Noting the restaurant developments that can whip a head around would presumably leave us jaded after years of recording the Twilight Zone moments. This week quashed that theory with a hammer blow, leaving us scampering for a neck brace before we could pound out the week’s bizarre developments.
Read on, but keep aspirin and a chiropractor’s number handy.
1. Trump calls for ending food safety regulators
Despite the high-profile contaminations that have occasionally ignited fears about eating in restaurants, experts universally cite the U.S. food supply as the safest in the world. But Donald Trump revealed that he sees no reason to maintain the current level of protective vigilance. His campaign organization issued a promise this week to get rid of “the FDA Food Police”—and just as quickly withdrew the pledge after it was noticed.
The regulators were included among what the campaign described as business hindrances that would be abolished if Trump wins the election. It also cited new water purity regulations and ozone emission standards.
Grubstreet.com, the food website of New York magazine, snagged a copy of the Republican Party candidate’s policy statement before it was taken down from the campaign’s website.
2. Bob Evans Restaurants: Worth as much dead as alive?
An investor at odds with the family restaurant operator’s leadership said as much this week in its argument that the company be split in two.
While stressing that it wasn’t recommending the restaurants be closed, Sandell Asset Management noted that the restaurants were valued at a mere $385 million. Yet, it continued, the company owns the real estate under 300 of the units, and that land alone would sell for $300 million. Sandell noted that a private-equity firm could buy the restaurant division, sell the 300 parcels and get the restaurants essentially for free.
It’s pushing management to separate the restaurants from Bob Evans’ food processing operations, which it regards as undervalued.
Bob Evans Restaurants has been stung by a prolonged traffic slowdown.
3. Activists turn on Chez Panisse
Long before responsible sourcing had flowered into a true movement, chef Alice Waters was agitating for more mindful purchasing practices, proving the business viability at her landmark Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, Calif. She was the goddess of the local, “natural” crusade—or a sanctimonious gadfly who wouldn’t shut up about the cause, depending on who you asked.
That’s why customers weren’t the only ones whose heads were spun by animal rights activists’ disruption of dinner at Chez Panisse on Friday. The protestors reportedly refused to leave the dining room, and seized the opportunity to lecture customers on the horrors animals suffer when they’re raised for food (Chez Panisse’s menu is not vegan).
Police were summoned, but no arrests were made.
4. Starbucks: New classroom for emerging-chain CEOs?
Set the time machine’s dial to two weeks ago, when the Boudin fast-casual bakery-cafe chain named a new CEO. Clarice Turner was taking the top job at the 28-unit chain after serving as SVP of food and evenings for Starbucks’ 15,300-unit Americas division.
Now zap back to this week, when the flurry of executive changes—a sign of the difficult times—included a touch of deja vu all over again. A new CEO was hired for 13-unit True Food Kitchen. Christine Barone’s prior post? Starbucks’ SVP of food, evenings and licensed stores.
Get back in the time machine and input the coordinates this time for January, when Le Pain Quotidien hired a new CEO for its 87-store U.S. operation. Doug Satzman’s prior post: SVP for Starbucks.
5. State fairs become a lab for restaurant ideas
Never mind a visit to the trendsetters of New York City and Los Angeles. Get to your nearest state fair if you want a glimmer of what might be next for restaurants. Healthy options are appearing on more menus, but they may have to share space with plenty of deep-fried concoctions served on a stick.
This week brought news that Walmart might outfit stores with a Texas fair-themed concept if a test beginning next week proves the viability. The State Fair Treats prototype will feature 45 of the indulgent items that sustain fair attendees as they view the state’s best longhorns and Leghorns.
Meanwhile, the public can enjoy funnel cake at any number of restaurants, along with all sorts of head-turning products straight from the fair grounds.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.