The industry didn’t have to wait until Halloween to deliver some mind candy. Here are some delectable, head-spinning moments that might have slipped past you this week.
1. Cheesecake Factory gives up on RockSugar concept
After seven years of testing, The Cheesecake Factory is throwing in the napkin on its secondary concept, RockSugar Pan-Asian Kitchen. Management alerted investors this week that they’re writing off the experiment with an impairment charge of $6 million. The RockSugar prototype apparently remains open.
Cheesecake opened the polished-casual restaurant in 2008 as a possible new growth vehicle. The company hasn’t given up on its search for a development alternative to its namesake brand and Grand Lux Café, a pricier version of Cheesecake. CEO David Overton told investors in February that management was evaluating “new concepts both internal and external” that could be added to the fold. Executives repeated that message this week after airing the news about RockSugar. They did not explain why the Asian venture does not fit their needs.
The company has experimented in the past with a scaled-down Cheesecake Express, a concept that foreshadowed in many ways the hot fast-casual concepts of today.
2. ‘Gimme all your discount’
Restaurant patrons were shot this week at restaurants in Dallas; Atlanta; Palm Beach, Fla.; Washington, D.C.; Marina del Rey, Calif.; Ashland, Ohio; Indianapolis, Jensen Beach, Fla.; Ankeny, Iowa; Jennings, Mo.; Brooklyn, N.Y. and Baltimore, Md., to cite just the instances that drew attention outside of their immediate areas. Yet if you came packing heat to the Papa Roux restaurant in Indianapolis, you were given more than an escort to the door.
Patrons licensed to carry firearms are being treated to a 25 percent discount after the restaurant was robbed Saturday night by a man who said he was armed but never showed the gun. Proprietor Art Bouvier says he just wants to even the score a bit. He told the local newspaper, “I don’t want Papa Roux to turn into the O.K. Corral, but I don’t want to be an easy target.”
Patrons need only show their carry permits, not their guns.
3. ‘$15 isn’t enough’
Athough Seattle, Wash., has one of the highest minimum wages in the nation ($11 an hour, on its way to $15 in two years), labor organizers say that’s not enough. A local chapter of a very vocal pro-labor group, Restaurant Opportunities Center, says it’s discovered through research that 47.2 percent of restaurant workers are still earning a “poverty wage.” Similarly, though the city is an early adapter of paid sick leave, 73.5 percent of restaurant employees say they don’t really have it. If they’re right, many employers there could be facing some costly sanctions and bad PR. But ROC-Seattle acknowledges that 37.4 percent of survey participants were unaware that paid leave was available to them.
4. Bland on the run
If there’s any doubt the dining mainstream craves sinus-clearing spiciness, consider the head-turning report that Nomura restaurant analyst Mark Kalinowski issued this week on Wendy’s. The burger brainchild of Dave Thomas was once known for such edgy innovations as baked potatoes, chili and a salad bar. Now in test, according to Kalinowski are a Green Chile Quesoburger, a Queso Baked Potato and a Sweet Thai Chili Chicken Sandwich. That’s after featuring Ghost Pepper Fries (above).
Kalinowski noted that high-flavor items from Wendy’s shouldn’t be a surprise since spicy items have worked so well for the brand in the near past.
5. Menu subtractions
The standard script calls for restaurant-chain execs to boast about product additions during quarterly investor updates. This week, the crowing was all about what’s come off the menus.
The 180 underscores how aggressively chains are trying to streamline menus and backrooms for operational ease. McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook’s best news during an analyst call this week was the chain’s first increase in same-store sales in two years. But there seemed to be some jubilation in his report that 14 items have come off the permanent menu since he took charge in March—despite flirtations with products like sweet-potato fries and energy drinks.
Greg Trojan, CEO of BJ’s Restaurants, noted that his charge’s standard menu has dropped to 135 items from a high point of about 180 selections. Chipotle’s leadership observed once again that the high-flying fast-casual brand prepares all of its menu items from a mere 68 ingredients, or fewer components than a single big-chain item might require. And Burger King cited its success with using “fewer, more impactful products,” in the words of Daniel Schwartz, CEO of parent company Restaurant Brands International.