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The week’s 5 head-spinning moments: Big ones that nearly slipped past

1. Wendy’s–LYFE Kitchen connection

Every yenta plugged into the industry’s hyperactive grapevine somehow missed this one: LYFE Kitchen, the better-for-you chain brainstormed by several McDonald’s alumni, has a new leader. And his other foot is squarely planted in Wendy’s.

The story had been simmering for months before it came to light this week, turning plenty of necks toward Memphis. Carlisle Corp., the owner of the area’s Wendy’s franchise, has purchased an undisclosed minority stake in LYFE, which had been owned by co-founder Mike Roberts and a group of investors he’d assembled. As part of the deal, Roberts would surrender his CEO duties to Chance Carlisle, the president of the Wendy’s franchise, Wendelta, and LYFE’s corporate functions would relocate to Memphis. Chance Carlisle would retain his post at Wendelta.

Roberts, a former president of McDonald’s, remains chairman of LYFE.

None of the parties has disclosed how the businesses will be firewalled. But Carlisle Corp., which also owns real estate in the Memphis area, has already earmarked two smaller chips in its portfolio for conversion to LYFE units. One is Sharkey’s Grill, a once-popular local independent.

The Memphis stores will be units number 11 and 12 for LYFE.

2. ‘Your next course: A full battery.’

Foodies tracked the ramp up to Jose Garces’ opening of Volver the way Trekkies once lived for the next geek convention in their area. There was a lot to digest. The popular Philadelphia chef-operator indicated he would disregard convention in the menu, design and even operation of his new fine-dining venture. But even with that build-up, a particular dash of excess would go largely unnoticed.

One of the 15 courses served by Volver (Spanish for “return”) is purposely not edible. Unless, to a degree, we really do eat with our eyes. The server brings a phone charger to the table on a silver plate and asks if guests might like to fuel up their smart phones.  That way, the waiter points out, they’ll have enough juice to take photos of the food and post them on Instagram. Hint, hint. 

If you’re thinking of “borrowing” that marketing idea, note that the charger presentation is sandwiched between the sardine and live scallop courses.

3. ‘Man bites dog’? Bah. Try ‘man bites shark.’

In the latest proof there’s no such thing as bad publicity, sharks were much in demand within the restaurant industry this week. Unfortunately, the desire was to eat them, ideally with a close-up on establishments’ flat screens of the beasts devouring some cursed swimmer or sea animal

This is Shark Week on the Discovery Channel, a weekly binge-watching fest that, with little fanfare, restaurants have seized as a new promotional opportunity. Many showed the programming on their TVs, inviting guests to watch in groups as they sipped shark-themed cocktails. Operators also extended an opportunity for man to bite back, studding menus with shark meat tacos, mako steaks and the like. 

The jump in consumption of shark was dramatic enough to snag the attention of environmentalists, who noted that the variety of choice, a certain type of mako, is a slow-growing creature whose numbers are dwindling. Seafood Watch urged restaurants to buy other varieties of mako or to forego the addition of shark altogether.

4. Next in nontraditional locations: Starbucks on wheels

The coffee giant lifted heads from coast to coast when news broke of a freshly minted Frappuccino truck rolling into southern California in June. The popularity of Starbucks, overlaid on the still-surging food truck trend—how would the fashionably cool survive?

But, to the surprise of all but a few in the know, that was just the start of a rolling caffeine movement.  Starbucks has a “pilot project” underway to put coffee trucks on college campuses in collaboration with Aramark, the giant foodservice management company and restaurant franchisee, its CEO, Eric Foss, told investors this week.

The trucks will be offered by the Aramark-run foodservice facilities of three colleges, beginning with Arizona State University.

Foss also revealed that Panera Bread Co. is working with Aramark to put bakery-cafes on college and university grounds as well.

Separately, Jack in the Box officials said Qdoba is in the process of developing nontraditional sites with Aramark as well as a competitor, Sodexo.

5.  Localizing for the Colorado market

The news likely slipped past Colorado restaurateurs who diligently shop the new breed of eating and drinking establishments popping up in their state, but the rest of us can appreciate the import. The boom triggered there by the legalization of marijuana isn’t going unnoticed by restaurant chains located far afield. This week, Pennsylvania-based Unique Pizza & Subs became what is likely the first franchise system to say it will develop marijuana-laced products for the Colorado market. On the drawing board are a crust and a sauce.

Which, of course, gives new meaning to the term “take and bake.”

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