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Grape expectations

In his home kitchen, Eat ’n Park’s executive chef, John Frick, likes to add fruit to jazz up chicken or tuna salad. He decided to steal that idea for a recent LTO, the California Chicken Salad Sandwich, incorporating grapes into the mix. As part of the chain’s “7 Days, 7 Deals, 7 Dollars” promotion, the sandwich—with housemade pickle and side—sells for $7.

Filling first

“The essential components of a successful sandwich are fresh ingredients, interesting flavors and textures and good looks,” says Frick. This one starts with chicken salad made in-house from a combo of light and dark meat to boost flavor and moistness. Celery and onions, diced fresh daily, go in next. Then come the grapes, which impart a tangy-sweet flavor and juiciness. “I chose red California grapes to add natural pops of color,” notes Frick. Almonds are tossed in for crunch, then the mixture is bound together with Eat ’n Park’s signature mayonnaise.

The build

Layered on top of the filling is cheddar cheese and lettuce. Since this sandwich ran from June through mid-September, Frick was able to source local lettuce, grown near corporate headquarters in Homestead, Pennsylvania. For the carrier, the culinary team chose the chain’s seven-grain bread, baked daily at each of the 72 locations. “We’ve had lots of success with the seven-grain,” reports Frick. “It’s healthier but not dry and provides great character and contrast.”

Left on the table

The chef tried the sandwich with a croissant, but it didn’t offer the same contrast or hold up as well to the chicken salad. Along the way, he also considered pecans and walnuts for the filling, but “the almonds worked well operationally and can be used in several other applications,” he says. In fact, everything in the sandwich can be cross-utilized.

Sourcing strategies

Since Eat ’n Park has no franchisees, Frick specs the exact ingredients he wants for all locations. He works directly with the manufacturer to source the pre-cooked chicken and a proprietary mayonnaise. Paragon Produce out of Pittsburgh supplies many of the fruits and vegetables and a broadliner fills in with staples.

Gearing up for Fall

Frick is looking at the pretzel bun craze as inspiration for Fall—in both sandwich and appetizer applications. Fresh pears, perhaps grilled and combined with chicken in a salad, are also under consideration. And bolder flavors will factor into menu development as well. “We’re a family restaurant chain that’s been around for 60 years, but we’re finding that customers are more adventurous. We just ran a successful Habanero Chicken Sandwich. LTOs allow me to have a little fun with ingredients,” he says. 

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