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Food

Courting diners with local flavors

The Columbus, Ohio-based Rusty Bucket Restaurant and Tavern has 15 locations, but only the Indianapolis store serves up a breaded pork tenderloin sandwich. The reason? Consumer demand for this regional Hoosier specialty could not be ignored. 

1. Customers speak up

Rusty Bucket encourages—and receives—guest feedback all year through comment cards and management touch points. The chain also conducts an annual survey of the 15,000+ consumers in its database, targeted to specific locations, says President Gary Callicoat. When asked “what else would you like to share,” in the Indianapolis survey,  respondents were overwhelmingly in favor of adding a pork tenderloin sandwich to the menu.

2. Sampling the competition

There were plenty of places in Indianapolis to get this local signature, and Callicoat and his R&D team tasted close to 50 variations. “We whittled our preferences down to three, then went back to the kitchen to develop our own version,” he says. All the R&D associates contributed to the development, experimenting with different batters and flours for the breading, several cooking techniques (deep-frying, grilling and sautéing) and various cheeses, sauces and pickles.

3. Crunch factor

“We wanted tender meat and big crunch,” says Callicoat. A blend of the chain’s beer batter with panko crumbs was the answer. A 5-ounce pork tenderloin is pounded thin, brushed with egg wash, then dipped in this breading. The pork is shallow-fried in trans fat-free vegetable oil, spiced with Rusty Bucket’s proprietary “steak dust” seasoning, then sandwiched on a burger bun with lettuce, tomato, dill pickles and onion. “It’s close to the classic, down to the presentation with the tenderloin overhanging the bun,” he says. 

4. Consumer approved

Before the sandwich was “a go,” Rusty Bucket put it in front of guests and solicited feedback. “We heard that we got it right—the sandwich had the local flavor our customers were looking for,” says Callicoat. The Breaded Pork Tenderloin Sandwich ($8.95) is now a permanent menu item.

5. Sourcing strategies

The only new SKUs Rusty Bucket added were the panko crumbs and the pork tenderloin—the latter sourced from a Midwest meat supplier. Everything else is cross-utilized to keep costs and inventory in check; the bun and “steak dust” go on the chain’s burgers and the beer batter goes into the Fish and Chips.

What’s next

Local flavors will continue to impact the menu. In the Florida unit, grouper is being tested in place of cod for the chain’s Fish and Chips. 

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