Golden Corral R&D chef says out with the old

Beverly Lynch doesn't like the same-old meatloaf. She doesn't like the same-old gravy, either. In fact, this former Home Ec.teacher's 11-year tenure as head of R&D for Golden Corral has been spent not liking the same-old anything.

She's kicked up the chain's meatloaf recipe no fewer than a dozen times. And gravy? "Gravy is really important," she enthuses.

In fact, for Lynch everything on the menu is important, to the point where few things have escaped her continuous tweaking. "She's never satisfied," says marketing VP Bob McDevitt. "Good enough is never good enough."

With a menu of 100-plus buffet items, all of which have to be replicated across a 485-unit franchised system, that means Lynch has her work cut out for her. It doesn't help that the family category is being chewed from above and below by the cutting-edge offerings of fast-casual and casual-dining players.

Hence, some Lynch mandates: The pot roast is slow-cooked for 12 and / hours, USDA Choice steaks are fresh cut in-house daily, the mashed potatoes are made from scratch, and every 15 minutes a brass bell lets customers know that fresh bread has just been pulled from the oven. "The customer is demanding more flavor, and more authentic flavor," says Lynch. "If we say we're doing fajitas, we had better be doing real fajitas."

Aware that her concept might seem increasingly at odds with Americans' move toward healthier eating, Lynch has been deliberate in integrating the buffet with traditional favorites and lighter options. Steamed broccoli and grilled chicken share space with fried okra and red velvet cake.

Keeping Golden Corral competitive, Lynch surmises, is about balance as much as quality: "We have to take the buffet into the casual-dining experience."

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