Fresh To Order—a.k.a. “f2o”—is an expanding concept defining the new niche of “fast fine” food. The goal: to offer freshly made meals for around $10 in under 10 minutes. “One of the chief components had to be dinner service, but we were lacking an adequate appetizer category,” says executive chef/COO Jesse Gideon. So he launched an expanded selection of appetizers in February.
Playing up protein
The new items ($2.99 to $5.49) are designed to cross-utilize proteins from the entrée section of the menu but they’re presented in appetizer format. This approach also makes training easier, Gideon adds. For example, the Almond Crusted Seared Tuna uses the same tuna steak prep offered as an add-on for the entrée salads—the tuna is tossed in panko, hand-crushed almonds and rosemary and seared—but it’s plated over Asian Slaw with a housemade vinaigrette. Similarly, Chicken Skewers are napped with orange chili glaze and peanut sauce. “We paired things differently to bulk up the appetizers and contrast textures and flavors,” he says.
Deconstructing an app
For the tuna appetizer, the ideation process began with purchasing. “The variety of tuna we buy—like ahi or yellowfin—is not as important to us as quality. We always spec sushi-grade tuna,” Gideon notes. Next comes texture and flavor. “Tuna is soft, so we used almonds to give it crunch and paired the seared slices with the slaw for crispness,” he says. “We also looked at acidity and sweetness; hitting acidity makes food bright.” The Oriental Apricot Vinaigrette in the slaw adds a sweet-sour fruity kick and the pickled ginger balances that with a touch of heat.
What didn’t make the cut
f2o considered cross-utilizing Brown Sugar Pork Loin for an appetizer—a favorite protein from its main menu. Gideon tried it on a soft mini grit cake with a roasted corn salad on the side for crunch. “We loved each component separately but the three together didn’t work,” he recalls. “The taste just didn’t make it.”
Since Fresh To Order is not bringing in any new products for these appetizer additions, food costs can be more easily controlled. “We’re looking for these to be incremental sales,” says Gideon. The hope is to increase dinner business from the current 35 percent to 50 percent of total sales during 2012 at the concept’s six current locations. Eight more locations are expected to open in 2013 with the signing of multi-unit franchise agreements.