The week’s 5 head-spinning moments: Special eye-poke edition

Protective eyewear should’ve been issued to restaurateurs and civilian knuckleheads last week. Not since the sunset of the Three Stooges have so many eyeballs been subjected to a sharp poke, courtesy of everyone from tuned-out chain executives to underperforming roosters to the Stooges themselves, who are about to take a posthumous run at the fast-casual market.

Poke #1: Problems in the henhouse could raise food costs.

The roosters that sire as much as 25 percent of the chickens consumed in the United States are losing their potency, according to an exclusive report from Reuters. The upshot: A possible crimp in supply, which would of course raise wholesale costs at a time of galloping demand. 

The issue is a genetic defect in the frequently used line of stud roosters, technically known as Aviagen group’s standard male Ross. Over time, the gene problem erodes their fertility. Fixing that issue will presumably require careful genetic selection and breeding over several generations, though the experts have yet to confirm that approach.

They’ve also been mute on speculation that studly alternative roosters are being recruited to get the job done.

Poke #2: Mutual jabs from Bob Evans Farms and shareholders

When shareholders want you fired because profits fell 62 percent, in part because of acknowledged management problems, the wisest response may not be to siphon $5.5 million from next year’s income specifically to out-shout the complainers. That’s about 18 percent of what the company made in fiscal 2014.

Yet that’s what Bob Evans Farms said it intends to do in 2015. In addition to the outlay for “responses to an activist shareholder,” the venerable family restaurant chain said it expects to increase performance-based payouts by $8 million and spend an additional $2 million to improve internal management systems and financial controls. If those expenses were incurred last fiscal year, profits would have been cut in half.

In the same breath, the company lowered its earnings forecast by more than a third.

The revelations were taken as an insult by Sandell Asset Management, one of Bob Evans’ largest shareholders and loudest critics. The investor has characterized management as stooges in their own right, and has called repeatedly for control of the board and a change in leadership.

Of course, if it accepted Bob Evans’ recent overtures to confer and negotiate, another $5.5 million might be dropping to the bottom line.

Poke #3: Arming Moe, Larry and Curly with frying pans.

The entertainment company that owns the Three Stooges trademark is licensing the rights to a concept-development company that intends to launch a fast-casual burger chain with a Moe, Larry and Curly theme. There’s no word yet on Shemp’s role.

The Three Stooges Burger House will air clips of the knuckleheads on oversized monitors, part of what developer Legendary Burgers describes as a leap forward in restaurant technology. It points to such other features as a drive-up pick-up window, not a drive-thru, where patrons who order remotely can retrieve their orders. A high-tech Hollywood trick will enable patrons to have their pictures taken with the Stooges on a mini-stage broadcasting digital life-sized images of the inveterate eye-pokers.

The venture is the latest in a long, long line of attempts by entertainment celebrities to branch into the restaurant business. Most have resulted in failure, vis-à-vis Mickey Rooney, Johnny Carson, Pearl Bailey, Brittany Spears, Muhammad Ali and Kenny Rogers. But there’s recently been a flurry of counter-examples, including successes from Sammy Hagar, of Van Halen fame, and Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley of Kiss, with the five-unit Rock and Brews chain.

The Stooges will be three more head-bangers.  No target date was given for the opening of the Stooges prototype.

Poke #4: Actually, a squirt in the neck at Eleven Madison

One of the nation’s remaining bastions of fine-dining restaurants is Eleven Madison Park, the four-star New York City landmark opened by Danny Meyer and later sold by him to the chef and manager to prevent them from going out and opening a competing place. As Meyer recounted in his book, a change in ownership made sense to him, in part because of the takeover duo’s passion and desire to do things differently.

Daniel Humm and Will Guidara haven’t disappointed. They’ve broken new ground in enlivening fine dining, proving that haute cuisine and loose, even Stooges-caliber fun aren’t incompatible. Epicurious.com learned as much when a representative recently ordered a bottle of top-dollar Champagne from the establishment.  The sommelier opened the premium bubbly with a Super Soaker squirt gun.

The trick is using a tableside burner to heat a pair of metal tongs, which are then used to heat the bottle’s neck. The glass apparently expands, loosening the cork. Then the sommelier squirts the neck with water, apparently causing it to contract and pop out the cork.

Remember, this is one of the highest-rated fine-dining restaurants in the country, with a serious, well-heeled clientele running up checks in the triple digits.

Poke #5: Take that, nutrition nannies.

Almost overlooked in the torrent of industry news this week were the revelations from Krispy Kreme CEO Tony Thompson about imminent changes in the doughnut chain’s heavily sugared menu. Among the likely additions: healthy items, Thompson told USA Today.

He didn’t provide details, but aired the possibility of baking instead of deep-frying some selections. He also volunteered that any addition will be better than the whole-wheat monstrosity that Krispy tried with little success in 2007.

Thompson, who’s new to his post, also mentioned the possibility of adding sandwiches and other savory items to the 77-year-old chain’s bill of fare.


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