Seafood isn’t a surprise catch at fast casuals. But this spring, Jackson, Miss.-based Newk’s Eatery hoped to hook guests with a premium ingredient more often found in full service—ahi tuna. Presentation was key, says Alan Wright, VP of marketing and franchise operations. “You need to have operational confidence to menu this type of item,” he says. Newk’s built its confidence with a six-month test, training and a product that eases prep.
1. Fishing expedition
Newk’s sources sushi-grade tuna, a play to affirm its position at the upper end of fast casual and appeal to its Gen X and millennial target customer, Wright says. The 78-unit chain found a supplier that delivers the fish in squared-off frozen blocks, so cooks easily can slice it.
2. Sharpening knife skills
The chain conducted extensive in-store and video training to teach staff the technique to cut uniform, attractive slices of tuna. The rollout also required the purchase of a sushi knife for each store, says Wright. “The investment was worth it, as the salad returns a 70 percent profit margin.”
3. Feeling 'fine'
“Menu items have to work within our hot and cold food lines with ticket times of six to seven minutes,” Wright says. Ahi fits the bill. The fish is marinated in soy sauce, honey and mirin. Then it’s sliced and lightly seared to order for a minute on each side and served rare, Japanese-style.
4. Value for the money
Newk’s fills each bowl with five ounces of mixed greens and four ounces of tuna, more than first planned, says Wright. “Ahi has strong awareness among millennials and Gen X,” he says. “We thought they would see it as good value for a top-tier item, and unit operators felt the presentation would sell the salad and warrant the [$2] higher price tag.”
Although the LTO was set to end in mid-May, “it’s gone so well, we plan to keep the salad through the summer,” Wright says. And with trained staff already in place, Newk’s hopes to extend the ahi to other menu applications in the future.