By Winsight Media
Restaurant Rewind May 16, 2023
How the last cookie craze crumbled
Cookie concepts are growing at a head-turning pace. If that sounds like déjà vu all over again, you’re showing your age.
Indeed, the restaurant business saw a similar boom in the segment nearly 50 years ago, when consumers found their indulgence opportunities increasing at a breakneck clip because of upstarts like Mrs. Field’s, Famous Amos and David’s Cookies.
What happened to those champions of the chocolate chip? How did that surge differ from what we’re seeing today from the likes of Crumble or Insomnia? The answer starts with the prior wave’s reliance on the characters behind the brands. They were the precursors of today’s celebrity chefs.
But that’s not the only way the new wave differs from that first manifestation. For the full picture, download this week’s episode from wherever you get your podcasts. And bring your own milk for dipping.
Remembering Ruth's Chris founder Ruth Fertel
Ever wonder how a high-end restaurant chain could end up with a clunky name like Ruth’s Chris Steak House? If you’re familiar with the Ruth in that moniker, the mystery is about as vexing as picking an even number between one and three. There was no way that a force like Ruth Fertel would not leave her mark on the business, literally and figuratively.
Here’s just a few bulleted items from her life story: She didn’t enter the industry until age 38, looking for a way to pay for her two boys’ college education. Never mind that her education was in chemistry and physics. She’d earned college degrees in each by age 19.
That was before she broke the gender barrier to become a professional racehorse trainer.
Convinced that single moms brought a special touch to service, she built an all-female waitstaff for her restaurant venture. And she literally lived at her workplace, at least until it burned down.
Want more? Join me on this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast for a look at the extraordinary life and career of Ruth Ann Udsted Fertel.
At 110 and counting, this NYC dining landmark is still going strong
Restaurants have a notoriously high mortality rate. How, then, did a windowless fish house tucked beneath a New York City train station make it through two world wars, a depression and a steady onslaught of new competition?
Join me on this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast as we look at how the Grand Central Oyster Bar has remained a Big Apple hotspot without devolving into a museum or a tourist trap. We might not score a dozen oysters for the once-prevailing price of 35 cents, but we’ll see how a decidedly old-guard establishment can keep its currency when it remains true to its origins while making concessions to the times.
McDonald's franchise strife deserves barely a Grimace compared with Quiznos' past
The backhand McDonald’s caught from its franchisees last week is proof that friction can erupt between the home office and field operations of any restaurant chain, regardless of its success.
By Big Mac standards, the strife is a low point in relations with a group the franchisor has long lauded as its secret sauce. But the strain is nothing compared to the hostilities that very openly erupted between a hot concept and its licensees 20 years ago.
Join me on this week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind, Restaurant Business’ retro-focused podcast, as we look back at the war that raged in the court of public opinion—and in the actual legal sort—between Quiznos franchisees and their franchisor at the time.
Download the episode from wherever you get your podcasts.
And let me know of any topic you’d like me to resurrect from the past for additional insight into what’s happening in the business today. Email me at email@example.com.
How'd BK's revamp of the Whopper go? Don't ask.
McDonald’s has announced that it’s tweaking its burgers to enhance their flavor and overall appeal. Judging from history, the move will either prove a stroke of genius or one of the worst mistakes Big Mac has ever made.
This week on Restaurant Rewind, we look back at what happened when Big Mac’s chief rival overhauled its main customer lure. Join me as we recount how Burger King’s revamped Whopper was received. (Here’s a hint: You won’t find the updated version on the menu today.)
Remembering the restaurant boom that fooled investors 20 years ago
Even casual listeners can hear plenty of wheezing these days from ghost kitchen and virtual concept specialists. The quick about-face in that sector calls to mind a boom that looked at the start of this century like it would reset competition for families’ dinner business—only to collapse in short order, helped along by the Great Recession.
If you’re not familiar with meal assembly and prep concepts, you either weren’t in the business back then, or you’ve repressed the memory. Join me for this episode of the Restaurant Rewind podcast as we look back at a true flash in the hotel pan: the dozens of ventures that bet parents would welcome the chance to put together a week’s worth of meals in a social setting.
We’ll take a look at the factors that (briefly) made meal assembly concepts a wave to ride, and why it crashed in short order, leaving behind a few brands that managed to recast themselves.
How the restaurant napkin came to be
Pop quiz time!
Regardless of a restaurant’s design, menu or pricing, its guests will be provided with an amenity that started as a quasi-blanket, morphed into a marketing tool in 1887, and survived an onslaught of forks as American colonists rolled east.
Name that restaurant staple.
Or, hit the play button on this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast to trek back to ancient Greece, where the correct answer had its start as an edible remedy for greasy fingers.
Join me this episode for a surprising look at how the restaurant napkin came to be.
But if you plan to make a mess, bring your own linens.
Remembering the great product bombs of the past
Starbucks has turned the dial on its hoopla machine all the way to 11 for the introduction of its new olive oil-infused beverages, a line the coffee giant is touting as The Next Big Thing.
If the situation feels like a rerun, you may be recalling the blare of trumpets that similarly heralded such past up-enders as Evolution Fresh juices, La Boulange baked goods, or even Starbucks-brand music stores.
To be fair, there’s no reason to doubt the new drinks will prove more of a Pumpkin Spice Latte than a Dolce Misto or the Unicorn Latte. And the home of the green apron is far from the only restaurant chain to hype a new menu item or product line as a disruptor, only to generate more fizzle than sizzle. Remember, Taco Bell once tried a diet line.
Join me on this week’s edition of our Restaurant Rewind podcast for a look back at some of the products that failed to live up to their hyped potential. You’ll find this and every episode of the retro-focused program wherever you usually get your podcasts.
What's so special about In-N-Out?
If the term “double-double, animal style” is Greek to you, then you’ve likely never stood before a white-uniformed young person in a peaked cap, specifying what sort of onions you want atop your In-N-Out burger.
Plenty of regional chains enjoy a strong local following. In the instance of 75-year-old In-N-Out, we’re clearly talking about a cult—one that makes a hardcore Chick-fil-A fan seem wishy-washy. What is it about an old-line burger chain that inspires such loyalty?
The food is definitely a hook. But part of the appeal is the insider-y feel that comes with knowing the brand’s rich array of peculiarities. What other operation has a thing about palm trees? Or quotes scriptures on its fry sleeves?
Fortunately for you newbies, this week’s edition of our Restaurant Rewind podcast serves as a primer on the peculiarities that have endured the concept to generation after generation of West Coasters. It’s delivered here in anticipation of the chain’s expansion to the East Coast.
Remembering Jerry Richardson, the football star who built Hardee's
Long before Jerry Richardson rose to prominence as owner of the Carolina Panthers football team, he’d distinguished himself as a pioneer of the fast-food restaurant business.
He not only developed much of the Hardee’s burger chain as a franchisee in the 1960s and '70s, but would go on to oversee such brands as Denny’s, El Pollo Loco and Quincy’s. By the time he retired in 1995, he was responsible for more than 2, 500 restaurants.
Richardson died earlier this month at age 86. His connection to the restaurant industry had been minimal for nearly the prior two decades, but his mark on the business is indelible.
Join me on this week’s episode of the Restaurant Rewind podcast as we review the career of an early industry star who found fame before and after on the gridiron.
Download this week’s episode of retro-focused Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
Which restaurant brand really invented the drive-thru? Here are some clues.
Drive-thru lanes veered beyond the fast-food business during the pandemic, meriting at least a road test by restaurant concepts of all stripes. Time will tell if the trend continues, but the convenience’s newfound prevalence underscores a question for students of the business: Who came up with the idea of car-window service in the first place?
This week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind podcast takes on the question, which proves more difficult to answer than may have been expected. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at no fewer than five claimants to the title of drive-thru inventor, from McDonald’s to The Pig Stand.
The look back into the industry’s past may not have yielded the definitive answer, but it provides a look at the surprising source of the confusion.
Think to-go-only restaurants are a new thing? You're off by 70 years
The story is a familiar one today: A new restaurant venture doesn’t bother to include dining or seating areas because its focus is exclusively on hot food to go.
It’s the rationale behind such new concepts as Chipotle’s Farmesa bowls spinoff, Golden Corral’s Homestyle Kitchen, Buffalo Wild Wings’ BWW Go or Texas Roadhouse’s Jaggers, to name just a few examples. The list seems to grow daily.
But there’s nothing new about the strategy, as this week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind podcast reports. Host Peter Romeo taps his memory as reporter and consumer to recount how the business model was used by a restaurant startup 70 years ago, to considerable success. The venture would grow to more than 1,000 outlets, making it a mammoth player of its day.
Along the way, notes Romeo, it would change the course of restaurant marketing and franchising. Yet the concept is all but forgotten, despite remaining in operation on a small scale. Romeo, editor at large of Restaurant Business, speculates that the pioneering brand’s quick fade kept it from being stamped on the industry’s collective memory.
And it wasn’t the only venture to presage today’s to-go-only concepts Romeo looks at a second example, this one truly a steak-and-potato concept, that thrived a mere 30 or so years ago.
Restaurant marketing is time-warping back to the future
The themes of several big restaurant chains’ latest marketing campaigns may be instantly recognizable to consumers of a certain vintage. And that familiarity might be exactly what they're shooting for.
As this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind reports, the newest way for marketers of scale to cut through the clutter is by using an old but reliable tagline, theme or jingle. Consider the latest efforts from Wendy’s and Burger King, or the campaign Outback Steakhouse says it's developing. Which is exactly what host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo does in this week’s installment of the podcast.
He notes that the reliance on past hits is consistent with the use of familiar limited-time offers to turn heads.
It’s also part of a larger trend toward rebooting a proven hit in many fields of entertainment.
Will Chipotle's new concept be the one that gets traction?
After a string of scrapped launches, Chipotle Mexican Grill is trying again to establish a second restaurant brand. Will its secret startup find the staying power that escaped the previous ventures?
With the test of a bowl concept looking like a “go” for the burrito powerhouse, this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast delves into those earlier stabs at diversification. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo fires up the time machine for a recount of Chipotle’s short-lived incursions into the Asian, pizza and burger markets, and why those experiments never grew beyond about 15 units.
What has the high-flying company learned from ShopHouse Asian Kitchen, Pizzeria Locale and Tasty Made that enhance the chances of success for the new venture, which is going by the name Farmesa?
Restaurants rethink how long their business day should be
Food, service and ambience have long been the fundamental means for differentiating one restaurant from another. Now a new variable is gaining importance as the industry’s labor plight forces a hard decision on operators: When should their restaurants be open?
As this week’s edition of RB’s Restaurant Rewind reports, concepts are adding or forgoing dayparts as they more carefully balance sales potential against the difficulties of staffing for those hours. Brunch is drawing entrants throughout the full-service sector, but the worth of dinner service is being increasingly questioned.
Meanwhile, even brands synonymous with round-the-clock service are skipping overnight shifts because of diminishing head counts—not of customers, but of potential hires.
As Rewind host Peter Romeo notes in this week’s report, restaurant newcomers have been opting out of post-afternoon service for decades. The Restaurant Business Editor At Large suggests that the true instigator might have ben a concept that was a rage in the 1980s but is little known today, called Le Peep.
How Steak and Ale and Red Lobster invented casual dining
Two of the restaurant industry’s oldest full-service chains have declared they’re not ready for the old concepts home. Steak and Ale and Red Lobster have both indicated in recent weeks that they’re set to pursue new beginnings in casual dining, the market they helped to create in the mid-1960s.
The efforts are a gamble. But that’s fitting for brands that started as bold challenges to the status quo. Without their operational and marketing nonconformity, the full-service chain business might be very different today.
This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind looks at the stamp each brand put on the industry when they opened within two years of one another. Host Peter Romeo, editor at large of Restaurant Business, looks in particular at the contributions made by each to the industry’s talent pool. There was a time when alumni of the concepts were at the helm of nearly every casual chain of scale.
He also makes a case for never forgetting the names and contributions of the powerhouses’ guiding forces, Norman Brinker and Joe Lee.
Remember the pandemic? What a difference 3 years make
Turning the calendar page to a new year is often the time for a reality check. Where’s the restaurant industry in January 2023? And how do expectations for the next 12 months stack up against recollections of the past 12?
There’s no shortage of opinions on what’s ahead for the business. But one thing seems to be a point of agreement: We’re far from the cliff’s edge of three years ago, when the world was first hearing of this strange and aggressive killer called COVID-19.
Forgotten how eerie and daunting those times were? This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind takes listeners back to the last blissful days of ignorance for an industry that was about to be walloped. Host and Editor At Large Peter Romeo reminds listeners of the business’ disbelief that such a thing could happen, and how far it’s come from those grim days.
How restaurants used to yell their identities from the rooftop
Social media may be the marketing channel of choice for restaurants today, but many chains once opted for loftier means. Like their roofs.
This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, Restaurant Business’ retro-focused podcast, looks back at restaurants' once-routine use of a particular color on the tops of their buildings as a marketing tool. Pizza Hut’s point of instant recognition was a red roof. Howard Johnson’s opted for orange. IHOP relied on light blue.
Podcast host and RB Editor At Large Peter Romeo takes listeners on a trip back to those days for a look at what was once a cookbook way of calling attention to a young concept. The quick report examines why the practice fell out of favor and how some brands are grappling with what those arresting roofs still say to the public about the concept they cap.
How supper clubs are keeping the past alive
Wisconsin is known for dairy cows, cheese curds and the Green Bay Packers. This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind reminds listeners that supper clubs also belong squarely on that list.
This episode of Restaurant Rewind looks at the peculiar institutions that grew out of Prohibition and speakeasies, only to be re-embraced by generation after generation in part because of the nostalgia they pack. You won’t find the latest experiment in molecular gastronomy, but where else can you get all the fried fish you can eat on a Friday night?
Podcast host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo notes that these places are far from museums. Many enjoy sales volumes that the latest hotspot in New York City or Los Angeles would envy, in part because of their brisk drinks business. They’re proof that special-occasion dining is still alive and well in a part of the country that’s best known for cheese.
Are these the weirdest concepts the restaurant industry has ever seen?
In the quest for The Next Big Thing, even veteran restaurant operators have been known to hatch a venture that was best left undeveloped. This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind looks at three that didn’t even sound good on paper.
Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo takes listeners on an audio tour of the three concepts he ranks as the worst-ever, from an S&M-themed spot in New York City to an eatertainment venture built around catastrophic deaths.
Tune in so you, too, can wonder, what were they thinking in giving something like this a try?
John Y. Brown was famous for many reasons. One is spelled K-F-C.
The restaurant industry lost one of its pioneers last week with the death of John Y. Brown. Many in the business may not recognize that name, given that he bowed out of the limelight about two decades ago. But they’ll surely know of his major success, a chicken chain called KFC.
Brown was to Kentucky Fried Chicken what Ray Kroc was to McDonald’s or Howard Schultz is to Starbucks. He built the chains from a loose group of about 600 diner-style restaurants operating under a variety of names, into a 3,500-unit behemoth.
But that wasn’t the only concept that Brown put on the map. He also co-founded Kenny Rogers Roasters, and helped to build at least five other restaurant chains.
Along the way, he served as governor of Kentucky, owner of the Boston Celtics and the husband of media star Phyllis George.
Sound intriguing? Learn more about the giant of the business from this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind.
Wish a restaurateur was running Congress? Here’s as close as you’ll come
The midterm elections returned politicians from all stripes of civilian lives to Washington, D.C. And that includes one of the restaurant industry’s own.
Indeed, the next Congress is likely to be led by someone who was no stranger to making payroll and working a lunch rush. This week’s episode of the Restaurant Rewind podcast looks at the path that led Kevin McCarthy from deli proprietor to speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, the federal government’s third-highest-ranking official.
Join host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo as he looks at how that time in foodservice could shape what’s considered in Congress in 2023.
Politics and restaurants haven’t always mixed well
Restaurants have been advised to be politically active likely from the first time a table was set. But that involvement hasn’t always gone smoothly, as this week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind podcast attests.
Back in the early 1990s, when another health crisis was ravaging the nation, the industry mistakenly gave its support to a measure that contradicted science—and, in the eyes of many, common decency. The business was tarred as insensitive to employees who were fighting to stay alive—at the very time the industry was striving to improve its image as an employer.
It caught considerable criticism for what was widely seen as tone-deaf pandering to the ignorant and anti-gay elements of society, with little justification to offer except a desire to protect sales.
Join podcast host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo as he looks at why the industry should never forget the painful lessons it learned from supporting what was called the Chapman Amendment. Download the episode and all installments of Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
Is this the biggest restaurant jerk of all time?
The restaurant industry has abounded in creeps, bullies, meanies and all-around jerks. But few rival Victor Posner, the onetime owner of Arby’s, as a candidate for the title of GOAT.
This week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind retro podcast looks at the infamous corporate raider and his flamethrower management style. While he owned Arby’s, the brand rebounded in head-turning fashion. But it wasn’t because of the warm, supportive culture he cultivated for the chain and its sister brands.
Join host and Editor At Large Peter Romeo as he makes the case that the industry should regard itself as fortunate if it never sees another owner with Posner’s proclivities.
Take the rollercoaster ride that was Shoney's
Few full-service restaurant chains have seen the steep ups and downs of Shoney’s, a brand that once dominated family dining. It also sported one of the most ill-fitting management teams ever to occupy a C-suite. No wonder it was one of the most talked-about chains of the 1980s and '90s, only to fly out of mind before you can say "breakfast bar." What humbled a brand that appeared to have so much momentum?
On the occasion of Shoney’s 75th anniversary, Restaurant Rewind is strapping into the rollercoaster to relive those climbs and plummets. Host and Editor At Large goes all the way back to the chain’s beginnings with an entrepreneurial college football star who was once headed for the Brooklyn Dodgers—the NFL team, not the better-known baseball squad that followed. It’s a story of amazingly bad behavior and considerable hubris, with good intensions ultimately prevailing. And, as Romeo notes, the story is still being written.
Why the automat has inspired so many modern copycats
Yet another modern riff on the Automat has called it quits, extending the lengthy list of ventures that have fallen far short of the original’s 89-year run. What about that pioneer of restaurant technology has prompted so many entrepreneurs to give an updated version a try?
Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks back at the attractions and drawbacks of the seminal concept in this week’s edition of his retro-focused Restaurant Rewind podcast.
Using the lens of his own experiences with the Horn & Hardart Automat, he provides a consumer’s perspective on why the brand originally found traction with New York City tourists and office workers, only to be driven into a grave by rising prices and the onslaught of fast-food in the 1960s and ’70s.
Download the installment and every episode of Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
What Starbucks has tried and scrapped over the years
Few restaurant companies can match the success of Starbucks. But the coffee giant has had its share of spectacular misfires as well, as this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind recounts.
The retro-focused podcast looks at some of the bad calls the company has made over the last 40 years, from the launch of a flatbread side venture to its bid to become a force in the music business. Host and Editor At Large Peter Romeo recalls in particular the host of secondary chains the home of the green apron has tried and ultimately discarded, from two-unit Princi’s to 400-store Teavana.
Deciding how much of a price hike customers will tolerate is nothing new
The question of the moment for many restaurateurs is how readily customers will accept menu price increases to counter the soaring costs of food and labor. While the rate of inflation may be unprecedented, the challenge is decidedly not, as this week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind podcast attests.
Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at past instances of operators having to adjudge where patrons would draw the line. As he recounts in taking listeners back to those historic moments, it’s a matter of determining the psychological price barrier consumers won’t cross, be it a $10 ticket for Applebee’s entrees back in the 1980s or a $5 ticket for one of Subway’s signature Footlongs several years ago. Which limits were real, and which were misperceptions?
Draw yourself a $27 beer and give a listen. Download this and every installment of the retro-focused Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
How company planes have brought down restaurant CEOs
Commercial airliners can take restaurant chain executives only so far in the quest shared by many of inspecting and approving every proposed site for a new unit. The more feasible alternative has long been the use of corporate jets to zip from one location to another.
But as this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast notes, that reliance on private craft has not been without turbulence. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at the corporate scandals that have erupted because a chain CEO was suspected of slipping some personal travel into an official corporate itinerary. In more than one instance, that blurring of the lines cost the chain chief his job, if not his career.
Join Romeo as he examines three of the higher-profile instances of shareholders throwing a fit over what they saw as a boss’ misuse of the company plane.
Here's how Woolworth's—yes, Woolworth's—democratized dining out
To people of a certain vintage, the mention of Woolworth’s lunch counters pulls up strong memories.
Children of the early '60s might recall them as the setting for a crucial step forward in the fight for equal rights. A group of college-aged youngsters galvanized the nation by trying to order a meal and refusing to leave when they were denied service. The youths were violently attacked because they were Black and in the South.
Those a little younger may remember how that battle solidified the outlets’ distinction as a dining option for everyone, affordable by most and, at least in the North, eventually blind to color. Indeed, that openness to diners of all races and ethnicities was part of the appeal for a hardcore fan living in a melting pot community outside New York City.
He would grow up to cover the restaurant industry for 40 years and become the host of a podcast that delves into the business’ often-controversial past. It started, he says, with those early trips to a Woolworth’s counter, the introduction for him and countless other children of the '60s and '70s to the pleasures of dining out.
Join host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo as he focuses this week’s edition of his Restaurant Rewind on the unique role Woolworth’s restaurants played in democratizing dining out.
How a pop star's lid drove Arby's awareness sky high
With a little help from the My Pillow Guy, Hardee’s was served an ideal opportunity last week for the sort of marketing exposure it could never afford. With a single tweet, the chain snagged one mention after another on some of TV’s most-watched programs.
The experience echoed past instances of restaurant chains turning an off-hand comment or passing event into an opportunity for truly breakthrough marketing. This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, a search through restaurant history for insights on what’s happening today, looks at two of those instances.
Restaurant Business Editor At Large and Restaurant Rewind host Peter Romeo zeroes in on one of the most celebrated instances of guerilla marketing, Arby’s play off Pharrell Williams’ performance on the Grammys. And he wraps up with a look at how Wendy’s enjoyed that sort of spotlight during a debate by candidates for the U.S. presidency.
Before there was a Mexican restaurant boom, there was Chi-Chi's
Today, diners can’t lob a jalapeno in a decent-sized town without hitting a Mexican restaurant of some sort. Many likely don’t realize the way was blazed for those options by a former Green Bay Packer and a displaced West Coaster who couldn’t find so much as a taco in his new Midwest haunts.
As this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast reports, the unlikely pair would introduce patches of the heartland to burritos and the like through a restaurant concept named after one of the partner’s wife. She went by the nickname of Chi-Chi’s.
Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at how the early casual-dining brand served as an unlikely apostle for Mexican fare. But, as the episode shows, that was only one wrinkle in the story. Chi-Chi’s history was a classic tale of a brand growing too quickly, without rock-sound unit economics, without a truly defensible point of difference.
What a Communist will do for money
All these years later, the commercial is still a stunner: The onetime leader of capitalism’s archenemy, plugging a very symbol of the American free-enterprise system.
Yet there was Mikhail Gorbachev, the last premier of the Union of Socialist Soviet Republics, relishing a visit to Russia’s first Pizza Hut with his granddaughter. If that wasn’t controversial enough, much of the spot’s dialogue was a debate over Gorbachev’s controversial legacy.
The situation was unusual, if not bizarre. Equally as extraordinary was how it came about and the conditions Gorby set for becoming a pitchman.
This week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind, Restaurant Business’ retro-focused podcast, looks at the lead-up to the ad and how Russian politics served Pizza Hut’s global marketing agenda. In recognition of Gorbachev’s death last week t age 91, host and RB Editor At Large Peter Romeo leads a quick trip back to one of the strangest casting moves in restaurant history, Russian or American.
Remembering 'the Jackie Robinson of restaurants'
He’s known as “the Jackie Robinson of restaurants,” an African-American who made his name in the business back in the early ‘60s, when people of color were seldom found in the front of house, never mind with their name on the deed.
Through his dignity, business acumen and warmth for all as a host, Ernie Royal proved that the skin color of anyone you put in chef’s whites is as insignificant to their success as the sort of socks they wear. It all came down to skill and drive, the ingredients that made his Hearthside restaurant one of the most celebrated dining establishments in the country.
Never mind that he had to pay $10,000 more than a white bidder for the place, or that it was located in Ruttledge, Vt., a community as white as the state’s legendary snowfalls. While marchers were fighting for civil rights in the South, Royal was changing racial attitudes and setting an example for young people of color with his undeniable success.
Yet his name is unfamiliar today to many inside or outside of the industry. This week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, the retro-focused podcast, delivers an introduction. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo interviews Gerry Fernandez, the CEO of the Multicultural Foodservice & Hospitality Alliance and one of the young people who was inspired by Royal.
Why restaurant mascots have been benched this ad season
Looking to hire restaurant pros with a proven knack for delighting customers?
Have you thought about Ronald McDonald or the Burger King?
They could use the work, as this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast attests. Host and Restaurant Business Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo looks at how onetime superstar mascots have been sidelined by the current trend of spotlighting food, guests and less-controversial team members.
What many consumers and even seasoned restaurant marketers might not appreciate are the colorful pasts those spokesfigures logged before being largely mothballed—as Romeo notes, the Grimace now gets more exposure than Ronald McDonald on McDonald’s website.
The episode looks at the rise and fall of the mascot as big-chain figurehead.
Download it and every installment wherever you get your podcasts.
If there's an LTO Hall of Fame, these items would be in it
‘Tis the season for steamed-milk mustaches and pumpkin ending up where no squash has gone before. Like the swallows that made Capistrano famous, restaurant marketers seem to know instinctively that it’s time to bring out their riffs on the pumpkin spice latte.
More a blend of pumpkin-pie seasonings than a true jack-o-lantern extract, the PSL and its derivations have proven they’re among a select group of limited-time offerings that draw a fanatical response no matter how many times they’ve been offered.
This week’s edition of Restaurant Business’ Restaurant Rewind podcast looks at the Big Three traffic-drivers within that elite LTO group. Host and Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo recounts the sometimes bizarre turn of events that established PSL, the McRib and the Blizzard as surefire hits.
Download this and every episode from wherever you get your podcasts.
Here's where Indiana Jones should have looked for a Whopper
It’s not uncommon to forget about something we stashed away in an attic or basement because it’s no longer being used. But how often is that item a restaurant?
Yet that’s essentially what happened at a mall in Wilmington, Del., as this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast reports.
Tucked behind a wall, where shoppers and staff couldn’t see it, was a Burger King that had been mothballed in 2009. It was largely overlooked until new management took over the center in 2020 and a curious vendor took a snapshot. The picture was posted on Reddit, sparking a wave of interest in what was tagged the lost BK.
Restaurant Rewind host and Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo talks with the mall’s manager about how a nearly perfectly preserved Burger King managed to remain a hidden feature for 13 years and could now be headed toward a second life as a speakeasy.
Listen to this and every episode by downloading Restaurant Rewinf from wherever you get your podcasts.
How Domino's needs to get its mojo back
Two of today’s most powerful sales drivers for restaurants are delivery and digital technology. Both have been extraordinary strengths for Domino’s. Why, then, is the pizza giant hitting an uncharacteristic slowdown?
This week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind looks back at how the pie maker got to its position of prominence in the off-premise market and what the trajectory is likely to be near-term. Joining podcast host and Restaurant Business Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo is Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Maze, who recently underscored the length of Domino’s sales streak by listing all the chains that have sprouted since the pizza brand’s last sales downturn.
Give a listen to learn what went into Domino’s DNA, and what genetic engineering it may need to try to get comps positive again. Download this and every episode from wherever you get your podcasts.
Remembering the copycatting case that went where no restaurant had gone before
Copycatting a successful restaurant concept is as old as the industry itself. Witness the recent efforts by Crumbl Cookies to block upstart competitors from lifting signature features of the fast-growing baked-goods specialist.
But few of those alleged thefts of intellectual property are as outrageous as a situation that had to be resolved by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1992. It involved a brand that still operates today, Taco Cabana, and a competitor it would eventually absorb, Two Pesos.
The dispute resulted in an order by a federal court for Two Pesos to post signs alerting customers that it had stolen its format and design from Taco Cabana.
The district court also gave nine specific directives of how Two Pesos needed to change its design, right down to the roofline.
Sound crazy? Give a listen to learn how the case ended up twice before the Supreme Court. Download this and every episode from wherever you get your podcasts.
Subway veers from the trend of following a blockbuster ad campaign with a dud
Subway is in the midst of a turnaround that pivots on the sandwich chain’s new ad campaign, Eat Fresh Refresh, a successor to some of the most effective marketing the restaurant industry has ever seen. Following up on the likes of $5 Footlong spots and the long-running focus on a customer’s loss of 245 pounds from a Subway diet can’t be a cakewalk.
Just how difficult that challenge must be is the focus of this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at two parallel situations from the 1980s: Wendy’s iconic Where’s the Beef? campaign and the cheeky run Burger King made on McDonald’s via a series of head-to-head comparisons.
As he shows, those attempts failed to have lightning strike twice. The recounts show how remarkable it is for a campaign like Subway’s follow-up to deliver more thunder.
Listen to this week’s episode and every installment by downloading Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
Hey, McDonald's, your approach has been tried before
Tensions between McDonald’s and its franchisees have escalated into a public dispute, centered this time on the franchisor’s new policy for contract renewals. The franchisor has flat-out warned it’ll use the re-ups of 20-year pacts to scrub the system of operations showing their age. The rank-and-file counter that a 20-year run is a pretty good indicator that they know how to run successful restaurants.
The melee harkens back to a critical point in the evolution of another dominant franchise brand within its field. Given the parallels that have existed between Holiday Inns and McDonald’s, it’s not surprising the lodging chain once used the sort of leverage McDonald’s intends to wield on longtime licensees, with the same goal in mind.
But if the parallel should continue to hold true, McDonald’s may be heading for more of a change in its franchisee ranks than it envisioned, suggests this week’s edition of the Restaurant Rewind podcast. Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at how Holiday Inn’s pressure on franchisees in the 1980s initially raised the possibility of a split in the system. It faced a defection not only of its largest franchisee but also of its legendary founder.
Join Romeo as he looks back on that little-known chapter in the history franchising. You’ll find Restaurant Rewind on Spotify or wherever you download your podcasts.
Remembering the mother of all supply-chain disruptions
Gasoline prices have never been as high as they are currently, but the damage to restaurants and the economy in general is likely far lower than a fuel crisis many Americans still vividly remember. Those who are too young to have caught that truly historic wallop may be surprised to learn just how much of a disruption it was to day-to-day life.
Indeed, as this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind recounts, the impact extended to everything from wartime-like rationing to forgoing year-end holiday lighting and keeping homes colder than normal.
Those were threatening days for a restaurant industry still in its adolescence, as host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo informs listeners in his highly personalized account of those literally chilling times. He uses that experience to assess the impact of today's oil inflation.
Listen this week and every Tuesday by downloading Restaurant Rewind from wherever you get your podcasts.
Restaurateur Elon Musk aims to go where few business giants have succeeded
As the richest man in the world, Elon Musk has a pretty good record on startups, from PayPal to Tesla to Space X. But now he’s bringing that Midas touch to a field where past successes and staggering financial resources are no guarantee of another triumph, as this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast attests.
Host and Restaurant Business Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks at past instances of corporate giants giving the industry a try. For every slam-dunk by the likes of Pepsico or General Mills, the past parents of Taco Bell and Red Lobster, respectively, there seems to be a bizarre pairing of restaurant chain and mega-parent.
Jack in the Box, for instance, was once part of a giant pet food company. Hardee’s corporate siblings once included several Canadian brands of cigarettes. Executives of Pillsbury’s onetime restaurant holdings would joke about their bosses sporting a dusting of flour.
What’s that portend for Musk and his proposed drive-in concept? Give a listen to this and every week’s installment of Restaurant Rewind, the podcast that looks into the industry’s past for a better understanding of what’s happening in the business today.
You’ll find it wherever you get your podcasts.
When restaurants are the scenes of mass shootings
Gunmen have turned the most unlikely of settings into sites of horrifying carnage, as the recent tragedies in a Uvalde, Texas, grade school and a Buffalo, N.Y., supermarket readily attest. Fortunately for foodservices, the shooters haven’t chosen restaurants as their stage, or at least not recently. But as this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind vividly shows, the business hasn’t always enjoyed such luck.
Host Peter Romeo, the editor at large for Restaurant Business, recounts the three shootings he’s covered in his 38 years as a restaurant reporter, including what at the time was the nation’s highest-casualty event, the murder of 23 customers of a small town’s cafeteria.
“My goal here isn’t to scare anyone,” Romeo says. “Rather, it’s to dash this notion that mass shootings are other institutions’ problem.”
Listen as he recalls the Luby’s shootings and two other gun tragedies that erupted in restaurants.
It’s proof, he concludes, that restaurants need to take precautions now to lessen their potential exposure.
It may be deja vu all over again for Nelson Peltz and Wendy's
Nelson Peltz must love those square burgers and Frosties. Fourteen years after buying Wendy’s, the activist investor has alerted federal regulators that he’s interested in acquiring the burger chain again.
If past is prologue, it’ll likely be a rollercoaster ride for investors, staff and any other stakeholder, as this week’s Restaurant Rewind podcast reports. Host and Restaurant Business Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo looks back at the war of communications that raged over about a two-year stretch, with Peltz formally rebuffed at least twice.
The particulars are clearly different this time around. For one thing, Peltz already owns about 20% of Wendy’s stock, or more than twice as much as he controlled back in 2008. Forcing Wendy’s to make an acquisition also appears to be a possibility this time, as the podcast notes.
The session also notes that Peltz lacks the sort of boardroom foil who made his last run such a grabber.
McDonald's entry into Russia makes its planned exit seem ho-hum
McDonald’s withdrawal from Russia has been big news, but the attention is nothing compared to the to-do that accompanied its entry into what was then a part of the Soviet Union. The opening of the first store 32 years ago was heralded as a turning point in East-West relations.
No wonder the ramp-up to the first store took 14 years. Much of that time was spent on the initial unit’s supply chain, but new hires needed as extensive training. Smiling in retail settings, for instance, wasn’t part of the Russian culture.
Read more about the challenges McDonald’s faced, and what the world said about the capitalist icon’s entry into Communist territory, in this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, hosted by Restaurant Business Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo.
When chains go from sizzle to fizzle
One of the downsides of being a public company is the fickleness of Wall Street. If investors so much as suspect a holding will fall short of expectations, they’ll mercilessly hammer down the value of a high-flying issue, even if the business fundamentals remain largely unchanged. They can fall in and out of love as easily as a teenager.
A case in point: Dutch Bros, the drive-thru coffee chain that lost 37% of its stock value in a single trading day because of a decline in comparable store sales for the first quarter.
In this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, the RB podcast that delves into the industry’s past for a deeper understanding of what’s happening today, host and RB Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo looks at two past instances of an investment darling going from sizzle to fizzle in a flash.
The familiarity of those brands is a testament that restaurants are a business of peaks and valleys. But see for yourself by giving a listen.
When Wendy’s and McDonald’s went chain shopping
The restaurant industry has seen more pendulum swings than some clock stores. Right now, the business is in a shrink-the-menu mode, a place it’s been about every 10 or 11 years. Give it a bit, and the trend is likely to swing back to expanding bills of fare in hopes of sporting at least one item for everybody.
The same pendulum effect is visible in the portfolio strategies of the industry’s largest players. Chili’s parent Brinker International has pared back its holdings to two brands after operating many times that number in the past. In little more than four years, Arby’s franchisor has grown to include seven franchise chains encompassing 30,000 restaurants.
It's a to-and-fro Wendy’s and McDonald’s know well, having gone from one brand to a broad collection and then back down a lone operation in less than a decade. Few remember today that McDonald’s owned a coffee chain called Aroma, and was once the parent of Chipotle. Wendy’s owned part of a chef-driven pasta chain and a European-style bistro concept.
In this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind, RB’s retrospective podcast, Editor-At-Large Peter Romeo looks back at those expansion binges and the concerns that powered them. The broadcast also examines why the two giants decided ultimately to abandon the approach.
Chick-fil-A’s cow campaign was no BS
Chick-fil-A emerged long ago as one of the highest-volume players in fast food. Now it’s leaving many full-service chains in the dust with average annual sales of $8.1 million per free-standing store.
It might have never gotten there if it hadn’t been for one of the more memorable marketing efforts in restaurant history, the iconic Eat Mor Chikin campaign. For 20 years, consumers were urged by a group of rascally cows to spare the herd by having a Chick-fil-A chicken sandwich instead of a hamburger.
In this week’s edition of Restaurant Business’ Restaurant Rewind podcast, Editor At Large Peter Romeo looks back at that standout marketing effort from truly a field-level perspective. Part of the recollection is an interview with a onetime Chick-fil-A employee (and current RB staff member) whose early communications work included dressing up as one of the cows. You may never look at Senior Editor Joe Guszkowski’s articles in the same way again.
Cutting-edge technology is nothing new for Sonic
After seven decades in business, Sonic finds itself once again in alignment with the lifestyles of the times, President Claudia San Pedro commented while being honored last week as the 2022 Restaurant Leader of the Year.
In honor of her selection, this week’s edition of RB’s Restaurant Rewind podcast looks back at how Sonic, one of the industry’s older quick-service chains, got its start. Technology played a key role in that birth, and continues to drive the brand’s evolution today, San Pedro said during her appearance at the Restaurant Leadership Conference.
And let us not forget the contribution of 1950s teen idol Frankie Avalon.
So wheel your way into a parking slot, tune in that carside intercom, and give a listen as RB Editor-at-Large Peter Romeo takes you through a quick history of the brand.
Why restaurants are a retirement option of choice for MLBers
Baseball has always had a unique connection to America’s other favored pastime, dining out. The restaurant industry has routinely provided a second career for the pros after they hang up their spikes. Just this week, two-time World Series champion and former Blue Jay Todd Stottlemyer revealed that he intends to open two units of the poke chain Koibito Poke.
With the new MLB season underway, this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind looks at that well-worn path between baseball and restaurants. We take a look at how some of the biggest names ever to play the game have put to use what they learned while dining out every night on the road.
This highlight reel of restaurant fights would make Mike Tyson wince
A corporate raider who once muscled companies into all sorts of major changes is resuming his old activist ways, this time with McDonald’s as his target. Carl Icahn’s demand that the burger giant deliver on promised shifts in its purchasing policies is a flashback to the bruising proxy battles that have cost many a big-name director their seat on a public restaurant company’s board.
This week’s edition of Restaurant Business’ Restaurant Rewind podcast looks at three of highest-profile past melees between investors, directors and corporate management. If you’ve ever wondered why Applebee’s and IHOP are part of the same company, or why CEOs are such sticklers about when the corporate jet can be used, this installment is for you. Ditto if you’re a fan of mixed martial arts.
Restaurants are in the dark about daylight savings
Republicans and Democrats can’t seem to agree on what time of day it is, much less a proposal that would affect every American household. Yet an equally split U.S. Senate unanimously passed a bill last week to adopt daylight savings time nationwide for all 12 months. The measure is likely to fly through the House of Representatives and almost certainly be signed into law by President Biden.
And why not? The benefits sound as wholesome as parenthood and apple pie—a way to provide America’s hard-working families with a few more hours of sunlight together. But as this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind reports, there’s a dark side to the situation for restaurants.
War seldom makes sense for restaurants and the Ukraine invasion is no exception
As if the world needed more tension, a restaurant group in Europe is trying to calm the hotheads who mistakenly read its name—House of Poutine—as a tribute to the warmongering president of Russia, proving once again that truth is war’s first casualty.
But as this week’s edition of Restaurant Rewind attests, this is hardly the only time wartime emotions have driven restaurant patrons a little insane. Conflicts on the battlefield have often spilled onto menus, leading to such craziness as the demonization of French toast.
The necessities of war have also changed what’s on American plates—or, in the case of World War II GIs, on what they dubbed a shingle (we’d use the name given to the other main ingredient, but let’s just call it chipped beef here).
Learn how wartime has affected America’s menus and eating habits by downloading this week’s Restaurant Rewind wherever you get your podcasts.
Long before virtual concepts, restaurants had another way of cracking new segments
In those long-ago days before the pandemic, the term “virtual concept” was as foreign to most U.S. restaurateurs as a selection from “101 Rare Latvian Curses.”
Yet today, operations sporting that label are scrambling the industry’s traditional lines of competition. A burger joint inks a deal with one of the many upstart brands with “wings” in its name, and it’s instantly in the chicken delivery business. A brick-and-mortar operation without a hint of beef on its menu is suddenly slinging a lot of red meat courtesy of MrBeast Burger.
Virtual brands can now provide established operators with a way to snag fans of everything from quesadillas to cookies, grilled-cheese sandwiches and pancakes.
But the dynamic isn’t new, as the inaugural episode of RB’s newest podcast, "Restaurant Rewind," spells out.