wraps. Skinner also earns high marks for offering better value and improved marketing.
Aside from reducing energy output and working with suppliers to establish healthier environmental operations, Skinner puts a lot of muscle behind talent management and leadership development. High-potential employees are put through a leadership institute, and diversity is an important value at the company.
“There always was a true indication that McDonald’s takes care of its people,” Skinner says. “I knew that Fred [Turner], Mike [Quinlan], and the other guys who were running the company, when they got up in the morning, they were concerned about me. We don’t take that lightly, so all of our people practice it.”
Last year, Skinner received the CEO of the Year award from Chief Executive magazine. “He has been respectful of McDonald’s legacy while engineering an inspirational strategic leadership that reinvented the industry,” says J.P. Donlon, editor in chief of the magazine.
The chain, which operates in more than 100 countries, is about 80 percent owned and operated by franchisees and recently was anointed the “best run major international company in the world” by Mad Money’s Jim Cramer.
Since Skinner took over the helm of the company in 2004, the company’s stock price has more than doubled.
“I take it personally when someone says, ‘Well, they’re the industry leaders now, but will it last?’ We don’t hear that too much anymore,” Skinner says.
Pizza Patrón emerged on the restaurant scene in 1986 with an innovative bent in its first year of operation, and a big one at that. Founder and CEO Antonio Swad decided from the get go that Pizza Patrón would become the pizza restaurant for the Hispanic community. So much so that all store employees are required to speak both Spanish and English.
“What we have done at Patrón is very different than what other restaurant companies have done,” Swad says. “It is not often that restaurants define their own business models by ethnicity. Companies define their customer base by income or unique flavor concepts. We basically took a product that was widely consumed and brought it to the Hispanic markets.”
Since then Swad has overseen myriad innovations at Pizza Patrón, and along the way founded and sold another highly successful restaurant concept, Wingstop.
“I think he’s a genius,” says Le Madeleine’s COO, Phil Costner. “Before any of us caught wind of the huge impact of the Hispanic consumer, Antonio was forever solidifying his place.”
In 2009, while much of the industry was enduring plummeting sales, Pizza Patrón enjoyed four quarters of comp store sales gains, with the largest being an 11 percent bump.
Some of the other innovations that Swad has overseen include the premiere of the Quick Service Pizza outlet, which was the concept’s first standalone location and features three distinct points of service for customers: a drive thru with a pick-up window, a walk-up order window, and a colorful lobby.
A new interior design approach for the pizza chain was also rolled out last year after more than a year of research and market testing. The complete top-to-bottom revamp of the store finish-out was designed to transform the atmosphere into a warmer, more inviting food showcase. In addition, an online marketing platform was launched, a completely redesigned Web site, a new Latin-themed concessions design, a record-breaking “recession relief” campaign, and several new product roll outs.
The brand also replaced its original tagline with “Latin Life, Enjoy” this year.
Moving ahead, Swad is not satisfied to rest on his laurels. He’s working on new innovations to move the company forward. “We are developing a line of frozen specialty pizzas that can be sold at grocery stores in the Hispanic communities,” Swad says. “The bigger the brand, the more successful we will be.”
In less than three years as president of Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen, Cheryl Bachelder
In 2009, Popeyes outperformed both the chicken quick-serve category and the quick-service segment as a whole with a sales increase. In contrast, the quick-service category was down 1.1 percent, while chicken chains were down 5.4 percent.
GA_googleFillSlot("QSRMidpage234x60"); GA_googleCreateDomIframe('google_ads_div_QSRMidpage234x60' ,'QSRMidpage234x60'); In her first months on the job, Bachelder and her veteran executive team took a long, hard look at the brand and faced what she likes to call “the brutal reality.”
“At the outset of 2008, Popeyes was faced with some very bleak statistics that were impossible to ignore, the worst of which was seven consecutive years of guest traffic declines,” Bachelder says. “In addition, our speed of service was ranked at the bottom of a major quick-service study.”
In an effort to speed up service, headsets and timers were installed in every restaurant, and to improve location choices the chain instituted new, state-of-the art real estate site modeling tools. Popeyes also made the bold move to consolidate seven regional advertising agencies and found a lot of cost savings when it signed with a single company.
In addition, the Atlanta-based chain, which has more than 1,900 units in 44 states and 27 countries, also introduced Annie, a fictional Popeyes chef who serves as the brand’s ambassador.
On the culinary front there have been several innovative moves, including the roll out of three menu platforms—Popeyes Big Easys, the Louisiana Travelers, and Popeyes Big Deals. Bachelder also engineered the launch of the Bonafide brand, which showcases its bone-in chicken, which is freshly prepared and marinated for 12 hours in Louisiana seasonings, then hand-battered.
And as Bachelder is proud to point out, one of the innovations that is moving the needle significantly is the Guest Experience Monitor, which allows guests to use their phones and participate
in an interactive survey while the experience is fresh.
“By listening to our guests and making the needed improvements, we raised our ‘delighted’ ratings from consumers by 17 percentage points in 2009,” Bachelder says.
Blessed with the spirit of an entrepreneur, the passion of an artist, and the attention to detail that can only come from a place of real confidence, Chipotle Mexican Grill’s founder, CEO, and chairman, Steve Ells, can innovate with the best of them.
Since launching the fast-casual concept in 1983, Ells has gone from one 850-square-foot Denver unit to changing the way America eats, one burrito at a time.
As a Culinary Institute of America graduate, Ells knows food and all its complexities, but that doesn’t stop him from keeping the menu simple, and the food as natural as possible. Chipotle’s Food With Integrity mission guides every purchase.
“We have visited farms with the leadership teams, restaurant managers, and area managers,” Ells says in a 2005 interview with QSR. “It’s a matter of getting out there and sharing the stories about Food With Integrity, and why it’s important, not only for the Chipotle brand, but also for animal husbandry, the environment, and ultimately, for great-tasting food.”
Over the years, Ells has been consistently recognized as a restaurant operator who doesn’t necessarily do things as they have been done before. Now boasting revenues approaching $1.5 billion, more than 900 units, and 24,000 employees, Chipotle continues to innovate and surprise.
In 2009 the chain began testing a low-roller menu, which offers smaller portions and prices, as well as a children’s menu. Likewise, Chipotle introduced the vegan Garden Blend burrito, containing a marinated meat alternative that is plant-based.
Paying close attention to the environment is also a mission at Chipotle and on display at the green restaurant in Gurnee, Illinois. The simply designed restaurant features an onsite wind turbine, among other energy-saving features.
“The atmosphere says something about the brand beyond just decoration. It’s architectural in nature. In our case, it uses very simple materials like plywood, concrete, and steel. Through architecture and good design you elevate these materials to something extraordinary,” Ells says.
Ells’ creative bent contributes heavily to the myriad innovations at Chipotle, but his attention to detail is equally a factor.
“Perhaps it’s because we’ve stayed focused on this simple operations system that we’ve been able to continually refine and improve details along the way,” Ells says.
“Our dedication to making the small details better, and some of the not-so-small details like where food comes from, have contributed to Chipotle’s success.” has introduced innovations in virtually every aspect of the chain’s operations, and she’s only just begun. “Our first step was to freshen our face to the customer with a spanking new name for ourselves: Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen," Bachelder says. “The name captures the essence of who we are.” New brand graphics featuring “dancing letters” also were introduced when the name was adopted.
Mass output and U.S. rules have diminished flavor; what aficionados should demand
Let's talk about steak for a moment. Was the last one you ate good? How about the one before that? Be honest.
The first bite, in all probability, was juicy and tender. Not bad. A brief hit of beefiness, enough to spur you on to bite No. 2. But by bite No. 4, there was a problem: grease. The tongue gets entirely coated in it. It is at this point that many hands reach for that terrible abomination called steak sauce. It's acidic and zingy and cuts through grease, but it blots out the weak flavor of the steak.
At steak houses all over the country, wine drinkers know the variety of grapes used to make the wine, the patch of earth where they were grown, and the year they were picked. They might even know whether the wine was aged in a barrel made from oak grown in France or America.
They don't know nearly as much about their steak.
Not the breed, not what the cow ate, or where it was raised. All anyone seems to know about steak today is this: It doesn't have much flavor. The great American steak is great in name only. It has become like its hated nemesis, boneless chicken breast: bland.
The decline started back in 1926 when the U.S. Department of Agriculture began grading beef. Like the rest of the country, steak had undergone a big change in the preceding decades. It was being churned out of factories like the famous Chicago and Kansas City stockyards and being distributed throughout the country. Hotels, restaurants and butcher shops were buying beef sight unseen. Some was good, and some wasn't. So the government stepped in to make things right. It introduced its famous quality grades: Prime, Choice and Good.
How did the USDA separate the good beef from the bad? There was one thing everyone from ranchers and cowboys to butchers and USDA graders could agree on: fatter cattle tasted better than lean ones, so long as they weren't too old. So that's what they looked for: plump, well-fed cattle. They looked for fat on the ribs called feathering, and fat on the flank called frosting. If there was a great deal of that fat, the beef achieved the highest grade, Prime.
In the 1960s, graders began cutting a side of beef and looking for the dots and swirls of fat within the exposed rib eye. This fat is called marbling. The more marbling in a rib eye, the higher the grade. Other than that, not much has changed at the USDA. What a beef grader prized in 1926 is the same thing a grader prizes today: fat.
It's the cattle industry that has changed. In the 1950s, cattlemen began sending their cattle to feedlots to get fat. A feedlot is a vast sprawl of fenced-in pens where tens of thousands of cattle eat grain—usually corn—out of concrete troughs. Soon after, cattlemen started using growth promotants—hormones and steroids, basically—to get cattle fat faster, and fed them antibiotics so they could eat corn in amounts that, under normal conditions, could kill them.
By the turn of the century, a new drug entered the scene: the beta2-adrenergic agonist, a muscle relaxant used in humans to treat heart and respiratory disease that makes cattle gain more muscle. And the corn cattle now eat, not surprisingly, has also taken great strides in efficiency, having been hybridized and genetically engineered to pack more fat-producing starch. More recently, we've been feeding cattle something called dried distillers grains, which is the muck that's left over after corn is distilled into ethanol.
The result has been astonishing. In the 1950s, a cow was about two years old by the time it got fat. Today, it can be as young as one year old. An average carcass now yields 40% more beef than it did just 30 years ago. In short, the beef industry has experienced a tectonic supply-side shift. Production has become vastly more efficient. In 2009, beef cost 30% less than in 1974. Yet the average American is eating 20 pounds less of it per year.
The USDA is not alone in worshipping at fat's altar. "Fat is flavor" is the mantra of the grilling world. Unfortunately, it's not true.
Fat imparts mouth feel and richness in food. Fat can make a steak juicy and goad the mouth into salivating. But fat doesn't carry much in the way of taste. Consider wild venison or moose. The meat possesses virtually no marbling, and yet it's very flavorful—some would say too flavorful.
It helps to understand what the cattle industry looked like in 1926. Then, feedlots were still decades away. The vast majority of beef cattle were fattened on grass—according to the USDA, in 1935 a mere 5% of cattle were fattened on grain, and not much grain by today's standards.
Cattlemen were not paid to make cattle delicious. They were paid by the pound. And since marbled beef commanded a better price per pound, the beef business got very good at producing marbled beef more efficiently.
Today, four big companies—Cargill, JBS Swift, National and Tyson Foods—dominate beef packing. Feedlots and slaughterhouses have gotten enormous. At every level, the chain of beef production has been tweaked to get cattle fat cheaply. But mass production is not without its drawbacks. Cheap beef doesn't taste good. What we have gained in yield and efficiency, we've lost in flavor.
The change has been gradual, so much so that most people haven't noticed the steady decline in strip loins or rib eyes. But we don't love steak the way we used to. It isn't the prestige food it once was. That honor is now held by whey-fed pork, foie gras or rare sashimi flown in from Japan. When we go out for steak, we spend more time talking about the wine.
So, what makes a steak flavorful?
At last count, 340 flavor compounds. (Which, incidentally, is a mere 46 fewer flavor compounds than have been found in red wine.) These are the complex chemicals that are produced when a steak is subject to the intense heat of a pan or grill. They are formed by everything you find in a steak—amino acids, water, sugars, fat, you name it.
Science, however, hasn't come anywhere close to solving the mystery of great steak. It has yet to determine precisely which compounds in steak are desirable, and how they can be achieved. But that probably has more to do with the fact that there's more research funding in getting cattle get fat quickly than there is in making them taste delicious.
Extraordinary steak does exist, however. The way a steak tastes has a lot to do with what a cow eats—and the best beef is raised on grass.
Simple answers, however, only get you so far. I have eaten grass-fed steak that made me want to weep with joy, but I have also eaten grass-fed steaks that induced the gagging reflex. As with wine, creating a great steak requires great passion and greater skill. A steak can be ruined by many things—a noxious weed, a butcher who misunderstands the art of aging—but it is most often ruined by the farmer or rancher who doesn't know that a grass-fed steak only tastes good when the cow it comes from is fat. Getting cows fat is simple in a feedlot. On grass, it may as well require a Ph.D.
Finding an excellent steak, thankfully, is somewhat easier. It requires combing farmers' markets, searching relentlessly on the Internet and asking questions.
The most important question to ask is age at slaughter. For flavor reasons, be wary of steak from a cow younger than 20 months. Ask how much the cow weighed when it was slaughtered, because any cow weighing less than 1,000 pounds is almost always too lean to be delicious. Ask about the breed. Be wary of "Continental" breeds, such as Charolais or Limousin, which do very well in feedlots and terribly on grass. Look for British breeds like Hereford, Galloway and Angus. And if you should find grass-fed Wagyu, buy it.
The news for steak lovers is good. The virtuosos are overtaking the hacks. Their meat, it so happens, is better for you. It has less saturated fat, more heart-healthy omega-3s and is denser in vitamins and antioxidants.
You will not find these steaks in most steak houses. A USDA beef grader cannot pick them out by sight. But when you eat one, you will remember why steak and nothing other than steak will ever be steak. The sad story, it turns out, has a happy ending.
—Mark Schatzker is the author of "Steak: One Man's Search for the World's Tastiest Piece of Beef," published this month by Viking.
IT began at Fred’s. I was tucking into a lobster salad over a business lunch at the swanky eatery inside Barneys when I noticed, amid the sea of designer handbags and diners who define chic, babies dotting the room. And instead of grudgingly accepting them, the staff was doting.
My daughter, Meenakshi, was 8 months old at the time, and my husband and I had been getting our restaurant-food fix by ordering takeout or hiring a sitter. Whenever we took her with us we ended up wishing we had stayed home.
At our favorite pizza restaurant, which was always full of families, we were told that we were not allowed in with a stroller — Meenakshi was just 4 months, too small for a high chair, and the thought of working our way through a pie while taking turns holding her was not exactly appealing, so we took it to go. A casual American spot with a separate children’s menu seemed promising, but I was left struggling with my stroller down the handful of stairs while the staff stood idly watching.
But after seeing the babies at Fred’s, I decided to try again. We were able to check in our bulky stroller, and when it came to ordering for our little gastronomist, then about 10 months old, the Fred’s waiter suggested an off-the-menu grilled cheese on whole wheat with a side of sautéed broccoli. It arrived within minutes. He was amused, not annoyed, by Meenakshi’s game of dropping her plastic cutlery on the floor more than a dozen times so he could pick it up.
Meenakshi turned 2 last weekend — we celebrated at Café Boulud, where she selected her raisin-walnut roll from the bread tray to go with her goat-cheese risotto balls, and finished with a milk chocolate and peanut butter bar plus chocolate tuile (they wrote “happy birthday” on the plate), followed, of course, by the signature madeleines. She has been to some of New York’s finest eateries, finding obliging staff and a hint of culinary adventure in an otherwise uninspired diet. (And, I’m sure, some fellow diners who had paid for baby sitters and were perturbed at her presence.)
There are no children’s menus at these places, where grown-up meals run as high as $100 a person, but they all have high chairs and find little ways to cater to the under-3 crowd.
L’ATELIER DE JOEL ROBUCHON 57 East 57th Street, (212) 829-3844
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Sliders with homemade ketchup and hand-carved fries ($25), spaghetti with butter or tomato sauce ($32).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES This serious dining destination at the Four Seasons Hotel does not just accept children — it welcomes them with amenities like a stroller check-in, a free Beanie Baby (the hotel is owned by the toy’s maker, Ty Warner), coloring book and crayons, and even a portable DVD player with a selection of age-appropriate movies like “Shrek.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Once a week, usually at 6 p.m.
GRAMERCY TAVERN 42 East 20th Street, (212) 477-077
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Meatballs ($18), bacon-and-cheddar biscuits ($4), mushroom lasagna ($10 for half portion) and smoked kielbasa ($10 for half portion).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Stroller check-in, free milk and a freshly baked mini-cookie like peanut butter chocolate or molasses.
TOT SIGHTINGS A few times a week in the main dining room and even more frequently in the no-reservations Tavern. “We see babies a few weeks old with their parents who are coming out for their first post-birth meal because they know they are always welcome here,” said Kevin Mahan, the general manager.
FRED'S AT BARNEYS NEW YORK 660 Madison Avenue, (212) 833-2200
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Grilled cheese with vegetable or fries ($12.50) is not on the menu, but just ask; small portions of pasta with San Marzano tomato sauce or farmed butter ($12); pizzas ($18 to $24).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES This see-and-be-seen lunch spot offers ample stroller parking, but if your little one is sleeping or is too small for a high chair, you can bring your wheels to the table. Children’s orders get first priority in the kitchen. There “is never a point where a child is not welcome at Fred’s,” said Mark Strausman, the restaurant’s managing director.
TOT SIGHTINGS Multiple times a day for lunch and dinner, and Sunday brunch is kid central.
CAFÉ BOULUD 20 East 76th Street, (212) 772-2600
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES House-made spaghetti with aged Parmesan and fleur de sel butter ($11), petite filet mignon with fries ($19), risotto balls ($10), Belgian waffles ($14), ricotta cheese blintz with apple butter ($14).
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Gavin Kaysen, the executive chef, has a 9-month-old son who loves being in the kitchen, so he strives to make the food and ambiance welcoming. Anjli Bhandari said that her 2-year-old twins loved the butter pasta and that she appreciated “how the staff was wonderfully patient as they replaced spoon after spoon that kept falling on the ground.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Several times a week for 5:30 dinner, and always a handful at Saturday lunch and Sunday brunch.
VERMILION 480 Lexington Avenue, (212) 871-6600
TOT-FRIENDLY TASTES Mini-thalis (free for children under 5) — a crash course on Indian cuisine — come with naan, rice, daal, kebab and two of the day’s special entrees. There is also a “milder adaptation” menu in which the normally spicy creations are tempered to appeal to children.
TOT-FRIENDLY TOUCHES Within three minutes of being seated at this elegant Indian and Latin fusion eatery, diners with children get a complimentary plate of sweet potato fries dusted with chaat masala. Their orders are expedited, and parents can have a three-course meal in 45 minutes upon request (plus the free mini-thalis!). “I find that parents dining out with infants want a great meal that’s not prolonged,” said the owner, Rohini Dey, a mother of two. “So that’s what we try to provide.”
TOT SIGHTINGS Several times a week, and more often in warmer weather for outdoor seating — the space can easily accommodate strollers.
IN early April, Kris Comstock, a representative for the Buffalo Trace distillery in Kentucky, conducted a seminar on bourbon at Char No. 4, a bar in Cobble Hill, Brooklyn, that offers 150 kinds of American whiskey.
Among the bourbons he poured were Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and Blanton’s. But his students weren’t interested in those.
“The first thing that everyone wanted to taste was the white dog,” he said. “We make products that win amazing awards all around the world, and they want to taste the white dog.”
White dog, or white whiskey, is, basically, moonshine. It’s newborn whiskey, crystal-clear grain distillate, as yet unkissed by the barrel, the vessel that lends whiskey some or all of its color and much of its flavor. And white dog is currently having its day.
“Aging in wood has many beautiful effects on a spirit,” said Tad Carducci, half of the cocktail consulting duo known as the Tippling Brothers. “But it does tend to disguise whatever the base spirit is. When you strip that away, you’re getting a real sense of what wheat offers, or rye or corn.”
Unlike vodka, in which the source grain is often purposefully purified to a vanishing point, white dogs are pungently fragrant, with a chewy sweetness to them.
This spring, Buffalo Trace began a limited commercial release of its white dog, which until now was available only as a much-coveted souvenir from the distillery’s gift shop. The bottles took their place on store shelves next to a growing line of colorless whiskeys.
Most are the work of young micro-distilleries like Death’s Door, in Wisconsin; Finger Lakes Distilling, in upstate New York; Tuthilltown, in the Hudson Valley; the Copper Fox Distillery, in northern Virginia; and House Spirits, in Portland, Ore.
There are so many white dogs on the market now that Joe Carroll, owner of Fette Sau, a bar and restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, offers a white-whiskey flight. Passengers on that flight, he said, include everyone from informed whiskey aficionados to inquisitive novices who think whiskey is born brown. “They’re curious because they don’t know anything about it,” he said.
According to Max Watman, the author of the recently published “Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine” (Simon & Schuster), the trend is being fueled by two very differently motivated groups: practical-minded distillers and ravenously questing enthusiasts. “It’s obviously a boon to small distilleries,” Mr. Watman said. “If you’re making whiskey, you’ve got to keep the lights on and wait. It helps to be able to sell something right away. But that’s not the end of the story. I think anybody who’s ever toured a distillery and tasted this stuff coming right off the line is surprised at how delicious it is. Everybody says, ‘Wow, you should sell this!’ ”
The “you should sell this” moment for Death’s Door’s founder, Brian Ellison, came in early 2008 when he was preparing to age some red-winter-wheat-based distillate. A small Chicago distributor thought the raw liquor was so good he asked for 50 cases as is, and quickly found buyers.
“I always thought at some point people would get tired of it,” Mr. Ellison said. Instead, Death’s Door has sold more white whiskey in the first quarter of this year than it did in all of last year. Mr. Ellison is thinking of putting in some spring wheat to keep up with demand.
“The word ‘curiosity’ is very apropos,” Mr. Carducci said. “People who are spirit geeks are always looking for the next curiosity. But what happens is they become hooked and think it’s an actually respectable spirit.”
Gable Erenzo, a distiller at Tuthilltown, said that its Hudson New York Corn Whiskey — one of the earliest of the new white dogs to hit the market — has been steadily creeping up in sales, and he is not surprised. “We knew this was going to happen,” he said. “People, especially bartenders, were excited when they heard we were making a corn whiskey.”
Not just bartenders, either. Even though home distilling has long been illegal in America, interest in it is rising. The Web site homedistiller.org has 5,500 members, with handles like Kentucky Shiner, upinthehills and toofless.
One New York state moonshine hobbyist with more than 30 years’ experience behind various stills, who asked that his name not be used because of the legal issues, said the commercial distillers are “trying to replicate traditional methods, which is essentially what I do.”
He said he was not surprised by the advent of commercial white dogs. “I’ve been telling people for years that they have to taste corn whiskey, so that when they taste whiskey, they can find their way around the inside of their mouth.”
That said, he’s not overly impressed with what’s coming out. “The hobby distillers who are on the foodie bent are making better whiskey than you can buy. Period. No question about it. You just can’t do as good a job making 1,000 gallons at a time as you can making 10 gallons a time. There’s people making white dog that is mind-blowing.”
All this attention is focused on a kind of spirit that’s been around as long as there have been hills to hide stills. While moonshines of yore found a test of their mettle in whether they could keep the Xs on Pappy Yokum’s eyes, today’s legal lightnings are seen as finessed expressions of the spirit maker’s art.
“You’ve got less to hide behind,” Mr. Watman said. “You can mask a lot in a heavily charred barrel. You don’t get any pass with white whiskey. All you have is an expression of the distiller’s craft and the agriculture from which it came. It ups the stakes of the craft end of it.”
With that clarity in mind, the mixologists playing with this new toy are keeping things simple, building on standard cocktails that highlight the grain spirits’ natural flavors.
Mr. Carducci used Death’s Door as the base of his Albino Old-Fashioned at Bar Celona in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where he did some consulting work.
Damon Boelte, bar manager at Prime Meats in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, uses the same brand for the Good Word, his white-dog take on the classic Last Word.
Ehren Ashkenazi, beverage director at the Modern, uses it for Devil in White, a spin on the Manhattan, and Jim Meehan, of PDT, pairs Finger Lake Distilling’s Glen Thunder corn whiskey with sake and Galliano L’Autentico in his Brewer’s Breakfast.
Mr. Carroll, of Fette Sau, wonders whether the current fascination with this baby spirit will last.
“It will be interesting to see if the distilleries continue selling white dog when all their other whiskeys mature,” he said.
For Mr. Watman, however, as long as there are whiskey drinkers in the world, there will be a place for white dog. “Part of it is an enthusiasm for a spirit we already love,” he said. “If you love whiskey, you’re going to love raw whiskey, too. It’s another way to taste the same thing.”
By ROBERT SIMONSON
The National Football League is getting a new official beer.
In one of the largest-ever league sponsorship deals, the U.S. division of brewing giant Anheuser-Busch InBev NV will make Bud Light the official beer of the nation's richest sports league starting in 2011. A person familiar with the terms of the deal said it is worth nearly $1.2 billion over six years.
Bud Light will replace rival Coors Light, which is brewed by MillerCoors LLC, whose deal with the NFL will expire after the 2011 Super Bowl. A spokesman for Chicago-based MillerCoors said the company tried to reach a deal with the NFL but could not come to terms on the price.
The U.S. arm of Anheuser, based in Leuven, Belgium, already sponsors 28 NFL teams and has advertised on 22 consecutive Super Bowls. "This gives Bud Light real ownership of professional football within the beer category," said Dave Peacock, president of the U.S. division.
Bud Light is the best-selling beer in the U.S., but shipments of the beer declined last year for the first time since it was introduced in 1982, fueling recent efforts by Anheuser to ramp up advertising of the brand.
—By MATTHEW FUTTERMAN, David Kesmodel contributed to this article.
Since OpenTable launched its iPhone app in November, 2008 it has booked restaurant reservations for 3 million diners through it and other mobile apps. With a $50 average check, that comes to $150 million in revenues coming from mobile apps to restaurants all over the world. (OpenTable takes a cut). The bulk of that is from the iPhone.
About a year later, the company announced that it had seated one million diners through all of its mobile apps. So it is up 200 percent since then just on the mobile side. (It seems like everyone is hitting the 3-million user mark today).
To put that number in perspective, OpenTable seated a total of 24.2 million diners in the past two quarters, roughly two million of which were via mobile apps, or about 8 percent. (The milestones don’t exactly match the end of each quarter).
Kim and Vitaly Paley opened Paley's Place restaurant in Northwest Portland in February 1995. He was and remains the chef; she is the indomitable spirit running the front of the house. There have never been any other partners or investors, though many former cooks and servers now run kitchens and dining rooms of their own.
Fifteen years and countless accolades (including being named The Oregonian's Restaurant of the Year in 1999) later, the Paleys -- owners and restaurant -- are still going strong.
The menu remains bright and interesting; ingredients still come from nearby, and the tables are full of happily chattering locals and visitors. In a business where quick flash and flame-out are common themes, hitting the 15-year mark is an achievement.
The Paleys celebrated the achievement -- two months late -- by sitting for an exclusive interview. Questions and answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.
Q: To what do you attribute Paley's longevity?
Kim: We are very hands-on. We are physically in our space all the time. And when we aren't, we are doing other work to promote the place.
Vitaly: It's been a journey of discovery learning what it is we do here, and I can honestly say that it's only been in the last year that I really have begun to feel confident in my own ability and potential and to feel happy in the kitchen.
The thoughts don't always translate to the fingers -- the technical prowess lags the thought process. So, sometimes you are able to think of these crazy interesting new ideas that seem perfectly logical in your head, but when you get it on the plate, all of a sudden you say to yourself, "What was I thinking?" These days it seems like my fingers and head are a lot better synchronized. Not that I would compare myself with Beethoven, but now I understand more the ability to feel the outcome of what I do. But it's taken me 15 years to get here.
I've been through back surgery. In fact, that was in 2005, the year I got the James Beard Award for Best Northwest Chef but was out of the kitchen for six months. Before the surgery I held my meetings with kitchen staff lying on my stomach because I couldn't stand and they ran the kitchen for me. I consider myself lucky to have been given the award that year.
Q: After 15 years, how do you keep it fresh for yourself and your customers?
Kim: At least in the front of the house, every day is still different. There's no routine.
Vitaly: We in the kitchen push it on a daily basis. I keep all my cooks on the edge. You have to stay creative. With the recession, last year we revisited every aspect of our business. We kept buying the same quality ingredients -- the truffles and other expensive products -- but we just became more creative in how we used them. And from the need to be more creative evolved a new style for us. We began to print a new menu daily, which we had never done. We began bringing in whole hogs and breaking them down more than we had ever done.
And being creative means being able to use and sell in some form all the different parts of the pig -- to give the pig's head, for example, mass appeal. I created a cold cut that we call testarossa, which is head meat that's spiced with local fennel pollen and piment d'Espelette, rolled and slow-cooked for 18 hours. It melts on your tongue and we can't keep it in on hand, and it's become a model for us to expand our horizons . But without creativity ... if we sold it simply as "head cheese," a lot of people would say, "Head cheese? Are you kidding?"
Kim: And our job out on the floor is to be educated enough, smart enough and confident enough to describe it and feel with utter abandon that this is fabulous.
Vitaly: We aren't fueled by the product so much anymore. Instead, the leading factor is the need to create interesting new ideas. So, for example, there's this guy from southeast Washington who raises these incredible poussins and squabs. The other day, he walked into the kitchen and in the middle of the afternoon we decided to change our menu to include poussin. So, the kids in the kitchen are scared and they're psyched at the same time. There's this feeling of excitement that keeps it fresh.
There's a section of the menu that are classics: mussels and fries, escargot, beef tartare and sweetbreads. The rest changes. The idea is that I walk into the cooler and say to myself, "Today is a brand new day. What are we going to do?" For any new dish I come up with, the three questions I have to ask are: "Does it make sense in terms of being up to our standards?" Number two: "Will the item evoke a reaction from the diner, some kind of emotional response?" And, number three, "Will we be able to execute the dish consistently?" So it's this daily creative process we go through and it's how we find meaning and respect for ingredients.
Q: It was the recession that moved you in this direction?
Vitaly: The vision was always there, but it had never been so focused and as clear as it is today. That's the funny part: It was always there, but I was never so sure. When we walked in here 15 years ago, we were going to buy from local people, we were going to work with local farmers and support the local economy. And this was before local and sustainable became buzz words. This is our motto. So, we are just hitting our stride, but now everyone wants to know what's new and what's hot. So we are at a crossroads: Do I want to open a new restaurant so I can be heard or do I sit back and do what we normally do and cook for people who want to eat our food?
Q: Is there a second restaurant in your future?
Vitaly: We have been seriously looking. We looked at the old Zefiro space on Northwest 21st, but there are too many ghosts floating around so that's not in play. But I would love to do a fish house. There's no good seafood place in Portland. And I'd like to come in and show that we do have a bounty from the sea.
Kim: And it doesn't have to be local. We want to be able to get stuff from all over.
Vitaly: There are plenty of sustainable items we can explore from around the world. I don't know if we would ship directly, but there's a monopoly of seafood companies in Portland, and unfortunately they are not the best if you compare the quality of what else is out there. And the same way we have been supporting local farmers, I would like to explore new ideas with seafood. We need to look past halibut and salmon.
Q: Are you ready to take the flak if you open a seafood restaurant that's not locally focused?
Vitaly: I'm ready. I've been waiting on the sidelines for a long time, kept a low profile and said all the diplomatic things, but it's time to stir it up a little bit. Focusing locally is really important and it should be the only way people do business and the only way they live their lives. At the same time, though, by bringing in the really good, quality products from elsewhere, we will be able to show the local purveyors that what they have right now isn't good enough.
I am prepared to begin making connections with people in Seattle, San Francisco and other places and see if we can find some really interesting sources. And then the idea would be a restaurant that would very seafood-focused. We would sell whole fish by the pound, but we would still need to keep it accessible and within people's price range. And that's the challenge because seafood is inherently expensive. Anyway, for now we are still mulling this over.
Q: Other than changing your culinary focus, how did Paley's survive the recession?
Kim: We worked harder. We looked at our numbers, tightened up our payroll. We bought a point-of-sale computer system that tracks all sorts of things. We treated the restaurant as a business and saved a lot of money because of it. We also promoted the fact that we have half portions -- which we have always had -- but that became huge for us because our customers saw it as great value. We did not follow the herd, though. We never went with the happy hour thing. We did not want to lose our identity or integrity. We had to stick with what worked for us.
Vitaly: And I want to take this opportunity to dispense with the notion that Paley's is only an expensive, special occasion restaurant. With the half portions, we provide a great value. Beyond that, even though our sales were down last year, it was still one of our most profitable ever because we had tightened things up by managing our internal numbers.
Q: Where do you see yourself 15 years from now?
Vitaly: As I said, I'm just hitting my stride now, but I don't know what I'll be doing that far in the future or where I'll be doing it. Maybe or maybe not in Portland.
Q: Are there any mistakes you have made over the years? Any regrets?
Kim: I regret we didn't bring in the computer system sooner. It's probably added 10 percent in revenues that were lost from not getting things written down.
Q: What are your favorite ingredients?
Vitaly: Fennel pollen, piment d'Espellette and persillade (parsley and garlic chopped together)
Q: Who is your favorite food service personality and why?
Kim: I know it sounds really old school, but Sirio Maccione of Le Cirque. He has this way, this honesty -- you would see him sitting down at the end of the night eating his grilled cheese sandwich. I didn't work for him, but I served him a lot when I was working in New York City. He'd come in with his wife all dressed up. His manner, his style, his elegance ... if I could aspire to emulate anyone, it would be him. For me to be able to observe him and watch how he works a room. ... There is just no other like him.
Vitaly: I was always amazed at his ability to make you feel welcome even if you were sitting at the worst table in the house.
Q: How do you compare the Portland dining scene with other cities?
Vitaly: Portland has a ways to go. We are not as international and I'm not sure we will ever be as international as Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco, Chicago. You eat in high-end and even not so high-end restaurants in any of those cities and you will hear all sorts of languages being spoken. Partly we are driven by locale, but mostly we are driven by local consumer demand, and the demand for international-level dining -- the very top end, the glamour -- is not here. Instead we have the grunge, cement-floor industrial thing.
Up in Vancouver, B.C., big names like Daniel Boulud and Jean-Georges Vongerichten are opening restaurants. I would like to see Portland being viewed by the serious professionals the same way we see ourselves. Once we see that, the professionals are taking notice, then we've stepped into the real world and we can play with the players.
Q: What do you like to do when you aren't working?
Kim: Sleep, get massages, go on long bike rides.
Vitaly: That's about it. I like to catch up on my sleep when I'm not working. And I've been doing the bike commute to work every day for as long as I can remember. It's about a 35-minute ride and it helps me wind down after work.
-- Michael C. Zusman
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