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Swedish Mexican?

Growing up in Sweden, Chevys chief culinary officer Peter Serantoni spent plenty of time in the family kitchen. But what sort of inspiration for Mexican food can be drawn from the land of lingonberries and pickled herring?

Plenty. Serantoni's restaurateur father and capaciously cooking grandmother instilled in him an uncompromising insistence on fresh ingredients. That was a good fit for Chevys, which since 1986 had prepared everything from scratch. Yet the chain had lost ground to fast-casual players.

The strategy was clear: Chevys Fresh Mex not only had to get even fresher, but also get a little less Mex. "You can only have so many taco combos in a week," he says.

Serantoni rolled out a weekend brunch, offering breakfast food with a distinctive Mexican twist (instead of the routine eggs benedict and french toast, there's mesquite-grilled skirt steak with two eggs and fresh tortillas). He introduced a tapas menu to harness the growing popularity of small plates and sampling. He gave the midday menu a makeover to attract customers who wanted more variety, lighter fare, smaller portions, and lower prices. Lunch Duos, which start at $6.99, mix and match grilled quesadillas with a green salad or cup of tortilla soup.

Serantoni's offerings didn't just push the culinary envelope, they gave guests a reason to come to a Mexican restaurant during dayparts when the dining room normally sits silent. Brunch has built the early weekend business, and the tapas draws business before and after the traditional dinner hours. So far, sales are up 7%-10% since the changes.

"We're already well known for our wholesome, fresh food," he says. "To stay competitive, we have to be on the forefront of other movements, too."

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