Menu FeedSep 21, 2023
How Sip Fresh is refreshing the beverage segment with mixology-inspired juice drinks
Sharon Arthofer had a career in marketing, retail and the snack industry before she started fast-casual Sip Fresh in 2017, but she noticed a huge growth opportunity in the beverage segment. Instead of doing just another pressed juice concept, she hired mixologists to take it to the next level. They created a menu of unique, alcohol-free juice-based drinks with on-trend ingredients like dragon fruit, kiwi, chamoy and tajin—each artfully garnished like cocktails.
“Sipologists” develop the recipes and each of the four locations employs trained “sipistas”—patterned after baristas—to serve the handcrafted drinks. The units are designed with a bar-style vibe, with the beverage selection displayed in large glass barrels on the counter.
Listen as Arthofer shares why the time is right to refresh the beverage segment, how beverage catering is a focus for growth and her future plans for franchising and expanding Sip Fresh beyond its home base of California.
How Hilton is redefining what hotel food and beverage can be
Adam Crocini, VP and global head of food and beverage for Hilton hotels, is reimagining food and beverage service at all the company’s brands—from family-friendly Hampton Inn to the luxe Waldorf Astoria.
With guests looking for more meaningful experiences post-pandemic, Crocini is leading the charge to create more chef partnerships in the hotel restaurants. José Andrés, Michael Mina and Nancy Silverton are already established in some Hilton properties, but “we have thousands of hotels around the world and thousands of opportunities for talented chefs,” he said. The goal is to create more destination restaurants and signature dining experiences for guests and locals alike.
Breakfast is also a top priority for Hilton guests, and there’s an increased focus on better-for-you, fresher items on breakfast buffets and menus. The same goes for the snacks and grab-and-go items in hotel retail markets, which have been upgraded with healthier, higher quality foods and drinks. And Hilton’s newest lifestyle hotel, Tempo, offers an on-trend list of handcrafted “Spirited” and “Spirit-Free” cocktails at the bar as well as other contemporary perks.
Listen as Crocini describes how he is positioning Hilton to meet guests where they are with upgraded food and beverage service, how the hotels are primed to deliver memorable dining experiences and what’s in store for 2024.
How Chicken Salad Chick is shaking up the menu with its first warm sandwich
Chicken Salad Chick started with one recipe created by an Alabama mom and has grown to more than 225 restaurants across the South, with units now open in Colorado and the Midwest as well. Its menu features more than a dozen variations of chicken salad, many named after their female creators or fans.
Now, the chain has introduced its first warm sandwich: the Chick Melt. Based on a tuna melt but filled with—you guessed it, chicken salad—it’s the latest example of Chicken Salad Chick’s continuing drive to innovate the menu while staying true to its roots.
CMO Tom Carr, who is very involved in the culinary side of the business, describes the new melts and the clever marketing campaign built around their launch.
How Eileen Andrade transformed her grandmother's Cuban diner into an elegant fine-dining restaurant
Eileen Andrade, chef-owner of the newly revamped Amelia’s 1931, started out in the fashion business. But she couldn’t resist the pull of her Cuban family’s restaurant legacy, especially that of her abuela Amelia, for whom the restaurant is named.
Andrade renovated her grandmother’s diner in June, breaking through to the dry cleaner next door to add 100 seats, a trendy cocktail lounge and dazzling artistic touches. Her eclectic Asian-Latin menu pays homage to her family’s Cuban heritage, elevating the cuisine with upscale ingredients and Korean flavors. Andrade even established a dress code—an uncommon restriction in laid-back Miami.
Listen as Andrade describes working her way up in her family’s restaurants (she started as a dishwasher), how she quickly transitioned into running a food truck and two casual spots—Finka and Barbakoa—and how she designed Amelia’s 1931 with the goal of transporting guests nightly on a culinary journey.
How a new Margaritaville transformed foodservice at a Louisiana campground in mere months
Amanda Stelly, general manager of Camp Margaritaville Breaux Bridge, remained unruffled when tasked with supervising the overhaul of food and beverage operations.
She has deep experience as a restaurant manager, and even though the revamp had to be done in just a few months, she put one foot in front of the other and got it done.
The Jimmy Buffet-branded Margaritaville venues were all in top operating order by the time the busy summer season started this year. These include the 5 O’Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill, License to Chill, Feeding Frenzy and Lah de Dah Bar—all reporting robust sales.
Listen as Stelly describes the new food and drink concepts and their impact on sales, how she managed to quickly train staff in Margaritaville style before the summer rush and what’s in store as Phase 2 gets underway later this year.
How CEO Jeff Carcara is taking Sixty Vines to 'wherever the wine drinkers are'
Jeff Carcara, CEO of Sixty Vines, says he owes a lot to the Hillstone Restaurant Group, the hospitality company where he began his career.
He followed that start with stints at innovative casual-dining players, including Bahama Breeze, Seasons 52 and Del Frisco.
Carcara now leads Sixty Vines, an eight-location polished casual differentiated by its unique wine-on-tap initiative and vineyard-inspired global menu. The restaurant came onto his radar when he dined there as a guest and was wowed by the sustainable, flexible beverage program featuring keg wines, cocktails, kombucha and even cold-brew coffee—all on tap. That, along with the concept's craveable, shareable food and relaxed vibe, made a lasting impression.
Listen as Carcara describes how Sixty Vines is changing wine culture to make it more approachable and fun, how he’s working to expand the chain around the country and why the brand is finding fans among diners in every generation.
As director of culinary for US Foods, Scott McCurdy is a 'constant student of restaurants'
Scott McCurdy earned his culinary chops working as an executive chef in high-end restaurants, hotels and other segments of the industry.
As director of culinary for US Foods since 2005, he’s now on the other side, tapping that experience to help operators, particularly independent restaurants, create smarter, more profitable menus.
McCurdy is a “constant student of restaurants” to stay on top of the trends—a commitment that drives innovation and product development. Listen as he shares how he and his team of 65 US Foods chefs around the country provide culinary and operational expertise to help restaurants succeed.
How Mike's Hot Honey sparked the sweet-heat menu trend, starting with Paulie Gee's Brooklyn pizzeria
Hot honey may be the hottest condiment of the year, infusing restaurant menus across the country with sweet heat.
Mike Kurtz first tasted hot honey on a pizza in Brazil in his early 20s and started making his own chili-infused honey in his Brooklyn apartment. He brought samples to Brooklyn pizzeria Paulie Gee’s and soon turned owner Paul Giannone onto the idea of drizzling his pies with hot honey.
Fast forward 10-plus years, and Mike’s Hot Honey is now a staple on retailer’s shelves and in foodservice kitchens. Paulie Gee’s Hellboy, a pizza topped with soppressata, mozzarella, Parmigiano Reggiano and hot honey, has long been on the permanent menu, and operators including First Watch, Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza and Madison Square Garden feature the condiment in everything from margaritas to fried chicken, wings, breakfast sandwiches and ice cream sundaes.
Listen as Kurtz and Giannone share share how they put hot honey on the culinary map, why the sweet-heat trend is currently booming and where the next stops on this flavor journey might lead.
How Eric Gabrynowicz gave Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar a menu refresh while staying true to its roots
Eric Gabrynowicz, vice president of culinary for Tupelo Honey Southern Kitchen & Bar, fell in love with knives and fire when he worked in a restaurant kitchen as a teenager.
From there, he graduated from the CIA, worked for Danny Meyer at Union Square Cafe and Blue Smoke, and eventually helmed his own kitchen at North Restaurant in Westchester County, N.Y.
But Gabrynowicz has always been obsessed with the flavors and passion that go into Southern food. When he landed at Tupelo Honey, he wanted to preserve the Southern signatures that built the restaurant’s reputation, but reinvigorate both the food and bar menu with elevated ingredients, techniques and presentation, and add his own culinary stamp.
The polished-casual concept now has 23 locations across the U.S., but the menu plays as well in Idaho and Indianapolis as it does in Georgia and North Carolina—the state where it all started. Listen as Chef Gabrynowicz describes how he has brought Tupelo’s Southern menu to new heights but learned not to mess with favorites like the mac and cheese, how the refreshed food and drink lineup has boosted sales and profits, and why he is so committed to bringing an end to childhood hunger.
How Spike Mendelsohn is changing up healthy eating in the fast-casual and snack spaces
Spike Mendelsohn is a celebrity chef, entrepreneur, TV personality and food policy activist, all of which come together in his newest ventures—PLNT Burger and Eat the Change.
PLNT Burger, which serves up chef-curated, plant-based versions of burgers, soft-serve, chicken fingers and other fast-food favorites, currently has 10 locations and is on a growth trajectory. Meanwhile, Eat the Change, a healthy snack company Mendelsohn started with partner Seth Goldman, has launched packaged snacks such as mushroom jerky and carrot chews to sell at retail.
Although Mendelsohn started out in Michelin-starred restaurants, he’s now applying his culinary talents to improve America’s healthy eating choices. Listen as he talks about his diverse culinary journey, how he’s infusing the fast- casual segment with his entrepreneurial spirit and innovative ideas, and why advocating for healthy and equitable food systems is so close to his heart.
How True Food Kitchen reimagined its menu with a focus on hyper-seasonality and comfort
Matthew Padilla, culinary director for True Food Kitchen, joined the full-service restaurant group last year and quickly started innovating the menu. This spring, he introduced over 30 new dishes, incorporating hyper-seasonal ingredients and inventive global flavors, with an updated summer menu close behind.
To appeal to a broader audience, he transformed comfort-food favorites like burgers, pizza and pasta with healthier twists. Padilla also refreshed menu staples, including bowls, salads and desserts, to be in sync with the seasons—all the while staying true to True Food’s original wellness, sustainability and ethical sourcing mission.
Listen as the chef relates his fine-dining culinary journey, shares his menu innovation strategy and talks about what’s next for 43-location True Food Kitchen.
How Fabio Viviani is expanding his restaurant empire into the sweet side
Fabio Viviani is a native of Florence, Italy, where he started working in restaurant kitchens at the age of 11.
He learned the ropes of the hospitality industry by cooking in and managing Italian trattorias and restaurants, eventually moving to the U.S. when he was 27, where he opened and operated several restaurants in L.A. Over the next 15 or so years, Chef Viviani built a hospitality empire, developing more restaurants and related culinary businesses around the country in hotels, casinos, airports and freestanding locations.
His latest venture is JARS by Fabio Viviani, a fast-casual dessert concept serving more than 100 favorite desserts in single-serve grab-and-go jars.
Listen as Viviani talks about his colorful culinary journey and hospitality empire, his appearances on Top Chef that earned him the title of “fan favorite” and how he’s gearing up to franchise JARS now that the first location in Chicago is going strong.
117 chefs share their secrets to running a successful kitchen and restaurant
“Chefwise: Life Lessons from Leading Chefs Around the World” is not a cookbook.
In place of recipes, its pages are filled with insider insights from 117 chefs around the world, collected by author Shari Bayer.
Bayer interviewed both well-known chefs like Tom Colicchio, Sean Brock, Alice Waters and Massimo Bottura, as well as rising stars, owners of Michelin-starred restaurants and operators of casual eateries. They share tips on everything from leadership strategies to team building, purchasing, tech and business tools and work-life balance. The book covers the best practices that are essential to the everyday job, as well as more abstract things, such as inspiration, philosophy and activism.
Listen as Bayer talks about Chefwise and shares anecdotes, insights and expert advice from the pros.
How Robert St. John turned Hattiesburg, Miss., into a dining destination
Robert St. John is a restaurateur, chef, writer, philanthropist, international travel guide and TV personality—in short, a modern-day renaissance man.
He opened his first restaurant, Purple Parrot Cafe, more than 30 years ago in Hattiesburg, Miss., turning the small Southern city into a dining destination. While that one closed during Covid, seven other restaurants remain in town and two more in the state capital of Jackson. The Midtowner is the newest, an all-day breakfast place serving St. John’s favorite meal of the day.
The restaurateur has had a strong impact on his community and state through his businesses, books, PBS shows, volunteerism and nonprofit organization, Extra Table, which ships over 200,000 pounds of healthy food to 60 soup kitchens and food pantries across Mississippi every month. He was also an active member of the Independent Restaurant Coalition, helping to secure much-needed funds for indies during the pandemic.
Listen as St. John shares his colorful journey as a chef and restaurateur, his prolific work as a writer, how he’s fueled by a mission to give back to his community and where life is taking him next.
How Yogurtland's flavorologists push the envelope on what frozen yogurt can be
Yogurtland has developed more than 200 frozen yogurt flavors that rotate throughout the chain’s 220 locations at different times of the year.
The company employs a team of flavorologists, who combine scientific knowledge, market research and their refined palates to create unique flavor profiles like Thai Tea, Blueberry Pancake, Decadent Dark Chocolate Orange and Irish Mint. Limited-time flavors launch frequently, but the chain’s tart flavor is still one of the best sellers.
President Sam Yoon believes that the time is right for frozen yogurt to experience a second growth spurt and Yogurtland is primed to lead the way. The brand’s product meets consumers’ current demands for health, indulgence and snacking. Listen as he talks about how flavor innovation is driving that growth and how Yogurtland is expanding to new markets both across the country and around the world.
How Ford's Garage innovative menu and vibe draws guests of all ages
Ford’s Garage is a 1920s gas station-themed burger and craft beer restaurant with a unique vibe.
Chef Jessica Tomlinson landed at the 24-location, full-service concept after working in fine dining, baking and pastry, a farm-to-table restaurant and at Bloomin’ Brands.
In a nostalgic setting filled with vintage vehicles, gas pumps and even a Model T car suspended above the bar, she offers a wide range of classic and creative comfort foods. House-made sauces and condiments, a Burger Hall of Fame and an inventive mac-and-cheese bar differentiate the restaurant.
Tomlinson describes how she focuses on menu optimization and efficiency along with innovation, how she bridges the gap between culinary and the bar, how Ford's Garage's interactive experience and menu draws guests of all ages, and what's next for the brand.
How Jonathon Sawyer’s live-fire cooking passion ignites the menu at Kindling
James Beard Award-winning chef Jonathon Sawyer heads up the kitchen at Kindling Downtown Cookout & Cocktails, a new 500-seat restaurant where almost every menu item touches the wood-fueled fire at some point in its culinary journey.
That’s not an easy task, being that Kindling is housed in a soaring two-story space inside Chicago’s iconic Willis Tower, one of the tallest office buildings in the world.
Although Sawyer graduated from culinary school, he previously studied to be an engineer—training that helped him design Kindling’s kitchen and equipment to realize his vision. Listen as he talks about his culinary journey, how the restaurants he created in Cleveland turned that city into a dining destination, why he’s cooking the most authentic expression of his cuisine at Kindling and how he plans to evolve the restaurant going forward.
How craveability, sustainability and the guest experience drive Avi Szapiro's menu mission
As VP of culinary innovation at Untamed Brands, the parent company of fast-casual Taim Mediterranean Kitchen and Hot Chicken Takeover, Avi Szapiro brings years of fine-dining experience to the job.
He grew up in Bogota, Colombia, and thought he’d become a lawyer. But he caught the cooking bug as a teenager and never looked back.
Szapiro graduated from the CIA; worked in top restaurants and hotels in Latin America, Europe and California; operated his own highly rated restaurant in New Haven, Conn.; and cooked in volume for a nonprofit in India. Now, he’s excited about playing with the rich, varied flavors of the Eastern Mediterranean in developing craveable menus for 13-unit Taim and creating fresh, bold items for Hot Chicken Takeover.
Sustainability is the three-pillar foundation of both concepts, with environmental, social and economic components all having equal weight in Szapiro’s vision. Listen as he talks about his menu mission, why he’s laser-focused on the guest experience and where Untamed may be going next as the company expands its fast-casual footprint.
How Starbird's recipe for perfect fried chicken is powering the fast casual for growth
Aaron Noveshen, founder and CEO of San Francisco-based Starbird, trained as a French chef and started a company called The Culinary Edge that develops menus for restaurants. After years of helping other operators get successful concepts up and running, he felt it was time to start his own. In 2016, Starbird was hatched.
The fast-casual chicken chain now numbers 12 brick-and-mortar units and a couple of virtual kitchens, but Noveshen plans to open five more company locations this year, and franchising is about to take off. The menu is simple: tenders, sandwiches, salads and wings all made with a proprietary recipe for crispy fried chicken, developed by The Culinary Edge.
Listen as Noveshen shares his culinary secrets, describes plans for growth and hints at a few surprises ahead.
How food hall pioneer Anna Castellani is transforming community dining
Anna Castellani launched her first food hall in the basement of a building in downtown Brooklyn, N.Y., when the neighborhood was essentially a food desert. Today, the underground space is the thriving DeKalb Market, home to more than 25 local vendors offering a range of cuisines that celebrate Brooklyn’s diverse culture.
“I like to transform unloved spaces into vibrant eating and drinking venues,” Castellani said. Her next project was The Hugh, a space in midtown Manhattan’s Citicorp building that still had a tired 1980s feel. She gave it an exciting vibe with a collection of global New York City eateries and edgy design, creating an all-day dining destination and gathering place.
Listen as Castellani shares how she transitioned from the movie business into a food hall pioneer, describes her mission of connecting and celebrating people through food and how she builds community into each of her hospitality concepts.
How Jared Galbut turned his Florida-born taqueria into a dining and nightlife destination
“Cinco de Mayo is like Super Bowl and New Year’s packed into one,” said Jared Galbut, founder and CEO of Bodega Taqueria y Tequila. As celebrants flock to Mexican restaurants and bars on Friday, he expects record crowds, with a number of revelers partying until 5 a.m.—closing time for some of the seven locations.
The newest Bodega is actually opening on May 5 in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood, far north of its South Florida roots. More are planned for Nashville and other parts of Florida this year and into 2024. The concept’s menu of Cuban-accented street tacos, frozen cocktails and handcrafted tequila signatures—along with spirited DJs—has proven a winning combination.
Listen as Galbut shares how Bodega’s flexible model can position it as a fast-casual, hybrid or full-service restaurant, how the menu and concept has evolved and his plans for future growth.
How 3 chain restaurant execs put menu innovation front and center
Menu innovation is key to differentiating a concept in the crowded and competitive chain restaurant environment.
During Winsight’s annual Restaurant Leadership Conference, which took place this week in Phoenix, Ariz., we caught up with three top execs to find out what innovation looks like at their operations.
Donna Josephson, CMO of Shipley Do-Nuts; Andre Vener, co-founder of Dog Haus; and Frank Paci, CEO of Newk’s Eatery, each share their menu strategies and how they’ve contributed to growth. Listen as they talk about what makes their menus unique, the value of LTOs and seasonality, the impact of tech on menu development and more.
Qdoba chef Katy Velazquez taps her travels in Mexico to innovate the menu—but will never touch the chain's signature queso
Katy Velazquez, executive chef at Qdoba Mexican Eats, claims that she got her Ph.D in regional Mexican cooking while working with chef Rick Bayless in his celebrated restaurants, on TV shows and throughout his travels in Mexico.
Those experiences influence her menu R&D for 735-unit Qdoba, but she balances that authenticity with a good dose of fast-casual fun.
Although Velazquez has innovated the menu with on-trend items such as birria tacos and breakfast burritos, there’s one item she can never change: the chain’s queso. It has a cult following, and every menu item has to go through one important test before it’s launched: Does it go well with the queso?
Listen as Velazquez talks about her exciting culinary journey, why beverages are now an important focus for menu innovation and where she plans to take Qdoba’s menu in the year ahead.
How Aaron Taylor and Atlas Restaurant Group are revitalizing fine dining in Baltimore
After graduating from culinary school, Aaron Taylor criss-crossed the country, earning his cred at a number of top resorts and restaurants. But his ultimate ambition was to become a corporate chef for a restaurant group—a goal he reached with The ONE Group, operators of STK and other global concepts.
Now, Taylor is corporate chef-partner for Atlas Restaurant Group in Baltimore, overseeing 27 restaurants mostly in that city as well as Boca Raton, Fla., and Houston. In this role, he taps into his deep experience executing menus along with his expertise in purchasing, cost control, team building and community outreach. Listen as Taylor shares Atlas Restaurant Group's growth plans as it continues to elevate the fine-dining scene in Baltimore.
How Rush Bowls stands out from the crowd with a scratch-made menu and local vibe
The devastation of 9/11 prompted Andrew Pudalov to leave his finance career behind in New York City, move to Boulder, Colorado and launch a healthy bowl concept. That was almost 20 years ago and Rush Bowls has since grown from a single location at the University of Colorado to a 40-unit chain in 21 states.
Although the healthy bowl category is now a crowded one, Pudalov sees Rush Bowls as a differentiator, with its focus on a scratch-made menu of curated bowls featuring diverse flavor profiles. Listen as the CEO shares how the menu is expanding to include more snacks, why healthy bowls continue to trend with consumers and how franchising is bringing Rush Bowls to underserved areas of the country.
At Planta, Steven Salm harnesses the power of plants
“If you’re a broccoli or watermelon, stay away from Planta,” warns Steven Salm, founder and CEO of the veggie-centric restaurant concept. “We can do serious damage.”
Indeed, what Salm calls a “plant-powered” menu offers indulgent, chef-driven items like Bang Bang Broccoli, ahi watermelon sushi and noodles with truffle mushroom cream, all served in a polished-casual setting with a full bar pouring craft cocktails and biodynamic wines.
Planta’s mission is to open diners’ minds and taste buds to the creativity that can be associated with plants, he says. There are now 11 locations in the restaurant's portfolio, and while half of the menu is consistent across them all, dedicated sections may focus on Asian, Pan-Latin or Italian specialties.
Listen as Salm shares how a personal lifestyle shift inspired him to start Planta, why the brand's dining experience and plant-based menu attracts many guests who aren’t vegans, and why a fast-casual spinoff may be in its future.
How Adenah Bayoh is positioning Cornbread Farm to Soul for fast-casual expansion
Adenah Bayoh, an IHOP franchisee and passionate entrepreneur, co-founded fast casual Cornbread Farm to Soul to put a spotlight on soul food favorites.
Along with the restaurant’s signature cornbread, its menu features chef-partner Elzadie Smith’s scratch-made fried chicken, catfish, yams, baked mac and cheese, collard greens and peach cobbler.
Three locations are currently open in the New York-New Jersey area, and now, the partners are on a mission to expand Cornbread through franchising. But as a Black woman and first-generation immigrant, Bayoh is finding it challenging to attract investors and get financing.
How Chef Ron Yan transformed the menu at Parcelle Wine Bar from popup to brick-and-mortar restaurant
As executive chef of Parcelle Wine Bar on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, Ron Yan has created a menu that balances playfulness with skilled technique. During the pandemic, Yan partnered with seasoned restaurateur and wine retailer Grant Reynolds to launch a popup. The success of that venture evolved into the current brick-and-mortar restaurant, opened in 2022.
Listen as Yan describes his culinary journey from pre-med student to accomplished chef, how he crafts a wine-pairing menu that artfully combines bar snacks and full dinners, and how he is taking Parcelle to its next stage of growth in 2023.
How Panda Express’ Jimmy Wang spreads Chinese culture through food
When Jimmy Wang started at Panda Express in 2014, the now executive director of culinary innovation already had many years of experience in top hotel kitchens and operating his own restaurant.
At Panda Express, Wang and his team look to create dishes that tell a story. They apply the chain’s menu mantra—“Chinese Flavors with American Tastes”—to every item they develop, and recent successes include Black Pepper Angus Steak and Plant-Based Orange Chicken.
Lunar New Year, which begins on Jan. 22, has always been a big deal for Panda Express, and this year, the chain is offering special family feasts with symbolic foods, digital games with prizes and an expanded interactive cultural package for educators.
Listen as Wang describes what each of these foods means, shares how he celebrates with his own extended family, describes his R&D process and talks about what’s next—including an exciting culinary exploration trip to Taiwan, where Wang’s family has roots, with some of his team.
How STATE Grill & Bar’s menu honors its location in the Empire State Building
Located on the ground floor of New York City’s landmark Empire State Building, STATE Grill & Bar must appeal to two demographics: tourists visiting the iconic skyscraper and office workers and locals looking for a chef-inspired lunch or dinner.
Executive Chef Morgan Jarrett bridges the two by balancing seasonal dishes geared to adventurous tastes with more familiar steaks, pastas and desserts. Signature cocktails are also a draw, and she works closely with the bar to create happy hour food that reflects her culinary focus.
How Gavin Kaysen defines his role as chef-CEO as he expands his restaurant company in new directions
Award-winning chef Gavin Kaysen has been instrumental in turning Minneapolis into a dining destination, moving back to his hometown after advancing his career in Daniel Boulud’s New York City restaurants.
Eight years ago, he opened Spoon and Stable and has since added three new restaurants to the collection—Demi, Mara and Socca—along with several locations of Bellecour, a French-inspired bakery and cafe. Just last month, he self-published his first cookbook, At Home, plus he hosts a Synergy Series of dinners with guest chefs and initiated a mentorship program.
At Home book cover
Although Kaysen no longer cooks at service, he leads menu R&D at all of his restaurants and considers himself a chef-CEO. Listen as he describes this expanded role, how At Home evolved to become a very personal project and why geography no longer plays a part in the recognition and success of a restaurant.
How Sonic’s Mackenzie Gibson integrates culinary and marketing to drive innovation
Mackenzie Gibson traded in her blazer for a chef’s coat when she was promoted to VP of Culinary and Menu Innovation at Sonic Drive-in. Previously in marketing, she now integrates that expertise into developing the menu, prioritizing Sonic as a consumer-driven brand.
She and her team keep the R&D pipeline constantly flowing with new items, balancing indulgence with comfort and innovation.
Listen as she talks about how even dumb ideas can gain traction and turn into successes, and how Sonic wants to grow up to be a burger QSR. She also hints at some amazing new items coming in 2023. (Breakfast, anyone?)
How Amy Alarcon gave Popeyes the edge in the chicken sandwich wars
After Popeyes off-the-charts success with its fried chicken sandwich, Amy Alarcon and her culinary team spent four years perfecting the cooking technique and flavor profile of the just-launched Blackened Chicken Sandwich. In between, she developed a new and improved chicken nugget and a number of seasonal LTOs.
Throughout the R&D process, Alarcon taps into New Orleans as her inspiration point. Listen as she shares how her Southern roots have impacted her culinary journey, how Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen does Thanksgiving and what’s in store for 2023.
How Scott Randolph is elevating IHOP’s status as the breakfast leader while innovating across the menu
Customers can order pancakes and eggs all day long at IHOP, but VP of Culinary Scott Randolph is making sure there are plenty of innovative but traditional lunch and dinner options, too. In his four years as head chef, he has worked to expand IHOP’s positioning from the breakfast leader to the all-day leader, adding signature burritos, bowls, melts and more. But he’s also busy elevating breakfast—the latest menu launch is new French toast (NFT), a thicker, fluffier version of the morning favorite.
Listen as Randolph talks about the growth of IHOP’s bubbles and brews beverage program, the success of fast-casual sibling, Flip’d, his TikTok appearances and what’s coming out of the pipeline in early 2023.
How Rick Petralia is pushing the envelope on flavor at Freddy’s
Rick Petralia led menu innovation at Fazoli’s for many years before moving over to Wichita, Kan.-based Freddy’s Frozen Custard & Steakburgers earlier this year, applying his deep culinary experience to a new platform.
Burgers and frozen custard are very different from pasta, he admits, but menu development relies on the same principles. Petralia analyzes consumer research, focuses on seasonality and tries to push the envelope on flavor. He’s also a TikTok fan, saying there’s lots of inspiration out there on social media.
How Arthur & Sons is the culmination of Joe Isidori’s family legacy and culinary journey
Joe Isidori is chef-owner of Arthur & Sons, an old-school Italian restaurant he opened in New York City this past summer. Isidori comes from a three-generation restaurant family and grew up in his father’s red sauce joint, standing on milk crates to clean shrimp and plate pasta when he was just five.
He went on to hone his skills in culinary school, head up Michelin-starred restaurants and create Black Tap Craft Burgers & Beers, which started as a 15-seat luncheonette and grew to an international chain specializing in great burgers and outrageous milkshakes.
Black Tap was rooted in nostalgia, and that’s the same theme that runs through Arthur & Sons. The menu is filled with Italian-American classics like chicken parm, penne alla vodka and spumoni—all updated with artisan and housemade ingredients and new cooking styles. The cocktails are upgrades of old-school classics, too.
Listen as Isidori describes the twists and turns that led to Arthur and Sons and why this is the first time in his career that he feels like he’s being himself.
How climate change is impacting your menu
Climate change is top of mind right now, with recent heat waves, droughts and wildfires directly affecting food production and the environment. Michael P. Hoffmann, professor emeritus at Cornell University and co-author of the book “Our Changing Menu,” relays how all this directly affects what foodservice operators can put on the menu.
Some favorite foods and beverages, like sushi, salads, coffee and cocktails, are being threatened. And climate change has the potential to impact the taste of wine, gin and tonics, tomatoes and even chicken.
But all is not doom and gloom. Some ingredients may even become more abundant, including squid and octopus. And Hoffmann remains optimistic that taking action can change the dynamic.
Listen as he talks about climate change from a culinary point of view and shares how operators, farmers and scientists can work together to make a difference.
How Cristina Suarez evolved from ‘bargirl’ to corporate beverage director of Kush Hospitality Group
Cristina Suarez is a self-taught “bargirl”—a name she is proud to call herself even as a skilled hospitality professional in her 30s.
At 18, Suarez began her journey behind the bar at Hooters, moving on to several Miami hotels where she polished her cocktail-making expertise and learned valuable management, training and operational techniques.
Listen as Suarez describes how she taps her Cuban-American heritage to create unique drinks, differentiates the bar at each of the eight Kush concepts, spreads her passion for hospitality and never stops learning.
How cold coffee is heating up the menu at Caribou
Caribou Coffee is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and menu innovation has shifted from hot drinks to cold in the years since. Gretchen Hashemi-Rad, beverage category manager for the 400-plus chain, says sales of cold coffee and other icy beverages outpace hot coffees and teas—especially among younger consumers and even in the winter.
Listen as she talks about how Caribou is changing up the menu to meet that demand, with equipment upgrades, energy drinks, blended and sparkling mocktails and its own bubble tea, and why the brand is carefully timing the start of pumpkin spice season to build anticipation.
How 2 cousins from Maine turned the rest of the country on to lobster rolls
Sabin Lomac and Jim Tselikis, actual cousins from Maine who founded Cousins Maine Lobster, started with one truck, a simple menu and a commitment to source the best-tasting, best-quality Maine lobster for their lobster rolls.
That caught the attention of Barbara Corcoran when the pair pitched the concept on Shark Tank. She invested and mentored the partners, and 10 years later, Cousins Maine Lobster has close to 50 locations, including nine brick-and-mortar restaurants and an enthusiastic team of franchisees who are driving growth.
Listen as the pair discuss why lobster prices have skyrocketed, the importance of keeping the menu limited to what they do best, how they spread the Maine spirit to both franchisees and customers and how they strive to be the name and face of Maine lobster as they grow.
How Marc Forgione continues to grow his culinary legacy and restaurant cred
Marc Forgione was born into a restaurant family, but he wasn’t trained from birth to be a chef, he says.
He worked at An American Place, the restaurant founded by his father Larry Forgione, from the age of 16, but it wasn’t until he cooked big dinners for his college friends that he changed his career path from psychiatry to hospitality.
Next steps included backpacking in Europe, stints in France’s restaurant kitchens and executing the menus for several BLT concepts. He opened his first place, the Michelin-starred Restaurant Marc Forgione, in New York City in 2008 and became the owner of Peasant right before the pandemic. Peasant is a cozy neighborhood restaurant with an Italian-forward menu where most everything is cooked in a wood-burning hearth.
Listen as Forgione talks about his culinary journey, why he believes in karma, how post-pandemic customers are kinder and gentler, and how and he and his dad plan to open an Italian tapas concept in a prime New York City space vacated by Mario Batali.
How Sam Polk is making healthy meals accessible and affordable in food deserts across the U.S.
Sam Polk, founder and CEO of Everytable, launched the social enterprise grab-and-go concept in Los Angeles in 2015. His goal was to provide healthy, affordable meals in neighborhoods that are often classified as food deserts.
The chef-inspired food is prepared at a central commissary to keep pricing low and is delivered to Everytable store locations, refrigerated vending machines and directly to consumers. The customer base includes more affluent diners, too, and Polk follows a variable pricing model, charging according to zip code. But the menu of salads, wraps and warm bowls, which includes best-sellers like Jamaican jerk chicken with coconut rice and salmon adobo, resonates across all locales, he says.
How Steve Sturm puts the wood-fired grill front and center
Steve Sturm is senior VP of food and beverage and executive chef of the 55-unit Firebirds Wood-Fired Grill. The namesake wood-fired grill is the focal point of the menu at the polished casual chain, not only for items like shrimp, salmon, beef tenderloin, chicken, blistered vegetables and tuna, but for cocktails that feature charred pineapple and chilies.
Chef Sturm is currently working on revamping the bar food menu, adding more small plates and shareables that deliver a big flavor punch and fit the way people want to dine today. That menu will launch in the fall. He’s also introducing more interactive tableside items, as guests today are looking for dining experiences—not just a straightforward dinner menu.
Listen as he describes how he likes to get in the kitchen and “play” and how he and his team of 150 chefs continue to innovate the Firebirds menu.
Checking in on mid-year menu trends with Technomic’s Lizzy Freier
Menu analyst Lizzy Freier, director of menu research & insights at Technomic, keeps a close watch on food and drink trends at the Top 500 restaurant chains.
During her recent presentation at the National Restaurant Association Show in Chicago, she recapped the novel trends that are shaping menus as we move into the second half of 2022. Based on Technomic data, four Ps define the current state of menu innovation: Pivots, Preparations, Proteins & Plants, and Personalization.
How DIG on 4th merges fast casual and full service into a welcoming all-day cafe
Matt Weingarten believes in the power of community and of shared meals around the table. As head chef of 30-location DIG, that was his driving force when creating the menu for the brand’s new all-day cafe, DIG on 4th, where guests are encouraged to linger.
Along with the plant-forward, customizable bowls from the original concept, this new fast-casual/full-service hybrid offers all-day happy hour, shareable sheet tray dinners, sandwiches made with local ingredients on housemade focaccia and seasonal market-driven plates.
Weingarten also believes in the power of teaching people to cook and paying the kitchen team a respectable wage. Listen as he shares how he marries this high-touch approach with the latest technology, and why DIG on 4th, which opened just this week, is a restaurant model destined for expansion.
Menu maven Nancy Kruse shares her take on emerging and evergreen trends
Menu guru Nancy Kruse, who writes the State of the Plate column for Restaurant Business, keeps a close watch on trends in chain and independent restaurants.
She is seeing that several favorites that gained popularity in the last two years—like chicken sandwiches and cauliflower—are still going strong, showing up with global flavor twists. And burgers and pizza will always be platforms for creativity with broad appeal. Kruse believes that the more familiar an item, the more adaptable it is for innovation.
But forward-thinking culinarians are playing around with less familiar ingredients and flavors, taking vegetables to new heights, exploring the potential of food texture and smoke and elevating staples, like butter, with chef-inspired touches. Listen as Kruse talks about the mega trends and emerging trends impacting menus now.
How Graze Craze is spreading charcuterie across the country
Graze Craze Founder Kerry Sylvester and President Brady Lee are taking the charcuterie trend nationwide through franchising.
The focus of the 12-location chain is the charcuterie board, which became an Instagram sensation as photos of more and more elaborate creations were posted on the social media platform.
Operating out of a small-footprint store, Graze Craze offers several charcuterie variations for takeout and delivery only, ranging from individual snack boxes to large boards for a crowd. The items feature house-baked breads, local ingredients and small-batch condiments.
How La Palapa is still going strong after 20 years, with Barbara Sibley at the helm
Barbara Sibley opened La Palapa 20 years ago, bringing authentic regional Mexican cuisine to New Yorkers who thought nachos, fajitas and burritos were what Mexican food was all about. While the menu has evolved over the years, there are many “untouchables” that she will never take off. This became especially apparent during the pandemic, when regulars were comforted by ordering the menu items they had come to love.
The pandemic was just one of several crises La Palapa has endured over two decades. Sibley also navigated the restaurant and her team through 9/11, Hurricane Sandy and hundreds of day-to-day potholes along the way, leading with a blend of compassion, flexibility and resiliency.
Her incomparable operational style and extensive community outreach earned Sibley the 2022 Operator of the Year award from the Bar and Restaurant Show. Listen as she tells La Palapa’s story and shares details about her newest concepts, two taco bars and Holiday Cocktail Lounge.
How All Day Kitchens marries culinary and tech to create a successful union
Molly McGrath is director of culinary and operations for All Day Kitchens, a distribution platform for independent restaurants. Through its satellite kitchens in four cities, All Day puts the finishing touches on menu items and packages them for delivery. Each satellite kitchen houses 20 local brands and Chef McGrath works with every restaurant to curate and optimize their menus for delivery—whether it’s a mom-and-pop Thai spot in Los Angeles or an Ethiopian eatery in Chicago. Listen as she shares how her culinary expertise and the platform’s proprietary tech work together to create a seamless delivery experience for independent restaurants and how the concept is expanding throughout the country.
How Chicago’s Revival Food Hall is revving up for its next chapter
When 16” on Center opened Revival Food Hall in 2016, the collection of chef-driven eateries was an instant hit with Chicago’s downtown crowd.
Like other urban food halls, the buzz died down during the pandemic as customers stayed close to home. But now Revival is gearing up for its next chapter, infused with fresh ideas and new concepts. Electric Greens, a new-age salad bar, just opened, with Chef Brad Alexander at the helm. Daytime diners are back—and so are many of the signature eateries. An exciting bar program is in the works, too, and 16” on Center partner Tim Wickes has plans to bring entertainment and events back to the venue.