Monday, March 30, 2009
Top chefs are serving it up simple—and cheap. In this economy, it's all about the food.
By Ginanne Brownell NEWSWEEK
It's Friday night in London's trendy Shoreditch neighborhood, and the Albion is humming. East End hipsters, bankers and friends out for a night of gossiping sit elbow to elbow at long, wooden communal tables. Both the menu and the ambience are simple—you may have to ask the patron next to you for your cutlery—and even the wait staff is dressed down. Albion, which opened in January, doesn't take bookings, and there is no fawning service here. But the food is excellent: big portions of old favorites like fish and chips and mushy peas, sold at very reasonable prices. Peter Prescott, who co-owns Albion along with restaurant and design guru Sir Terence Conran and his wife, says people are drawn to the straightforward concept. "We've had executives from a renowned blue-chip company who came in wanting to entertain clients and show them that instead of holding a big extravagant dinner in a five-star restaurant, you can entertain in these times in a very simple, enjoyable way," he says. "We've had captains of industry in here, jackets off, tucking into food and I think they probably enjoyed it more than they would have in a really tight-ass restaurant."
Those kinds of places are definitely passé. People may be down, but they're still dining out, increasingly drawn to eateries that offer delicious, hearty food in a laid-back environment. It sounds like an oxymoron, but bare-bones fine dining is the order of the day. Forget suiting up and sitting for hours through a four-course meal, whose heart-stopping bill reflects the stilted service as much as the food; today's diners want to strip away the excess and pay only for what they came for: first-rate food. Thanks in part to the onslaught of celebrity-chef shows and cookbooks that allow anyone to become a gourmand, customers have gotten savvy about the restaurant industry; they are no longer impressed by the bells and whistles—amuse-bouches, armies of servers, water menus—that typically define fine dining. Restaurants like Warsaw's U Kucharzy, Paris's Le Timbre and New York's 26 Seats offer basic surroundings—no linens or rare-bred roses in sight—that emphasize the experience of the palate over the atmospherics. "In a sense, consumers are no longer bothered by whether there is a tablecloth or not, and sometimes lots of frills almost make you suspicious that the food is not going to be so great," says Jon Lake, who covers the restaurant sector for Deloitte. "These days, great-quality, well-produced, well-served food at a reasonable price is what it is all about."
In Europe at least, the concept of no-frills restaurants grew partly out of the gastropub revolution that hit Britain in the mid-1990s, when diners embraced upscale cuisine served in the relaxed environs of a scrubbed-up pub. Though gastropub menus varied—some served more traditional pub fare like sausages and mash, while others offered upscale options like chicken-liver parfait with vanilla jelly—the idea that people could enjoy delicious food in low-key surroundings took off. It helps that dining has moved from being a discretionary to an essential part of people's lifestyles, according to a recent PricewaterhouseCoopers report. During the last recession in the 1990s, one in five Britons ate out regularly; by 2008, that number had tripled.
A Zagat survey recently found that in the United States, 50 percent of all meals are eaten outside the home. That prompted the company to dub the good-food/no-frills phenomenon "BATH"—Better Alternative to Home. "These restaurants are competing with your ability to shop, cook and clean," says Zagat Survey's cofounder Tim Zagat. "They buy their food wholesale and they produce it efficiently, while we buy our food retail and produce it inefficiently—with the net result being that on a cost basis it may be a better value for you to go out to eat."
By toning down the surroundings, chefs are free to concentrate on preparing and serving good food. And the customer isn't stuck footing the bill for hidden costs, like a reservation system. "All the extras you might see on the table—they all add up," says Albion's Prescott. Warsaw's U Kucharzy has certainly eliminated all the extras. In a city not known for its gastronomic offerings, this internationally renowned eatery, which translates as "At the Chefs," is located in an old hotel kitchen where chefs make the food—including roast goose, Polish-style chicken and an excellent steak tartare—in front of the customers and then serve it themselves. The décor, which includes mismatched tiles and simple tables, is deliberately shabby, says co-owner Mateusz Gessler, to help customers focus on the food. "We have tried to break the stereotype in Poland that in order to be considered a good restaurant you have to be in a fancy place," he says. "What is most important is who you are eating with and what you're eating."
Los Angeles chef Gino Angelini has latched onto the trend to overhaul his Italian restaurant La Terza, a fine-dining establishment that has fallen on hard times. Angelini and his partners recently renovated the place, removing the fussy white tablecloths, painting the walls in warm oranges and browns and renaming it the more rustic-sounding Minestraio. They also made over the menu: all pasta dishes are now $12.50 or less, and no dish costs more than $30. "That mode and style is much more compatible with the way people want to go out," says Angelini's wife, Elizabeth McLaury. "We don't make lobster or truffles [anymore]; we make a really good minestrone."
Beijing-based Irish chef Brian McKenna—who worked under Gordon Ram-say—now runs the exclusive The Secret Room, open only Mondays through Wed-nesdays and serving $146 set menus for 15 people at a time in a secret location in Beijing's Central Business District, which is announced at the last minute and changes every month. In July, McKenna plans to open the more accessible The Room, a 150-seat restaurant that will serve inexpensive but reliable brasserie faresimple sandwiches and salads, satisfying meat dishes and great breads—always using the best local ingredients. He hopes to smash the restaurant model in Asia, which expects customers to pay handsomely for top-notch cosmopolitan food but scrimps on the lower end of the price scale. "We're not doing lettuce with a bit of dressing here," McKenna says. "We're not spending big money on plates, glasses and tablecloths [because] we need to get back to basics."
People have not turned away completely from upscale fancy dining, but many Michelin-starred eateries are feeling the pinch because corporate dining budgets have been slashed. Meanwhile, noncorporate customers are choosing to splurge only for special occasions. "There are no more fancy bottles of wine," says Zagat. "People are cutting back on desserts and paying more attention to the prices."
Chefs, too, are taking a hard look at their expenses. Marcus Wareing, another Ramsay protégé who owns London's Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley, says he has scrutinized every contract to see where to cut costs. "We used to use black bin bags and now we use see-through ones so you can visually see [what is being thrown out]," he says. "We have dishes where you only use the white part of a leek, and the green will usually get thrown out. [But now] we are basically using every element of it and being incredibly creative." And in this economic climate, it's the most creative who are most likely survive.
For Manhattan restaurateur Paul Grieco, sticking to good food and the warm, hospitable philosophy of his East Village restaurant, Hearth, is key to devising dining promotions to combat a 20 percent dip in business from the same period last year.
"Every restaurant out there is leading with the discount, and the consumer -- it's become one big blur. We're all competing against each other -- none of us are coming out winners," Grieco said.
To differentiate Hearth this winter, Grieco and the restaurant's chef created five winter soups available at the bar for $5 each, paired with $5 glasses of sherry. This spring, Grieco plans to offer $5 spring salads.
Hearth's Cucina Povera, a rustic $35 three-course, prix fixe meal featuring entrees such as braised lamb shank, is another offer aimed at budget-conscious diners.
"A year ago, to be honest, I didn't have to hit that three-course menu at $35 a head. Now you have to," Grieco said.
"You need that neighborhood crowd, and because of our price point, maybe not everyone in the East Village was able to come to Hearth. Well, we need to change that," Grieco said.
Taking menu price inflation into account, the National Restaurant Association expects the restaurant industry's sales to decline by 1 percent in 2009. A similar drop in 2008 makes for the first consecutive back-to-back decline for the industry since the organization started tracking sales in 1970.
"This is currently the most challenging environment for restaurant operators in several decades," said Hudson Riehle, head of research at the National Restaurant Association.
While the decline is relatively small compared with other industries, pricier restaurants take a bigger hit in a down economy, and establishments that rely heavily on travelers are likely to feel the economic slump acutely as total travel expenditures in the U.S. are expected to dip by 6.7 percent in 2009, according to the U.S. Travel Association.
At national seafood chain McCormick & Schmick's, 35 percent to 40 percent of the customer traffic, on average, comes from business travelers, according to CEO Bill Freeman. Sales through the end of February were down 13 percent from last year.
The restaurant is offering a steak and lobster dinner with dessert for $29.95. Increased focus on local promotional opportunities around holidays such as Mother's Day and Father's Day and an enhanced preferred guest program also are part of the company's efforts to drive sales. The preferred guest program allows diners to amass points that can be redeemed for food in the restaurant and some travel-related awards.
In Charleston, South Carolina, where many upscale restaurants rely heavily on tourism, those that are coping best are adding value without compromising their price integrity, according to Robert Frash, an assistant professor in the College of Charleston's Department of Hospitality and Tourism Management.
"Rather than lowering their prices or offering coupons and discounts that are inconsistent with fine dining, they're trying to give [customers] a better value. Perhaps where they were priced a la carte before, now it might be more of a prix fixe menu," Frash said.
The Charleston Grill, in the Charleston Place Hotel, started a dinner at dusk promotion in January. The three-course menu for $39 is available seven days a week to diners who are seated before 6 p.m.
Similar value-driven promotions are available at other hotel-based restaurants. 606 Congress, in the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel in Massachusetts, will resume a popular "appetite stimulus" menu on April 13. For $25, guests receive an appetizer, entrée special, dessert and a glass of wine.
Wine promotions are another customer lure. Patina Restaurant Group, which operates more than 20 restaurants, is wrapping up a wine promotion at East Coast establishments March 31 that gives customers 25 percent off all bottles.
The promotion finished a successful West Coast run at the end of February, and the company is now waiving corkage fees at most West Coast restaurants.
"That is something that has been wildly successful ... just getting people in the door," said spokeswoman Amanda White. "We figure if people don't need to pay for wine, they'll spend more on food."
Promotions and sales declines aside, Americans are still dining out, according to Riehle of the National Restaurant Association.
"Restaurants have become so ingrained in American lifestyles now, and the consumer reliance upon them in some cases deems it a much more essential experience than a discretionary experience."
Wednesday, March 25, 2009
"You can sample a huge number of wines and sample different courses to pair."The sampling is made possible by the Enomatic, a technology that allows staff to open over 100 bottles and keep the contents fresh over time. A large community table will stand right next to the Enomatic to allow people to mix and talk about their tastings. A portion of Blue Skies' proceeds will go to local arts organizations, and the owners plan to set up a performing arts space and a gallery inside the restaurant. Gruis said the investors expect to reopen right in time for an economic recovery this summer. "In good times and bad, people like a comfortable, accessible place they can come and enjoy," he said.
Check it out! http://www.shealink.com/client_files/News_images/Shealink_newsletter_pdfs/09.01-Shealink-email.pdf
Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Amanda Gold, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, March 22, 2009
About two weeks ago, Ruth Reichl hopped on a plane to Charleston, S.C.
Once there, the Gourmet magazine editor ate just as well as one would expect - foie gras with waffles, bananas and maple syrup, roast pig, oyster stew.
Meanwhile, across the country, Daniel Patterson - chef of San Francisco's four-star Coi restaurant - was sitting in his pitch-black house. The electricity had gone out, leaving him with a kitchen full of dirty dishes and half-tested recipes.
We don't exactly know one another, Ruth, Daniel and I. Rather, I'm privy to this information because I'm following them online on Twitter, the increasingly popular - and utterly addictive - social networking and microblogging site that encourages users to "tweet," or post messages about what they're doing, in 140 characters or less. Once you sign up, you can follow anyone who doesn't block their posts (most don't). Although Twitter has been around since 2007, recent weeks have seen a massive surge in membership, particularly among the food-obsessed.
Mobile food trucks are tweeting their locations. Local chefs are posting photos and descriptions of new menu items. And it's even possible to find recipes (that would be "twecipes" in the ever-expanding Twitter vernacular).
For those more interested in what's being served at A16 tonight than they are the latest Paris Hilton gossip, Twitter's amorphous question of "What are you doing right now?" has essentially been recast as "What are you eating?" or "What are you cooking?"
Twitter co-founder Biz Stone says it's only natural that common interests have brought food folks together on the site.
"At first, people began calling it the 'Twitter community,' and that didn't sound quite right," says Stone, who runs the company out of a SoMa loft with partners Jack Dorsey and Evan Williams. "Actually, it's more like a tool that individual communities would be gathering around."
Stone explains that the 140-character limit means people tend to tweet what they know.
"Interests are a good way in," he says, adding that once you're there, it's very simple to find like-minded food lovers - or even food celebrities - to follow in the "Twitterverse."
Patterson says he joined Twitter to keep in touch with friends around the country, but understands why it has gained so much momentum.
"People over the last 50 years, and especially recently, have become disconnected from each other and cultural traditions," he says. "In a weird sort of way, this kind of sneaks back in a little bit of that commonality of experience."
True. But take Reichl's recent post: "Back from dinner with Alice." Yep, that Alice. Or how about: "Foodbank dinner at SSam Bar incredible...Martha Stewart there, taking notes, taking pictures." Where's the commonality in that?
In fact, that might be the most interesting - and to be honest - appealing aspect of Twitter. It gives the average user direct access to those who are far from average.
By following your favorite food "Twitterati" - as users like Stewart, Mark Bittman and Reichl have been dubbed - you can watch a conversation take place (the most socially acceptable form of voyeurism) or, better yet, join in. Simply begin a post with, say, @gachatz (the handle of Chicago's highly regarded Alinea restaurant chef Grant Achatz; the @ sign before the name is how users communicate on Twitter), and you can chime in on his philosophical and often abstract questions that relate to his experimental cooking: "Did the '80s crush the opportunity for smoked strawberries?"
The access to personal information - and some high-profile users definitely get personal - gives new meaning to the "soul of a chef."
"I'm kind of addicted," says Reichl, who admits she's "always thought privacy was overrated." With up to 1,000 new users each week following her every tweet, Reichl has quickly become one of the common denominators among food circles, but says it's a two-way street.
"For someone like me, it's really useful," she says. Reichl follows friends, chef and writers from around the country who use Twitter as somewhat of a food diary, tweeting their meals throughout the day. "I feel like I'm getting a national picture of what's being eaten."
Some say that logging the minutiae of the day - and assuming the world cares enough to read it - seems incredibly narcissistic.
But due to Twitter's instantaneous nature, users can post links to interesting articles, breaking news, blogs or recipes, and share restaurant recommendations immediately .
Plus, says Coi's Patterson, the 140-character limit means that users can't ramble on and on, distinguishing it from blogs.
"Something about distilling moments of humor or interest into such a short little bite is kind of a neat phenomenon," he says.
Other Bay Area chefs are on Twitter for their own brands of fun. Chris Cosentino, founder of Boccalone and chef at San Francisco's Incanto, uses his @offalchris Twitter feed to provide a behind-the-scenes look into restaurant life - even when it's not pretty.
"Had to remove a cook from the line," he wrote after service last week. "Station went down like the Titanic."
Local food enthusiasts use the site for different purposes.
Last month, a friend of San Francisco freelance writer Karen Solomon tweeted that he had just paid $16 for asparagus. Horrified, Solomon instantly replied, "It's not asparagus season! eat yr winter greens instead. cheap! tasty roasted, tossed with EVOO, 350dgs, 20min."
Thus, @chef140 was born. Solomon now posts recipes for a quick tartar sauce and the like in 140 characters or less.
"It has to be pretty simple and basic," she says, "but that doesn't mean it can't be innovative or helpful. It's just not necessarily going to be dinner." So far, chef140 has picked up more than 200 followers, and you can bet that by the time Solomon's upcoming book, "Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It," comes out in June, she'll have instant access to a group of potential readers.
In fact, some industry folk are already savvy to Twitter-based marketing and promotion. Chefs can find out who's coming into their restaurants and what they're eating, authors can create momentum about upcoming books, and bloggers can direct users back to their sites.
"Having Twitter gives you ideas, and things you want to talk about or link to on the blog," says Nopa sous chef Richie Nakano, aka @linecook. "It's making me want to put more content out there, and it's fun because you can put stuff on Twitter that you wouldn't normally put on your blog."
After the initial popularity of blogs, many fell off, due to the difficulty of consistent updating. So is microblogging on Twitter a better way to go? Or is it just another flash in the pan?
It's hard to say, says Patterson, but for now, "The tone of discourse is very positive." Plus, it's fast. "You can post something while you're in line for groceries. In that sense, it might have staying power."
And, as Reichl says, it's a diversion. "It's like looking out the window. I'll be working and I'll think, 'Let's see what's going on in the Twitter world.' Sure beats a lot of other things you could be doing."
Monday, March 23, 2009
Published: March 21, 2009
They also gathered to relish their changing political fortunes, courtesy of the Obama administration."
Eating Food That’s Better for You, Organic or Not
By MARK BITTMAN
Published: March 21, 2009
In the six-and-one-half years since the federal government began certifying food as “organic,” Americans have taken to the idea with considerable enthusiasm. Sales have at least doubled, and three-quarters of the nation’s grocery stores now carry at least some organic food. A Harris poll in October 2007 found that about 30 percent of Americans buy organic food at least on occasion, and most think it is safer, better for the environment and healthier.
“People believe it must be better for you if it’s organic,” says Phil Howard, an assistant professor of community, food and agriculture at Michigan State University.
So I discovered on a recent book tour around the United States and Canada.
No matter how carefully I avoided using the word “organic” when I spoke to groups of food enthusiasts about how to eat better, someone in the audience would inevitably ask, “What if I can’t afford to buy organic food?” It seems to have become the magic cure-all, synonymous with eating well, healthfully, sanely, even ethically.
But eating “organic” offers no guarantee of any of that. And the truth is that most Americans eat so badly — we get 7 percent of our calories from soft drinks, more than we do from vegetables; the top food group by caloric intake is “sweets”; and one-third of nation’s adults are now obese — that the organic question is a secondary one. It’s not unimportant, but it’s not the primary issue in the way Americans eat.
To eat well, says Michael Pollan, the author of “In Defense of Food,” means avoiding “edible food-like substances” and sticking to real ingredients, increasingly from the plant kingdom. (Americans each consume an average of nearly two pounds a day of animal products.) There’s plenty of evidence that both a person’s health — as well as the environment’s — will improve with a simple shift in eating habits away from animal products and highly processed foods to plant products and what might be called “real food.” (With all due respect to people in the “food movement,” the food need not be “slow,” either.)
From these changes, Americans would reduce the amount of land, water and chemicals used to produce the food we eat, as well as the incidence of lifestyle diseases linked to unhealthy diets, and greenhouse gases from industrial meat production. All without legislation.
And the food would not necessarily have to be organic, which, under the United States Department of Agriculture’s definition, means it is generally free of synthetic substances; contains no antibiotics and hormones; has not been irradiated or fertilized with sewage sludge; was raised without the use of most conventional pesticides; and contains no genetically modified ingredients.
Those requirements, which must be met in order for food to be labeled “U.S.D.A. Organic,” are fine, of course. But they still fall short of the lofty dreams of early organic farmers and consumers who gave the word “organic” its allure — of returning natural nutrients and substance to the soil in the same proportion used by the growing process (there is no requirement that this be done); of raising animals humanely in accordance with nature (animals must be given access to the outdoors, but for how long and under what conditions is not spelled out); and of producing the most nutritious food possible (the evidence is mixed on whether organic food is more nutritious) in the most ecologically conscious way.
The government’s organic program, says Joan Shaffer, a spokeswoman for the Agriculture Department, “is a marketing program that sets standards for what can be certified as organic. Neither the enabling legislation nor the regulations address food safety or nutrition.”
People don’t understand that, nor do they realize “organic” doesn’t mean “local.” “It doesn’t matter if it’s from the farm down the road or from Chile,” Ms. Shaffer said. “As long as it meets the standards it’s organic.”
Hence, the organic status of salmon flown in from Chile, or of frozen vegetables grown in China and sold in the United States — no matter the size of the carbon footprint left behind by getting from there to here.
Today, most farmers who practice truly sustainable farming, or what you might call “organic in spirit,” operate on small scale, some so small they can’t afford the requirements to be certified organic by the government. Others say that certification isn’t meaningful enough to bother. These farmers argue that, “When you buy organic you don’t just buy a product, you buy a way of life that is committed to not exploiting the planet,” says Ed Maltby, executive director of the Northeast Organic Dairy Producers Alliance.
But the organic food business is now big business, and getting bigger. Professor Howard estimates that major corporations now are responsible for at least 25 percent of all organic manufacturing and marketing (40 percent if you count only processed organic foods). Much of the nation’s organic food is as much a part of industrial food production as midwinter grapes, and becoming more so. In 2006, sales of organic foods and beverages totaled about $16.7 billion, according to the most recent figures from Organic Trade Association.
Still, those sales amounted to slightly less than 3 percent of overall food and beverage sales. For all the hoo-ha, organic food is not making much of an impact on the way Americans eat, though, as Mark Kastel, co-founder of The Cornucopia Institute, puts it: “There are generic benefits from doing organics. It protects the land from the ravages of conventional agriculture,” and safeguards farm workers from being exposed to pesticides.
But the questions remain over how we eat in general. It may feel better to eat an organic Oreo than a conventional Oreo, but, says Marion Nestle, a professor at New York University’s department of nutrition, food studies and public health, “Organic junk food is still junk food.”
Last week, Michelle Obama began digging up a patch of the South Lawn of the White House to plant an organic vegetable garden to provide food for the first family and, more important, to educate children about healthy, locally grown fruits and vegetables at a time when obesity and diabetes have become national concerns.
But Mrs. Obama also emphasized that there were many changes Americans can make if they don’t have the time or space for an organic garden.
“You can begin in your own cupboard,” she said, “by eliminating processed food, trying to cook a meal a little more often, trying to incorporate more fruits and vegetables.”
Popularizing such choices may not be as marketable as creating a logo that says “organic.” But when Americans have had their fill of “value-added” and overprocessed food, perhaps they can begin producing and consuming more food that treats animals and the land as if they mattered. Some of that food will be organic, and hooray for that. Meanwhile, they should remember that the word itself is not synonymous with “safe,” “healthy,” “fair” or even necessarily “good.”
Wednesday, March 18, 2009
No matter how fertile the soil, the nature of the harvest will always be determined by the kind and quality of the seeds that are planted. With this in mind, it bodes well for American grocery shoppers that one of the more recent newcomers to the retail landscape is a branch of a company with roots deeply embedded in the ecology movement. Tesco, the UK's largest retailer and one of the world's leading international grocers has landed on American shores and is rolling out it's innovative neighborhood sized grocery stores...Fresh & Easy.
It is said that "the apple does not fall far from the tree." In the case of Fresh & Easy and it's relationship to parent company Tesco, nothing could be closer to the truth. Advancing Tesco's long standing tradition of environmental stewardship, ethical trading and community outreach is making Fresh & Easy a welcome addition to neighborhoods throughout the greater Southwest. With the simple goal of making fresh high-quality groceries available and affordable for everyone, Fresh & Easy is being enthusiastically embraced by Communities with much anticipation and fanfare.
“People line up outside the new Fresh and Easy grocery store at 15230 Vanowen St. in Van Nuys CA. before it opened it's doors for the first time on Wednesday, August 6, 2008. (Hans Gutknecht/Daily News)The British invaded Van Nuys on Wednesday, when U.K.-owned grocery retailer Tesco opened its first Fresh & Easy market in the San Fernando Valley. Drawn by the promise of fresh and wholesome food at affordable prices, hundreds of shoppers flocked to the neighborhood store at Vanowen Street and Sepulveda Boulevard. After stocking up on both name- and store-brand items, shoppers rang up and bagged their own groceries at self-checkout stations." (http://www.dailynews.com/)
“On the heels of opening six new stores in July, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market said it received over 10,000 applications for jobs in the past month, and the number of people applying to work at Fresh & Easy has nearly quadrupled since May. ‘With every store we open, we are bringing new jobs that pay well and offer great benefits,’ said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy c.e.o. ‘We've put a lot of effort into treating our employees with respect and valuing them as people. Our efforts are clearly paying off with the continued increase in people wanting to work with us." (http://www.progressivegrocer.com/)
“A middle-aged shopper at Point Loma's Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market plucked a box of butter from the shelf yesterday and peered with a puzzled expression at the unfamiliar brand. ‘That's Irish butter, madam, you can't do any better,’ said Fresh & Easy Chief Executive Tim Mason, his crisp British accent ringing through the aisle." And into the basket it went. The 10,000-square-foot Point Loma store, which was mobbed during the grand opening yesterday by coupon-clutching shoppers, is the seventh to open in the county since November.” (http://eco-tips.net/www.signonsandiego.com)
“No, it seems that the majority of retailers that are serious about their hooch come in buildings the size of airplane hangars. Everyone knows about Trader Joe's solid selection of value-centric wines, but recent visits to Fresh & Easy also made me sit up and take notice. The company boasts many wine exclusives like Trader Joe's, one being delicious Pink Flamingo Rosé, a dry-styled pink from south Australia that is made of 100 percent shiraz. Exotic Recoleta Malbec from Argentina and top-notch Reflexion Rioja Reserva, a rich Spanish red, are also recommended. Wine guru Robert Parker even gave Reflexion 90 points during a recent critique.” (http://www.eastvalleytribune.com/)
"We are trying to set a global example by measuring and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions, helping to stimulate the development of low carbon technology and by empowering consumers by providing them with choice, value and information," states Fresh & Easy CEO, Tim Mason. Backing up these words with action, the 500,000 square feet of solar panels on the new Fresh & Easy distribution center in Riverside, CA span the size of five football fields and are considered one of the largest roof-mounted solar installations in North America.
Not stopping there, Fresh & Easy has developed a prototype for their individual 10,000 square foot sized stores that employ the latest in sustainable building measures. As a company Fresh & Easy has joined Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design's volume certification program, enabling them to build multiple LEED certified buildings using the same prototype.
Some of the features included in their buildings include:
Skylights on Fresh & Easy buildings with overhead lighting that dims automatically as ambient light levels increase from natural sources.
Increased insulation, reducing the need for heating and air conditioning.
Night shades on refrigeration cases to keep cool air from escaping.
Hybrid parking spaces and bike racks for employees and customers.
In-store recycling available for employees and customers.
Secondary-loop system on refrigeration cases designed to capture and reuse cool air.
LED lighting in external signage and freezer cases, reducing energy use.
Water conserving plumbing fixtures.
Buildings constructed from environmentally friendly materials.
Low VOC emitting finishes and materials as part of creating indoor environmental quality for customers and employees
These innovations have resulted in making Fresh & Easy stores 30% more energy efficient than the typical supermarket (through a modeling exercise from Southern California Edison Savings by Design).
In addition to"walking the walk" in relation to building design and construction methods, Fresh & Easy practices common sense good neighbor policies and is involved in community outreach programs.
Fresh & Easy is a member of the California Climate Action Registry, California's only voluntary registry for greenhouse gas emissions, and the Climate registry, a group that standardized the measurement for greenhouse gas emissions across North America. http://www.climateregistry.org/
Every store recycles all of it's display and shipping materials
Fresh & Easy offers only energy-efficient light bulbs in it's stores.
Fresh & Easy does not sell tobacco products.
Fresh & Easy trucks are designed to significantly reduce noise. Trucks will not drive through school zones during student drop-off and pick-up times, and deliveries are only permitted during designated hours.
Each store is provided with a budget to make product donations to the local neighborhood.
Fresh & Easy aims to recruit staff from the local neighborhood.
Out of respect for the indoor environment, Fresh & Easy uses only eco-friendly cleaning products, while keeping their stores immaculately clean and tidy.
With own-brand products accounting for over 70% of sales, Fresh & Easy Neighborhood Market recently announced plans to introduce over 200 new own-brand products by the end of 2008. Over 80% of customers cite Fresh & Easy's own-brand products as one of the main reasons they shop at the stores, based on the company's customer surveys. Customers are drawn to Fresh & Easy by the everyday low prices and the convenience of a store located right in the neighborhood. Fresh & Easy customers also like the own-brand ready-to-eat meal options which are like what they would make at home. All Fresh & Easy products contain no artificial flavors or colors, no added trans fats and only use preservatives when absolutely necessary.
A 2008 Food Market Institute U.S. Grocery Shopper Trends study recently found consumers are increasingly interested in what is in their food. For example, at least half of shoppers scan food items for trans fat content when deciding to purchase a product. Consumers are increasingly seeking ready-to-eat meals, with more than half of the shoppers surveyed interested in more convenient food options. The study also notes price is the most important factor in making decisions about purchasing a particular food item.
"People increasingly want food that is more like they would make in their own kitchens," said Tim Mason, Fresh & Easy CEO. "At Fresh & Easy, we are able to offer fresh, wholesome products at incredible prices without the additives and preservatives they don't want. Our products are a win-win for customers."
Great food you can trust
Fresh & Easy believes everyone deserves fresh, wholesome food at affordable prices.
Each store will offer a carefully selected range of Fresh & Easy label and national brand products at affordable prices, including high-quality meat and fresh produce.
Private label Fresh & Easy products contain no artificial colors or flavors, no added trans fats, and only use preservatives when absolutely necessary.
Fresh & Easy eggs are cage-free.
Fresh & Easy’s milk and butter come from California cows that have not been treated with the growth hormone rBST.
Produce is packed, date-coded and delivered daily so you know it’s fresh.
Fresh & Easy aims to source locally wherever possible. For example, over 60% of its produce comes from California.
With all the legitimate "hand wringing" that is going on in our society today as the news and evidence of climate change and environmental overload keep rolling in, it's some consolation to know that there are companies who are committed to doing their part to reduce that unfortunate trend. Clearly Tesco and their offspring Fresh & Easy are outstanding examples of companies who have seen the problem while stepping to the forefront with an offering of solutions.
This is obviously good news for those of us who are holding the vision for a reversal of environmental fortunes...and what better place to start than with the building and retail industry. Even better news however is that companies like Fresh & Easy are no longer the exception to the rule. ICSC (the International Council of Shopping Centers) recently sponsored an all green conference in Addison, TX where leaders from the retail industry came together to share their positive experiences in embracing the Retail Green Agenda.
At that conference a book of the same name was given out to the attendees. Chocked full of green building and energy management tips for the retail industry, BOE Eco-tects purchased a couple cases to pass out to interested parties...and they went like hotcakes. You may order your own copy from ICSC by clicking here.
Included in that publication were many examples of how numerous retail chains are finding that through thoughtful green insight they are not only saving big on operating energy costs, but are also seeing an increase in retail sales in the stores that employ green design principles.
Surprise...surprise...people prefer shopping in environments where the air is fresh and the isles are well illuminated by natural light. Recognizing that these same stores are taking responsibility by practicing environmental stewardship also strengthens customer loyalty. Finally...knowing that these practices are helping to ease the burden on our one and only home...Planet Earth, makes the greening of retail a win/win arrangement for all.
Monday, March 16, 2009
Business First of Columbus - by Dan Eaton
What once was a small store and restaurant with modest growth plans is on the verge of becoming one of Central Ohio’s chief purveyors of wine and small-plate meals.
Craig and Laura Decker started the Wine Guy Wine Shop Wine Bar and Bistro in Pickerington in 2005. They expanded the store to include a restaurant in 2007 and opened a second shop and bistro at Gahanna’s Creekside development last year.
But by early 2010, that portfolio is expected to grow to six stores, including one downtown in the former North High Street home of Experience Columbus, the city’s convention agency. The business is also planning sites in Dublin and near Grandview Heights that will offer more than wine and a meal, and the chain’s first shop in Cincinnati.
"It became a monster overnight," Craig Decker said. "This wasn’t something we’d been planning by any means."
Columbus-based Anchor Cos. is behind the growth surge. Decker was talking with executives of the development company about a Grove City location when they began pitching other sites to consider and possible additions to the store, such as a coffee shop.
A partnership took off from there. Anchor partner Jason Gunsorek said Wine Guy’s combination of retail and restaurant businesses made it an attractive tenant prospect for several locations.
"We see a concept that works in good times and bad times," he said. "This works good with us as a family-owned business and developer of neighborhood retail centers."
The Dublin shop, on Woerner Temple Road, will be dubbed the Wine Guy Marketplace. It is scheduled to open in the next two to three months, and fans of the first two shops will find something new. The 2,700-bottle wine selection will be familiar, as will the bistro menu of small plates and entrees. But the 6,500-square-foot operation also will include a cheese shop, deli, cafe, florist, cigar section and an olive oil tasting bar.
The 5,000-square-foot shop near Grandview Heights, with a 1,000-square-foot patio, also will be a Wine Guy Marketplace. It will anchor a 5-acre development on Grandview Avenue south of Dublin Road. Decker said that shop is expected to open in mid-summer.
All the new shops will offer lunch service, which will be especially important at what might be the company’s highest-profile site: 90 N. High St., the former home of Experience Columbus that Anchor bought in January 2008. Decker said the downtown operation will be the traditional wine shop and restaurant, but unlike others expects to do the majority of its business at lunch. It is scheduled to open in late summer or early fall.
The fourth shop is scheduled for the first half of 2010 at a strip center in Mariemont, a Cincinnati suburb.
Decker credited the expansion to wines at prices slightly above state minimums and affordable meals. Having a retail element helps as well.
Decker said the original shop, on Clint Drive in Pickerington, does more than $1 million in annual sales, while the Gahanna store is on track for about $1.5 million in sales in its first year. He estimated annual sales for the four new locations at $2 million each.
The possible Grove City store that kicked off the expansion push has been delayed but it remains in Decker and Anchor’s plans. Gunsorek said Grove City and Delaware are the next possible locations.
Decker is working on a franchising program to take the Wine Guy Wine Shop outside of Ohio.
No, what I’m talking about is the cocktail equivalents of green beer, all the “obligatory Midori and crème de menthe drinks,” as Anthony Malone, the Dublin-born general manager and bartender at Puck Fair, an Irish bar on Lafayette Street near Houston, put it. “All those awful green things,” he said, such as the Everybody’s Irish, a drink that calls for Irish whiskey, crème de menthe, Chartreuse and a green olive. Everybody’s Irish? Everybody’s gagging.
The obvious starting point, for a proper St. Patrick’s Day cocktail, is Irish whiskey. But that — Everybody’s Irish aside — is where it gets difficult. Ask a bartender for a classic Irish whiskey cocktail, and you’re likely to get a long, pained pause.
That’s because Irish whiskey has kept its distance from the cocktail set. Like its peatier cousin, Scotch, it tends to be a curmudgeonly loner, preferring the company of just ice and a bit of water. “I’m sure my father never drank a cocktail in his life,” said Colum Egan, the master distiller for Bushmills, the four-centuries-old whiskey producer from County Antrim, in Northern Ireland.
But Mr. Egan, who confesses to liking his Irish whiskey tempered with a fizz of ginger ale, is trying to change Irish whiskey’s introverted reputation, to appeal to the cocktail drinkers currently driving the spirits market.
Earlier this year, he issued a curious challenge to a select group of bartenders in New York, Chicago, Boston and San Francisco. He asked them to create cocktails based upon the traditional Irish breakfast — eggs, bacon, black and white pudding, and toast. And Bushmills, of course, though Mr. Egan hesitated to cite his product as a breakfast staple. “More like brunch,” he demurred.
Here in New York, Jim Meehan of PDT responded with a drink in which bacon-infused Bushmills is combined with maple syrup, orange and lemon juice and a whole egg.
The entry from Eben Freeman, at Tailor, was more baroque: bacon-infused Bushmills, again, adorned with roasted tomato gelée squares, a slow-poached quail egg yolk, an Irish breakfast-tea foam and crispy black-pudding bits.
Mr. Malone, at Puck Fair, took a simpler approach, combining Bushmills with cherry liqueur and orange juice, as in the Scotch-based Blood and Sand, along with a whole egg, “for that creamy consistency.” The cocktail will be available at Puck Fair on St. Patrick’s Day (“our biggest day of the year,” Mr. Malone said) and through the week.
Can Irish whiskey shake its lonesome rep and break into the gregarious cocktail scene? Bushmills main competitor, Jameson, is also auditioning for a larger role in cocktails, pitching a Jameson Manhattan for St. Patrick’s Day. “It’s a good, balanced whiskey, and perfect for those who don’t want the sweetness of bourbon or the smokiness of scotch,” Mr. Malone said. Just keep it away from the green stuff.
Friday, March 13, 2009
Minneapolis / St. Paul Business Journal - by John Vomhof Jr. Staff Writer
After Galleria success, Crave opens new eatery at MOA
In a weak restaurant market, Crave has an appetite for expansion.
Crave, which opened its first location at the Galleria in Edina just over two years ago, will open a second location at the Mall of America on April 20 and has signed a lease for the West End shopping center, which will open in mid-September.
Sales are up 10 percent year-over-year at the Galleria location, and Crave co-founder Kam Talebi believes the concept is ready to grow. “There’s a bit of doom and gloom out there in the marketplace, but if your concept is right and you’re providing the right value, quality, service and passion, I think you’ll succeed, even in this climate.”
At the Mall of America, Crave will take the former California Café space on the third floor. The restaurant will span roughly 9,000 square feet, including two patios — one overlooking the Nickelodeon Universe amusement park and another extending into the corridor in front of the restaurant.
The Mall of America stie will have a larger sushi bar and will have a menu reflecting the mall's broader demographics. The Edina location's menu includes sushi, steaks and pastas.
Phil Roberts, co-founder of Edina-based Parasole Restaurant Holdings Inc., said the mall could use a new restaurant with some energy behind it. "I like the idea that they're doing something local out there. California Cafe has been declining steadily for years, so it's probably best they they sunset that."
Crave, meanwhile, will begin work on its West End location in June.
"We like sites with a lot of built-in traffic," said Talebi, who started Crave with his brother, Keyvan. "We like to be part of a bigger development rather than on our own."
Crave is funding its expansion through a combination of equity and bank loans. The Talebis recently added forming banking and finance executive Ron Engebretsen as a third partner.
While Crave is focused on current expansion plans, Kam Talebi said he hopes to expand further in the future.
"In this market, you have to be tremendously careful adn make sure you've done your homework," he said. "But if the right opportunity comes, we'll look to capitalize on that."
Those opportunities won't be limited to the Twin Cities. Crave also is interested in markets like Las Vegas and Scottsdale, Ariz., Talebi said.
"We hope this has the opportunity to grow outside the Twin Cities. At this point, we're focusing our efforts on this market...but we're not gun-shy about growing out of state."
Thursday, March 12, 2009
On the flip side, any restaurant worth its salt promoted its wine list, leaving beer drinkers scant choices, and rarely a choice of regional craft brews. But lately, old notions about beer, wine and fine food are being challenged in Dallas.
Could it be the stirrings of the gastropub movement that started on the coasts? It's a trend toward casual bistros serving more serious, chef-driven food with an array of imported and craft beers.
Last month, Zymology, a bar and restaurant on Lower Greenville, opened with a menu that shows as much commitment to fine food and wine as it does to interesting beers. There are 19 beers on tap and another 19 in bottles, most of them regional domestic brews, including some from Texas.
Chef and co-owner Sam Dickey, a veteran of two Austin restaurants, has crafted a menu that's both beer- and wine-friendly. Guests can graze on intriguing small bites that are a step up from pub grub; or they can feast on entrees like Grilled Sirloin With Pistachio Stilton Butter and Shallot Demiglace, or Buttermilk Roasted Chicken With Ancho-Rosemary Jus.
"Bar food is fun, but it gets old," says Dickey. "It's nice to have more thoughtful food options to choose from." Unlike many restaurants of its caliber, Zymology's laid-back staff doesn't look askance if a customer orders only beer and bruschetta. The line between bar and restaurant is blurred.
Some Dallas restaurants are embracing the beer-with-food trend by hosting pairing dinners that explore offerings from a single brewery. Although many restaurants present brewery representatives with the chef's menu to determine pairings, chef Jim Oetting of Victory Tavern takes a reverse approach, the same one he's used for wine-pairing dinners at other restaurants.
"I taste the beers first, make tasting notes, and then devise a menu around the beers," he says. Last month's menu featured beers from Spaten Brewery in Munich. Even the dessert had a pairing: a deconstructed Black Forest cake with sabayon sauce, served with Spaten Optimator, a dark, rich doppel bock. Oetting substituted the Optimator for the traditional marsala in the rich, sabayon sauce. "A creative menu pays homage to the beers," he says.
Since June, attendance at Victory Tavern's monthly four-course beer dinners has grown to more than 40, he says – not bad for a weeknight. The dinners run $45 to $50, a fraction of the cost of a typical wine dinner.
The beer dinner trend is spreading to restaurants better known for wine dinners, such as the Oceanaire Seafood Room, which has hosted a dinner featuring beers from Anchor Brewing Co. of California. Even Pappas Bros. Steakhouse – widely acclaimed for its wine program – has hosted a beer dinner; in July, Master Sommelier Barbara Werley paired beers with four courses from a menu created by chef James Johnson.
Mark Monfrey, co-owner of Artisanal Beverage Co., an independent marketer of craft beers, offers a logical explanation for craft beer's rising profile on the food scene. "The carbonation in craft beers actually cleanses the palate, as opposed to wine, which coats the palate; so beer complements certain foods much better than wine in some cases."
Wednesday, March 11, 2009
By Nicole Paitsel
Retailers' bag of tricks includes smell and lighting
Bargain is the new black, and marketers have caught on.
But when is a sale a deal?
Retailers have developed myriad techniques to entice customers into the store, over to their products and eventually to the checkout line. Understanding the often subliminal messages is one way to sift through the barrage of sales.
"Consumers are less affected by interruptive marketing now," says Daniel Stein, founder of Evolution Bureau, a California-based digital advertising agency that services companies like Microsoft, Office Max and Burger King. "Everything is about immediacy and consumer control."
Watch for these tricks the next time you step into your favorite store.
A buying atmosphere
The smell of freshly cut grass at the home and garden store is no accident. Some retailers spray the scent into the air, since it subconsciously provokes shoppers to spend more time in the store.
"Smells are definitely a part of the experience," says Michael Mikyska, vice president of business development for Display Boys, a California-based retail consultant firm that designs marketing displays for companies such as Kroger, Pepperidge Farm and Nike. "Shopping is a sensory experience that includes the right lighting, smells and engaging displays."
Mikyska's team, which has worked on Starbucks coffee displays for the past two years, will change the lighting over the coffee aisle in the grocery store to make customers feel like they are in a Starbucks coffeehouse."
Fluorescent lighting is so cold," he says. "We usually change it to a warmer light, and we use all the Starbucks graphics to make the grocery experience as close to a coffeehouse experience as possible, including the smells."
Marketers promote confusion in a few categories, says Matt Wallaert, a behavioral psychologist for Thrive, a free online personal finance Web site. The myth that women don't understand electronics is a great tool for TV retailers, who lead customers to assume the most expensive brand is also the best.
Large name brands also use expensive-looking displays to promote the idea that you're buying what's best for your family. Brands like Pepperidge Farm will use real maple wood displays and words like "fresh" to convince shoppers they're buying the best quality in that category.
And the idea that fresh food is more expensive isn't always true, says Marcie Rothman, author of "The $5 Cook: How to Save Cash and Cook Fast." For example, bagged salad can be a time saver, but it costs about three times more than a fresh head of lettuce. Salad kits that include croutons and dressing are even more expensive. Rothman also suggests reading the ingredients for spice mixes and boxed rice entrees. You'll generally have the key ingredients — salt as the No. 1 ingredient — in your pantry already. The same goes for tomato-based sauces, which cost $2 to $6 a jar, while the equivalent amount of canned tomatoes is often under $1.
Look high and low on grocery store shelves for cheaper prices. It varies by retailer, but slotting fees play a part in shelf placement. That means large manufacturers like Kraft get the best eye-level spots on the shelves. Smaller manufacturers, who may not be able to afford a spot at eye-level, may offer better prices. Shelf placement also matters on kid-oriented aisles, like the cereal aisle and candy displays. You'll notice those products are placed at a lower eye-level.
Heading to the store for a gallon of milk? You'll have to walk through the entire store to get it. Milk, and a few other staple products, are always placed at the farthest point from the front entrance.
The same is true for big ticket items like TVs at an electronics store. Retailers use these items as "loss leaders," products that get the customer into the store where he'll be enticed to purchase more than he intended.
"Marketers profit by making it easy for you to buy certain things, like accessories to that big-screen TV," Wallaert says. "Why do you think Amazon.com has one-click shopping? So that it's easy for you to add to your shopping cart."
Retailers, especially clothing retailers, mark their merchandise with anchor prices, often tagged as "original" or "suggested." In order to offer higher percentage sales, retailers will increase those anchor prices a week or two before the anticipated sale date.This is most common during a liquidation sale, where a third party will re-price all of the merchandise and then offer a sale. Often, items are more expensive than they were before the sale began.
The presence of marketing techniques doesn't mean there aren't deals to be had. Here are a few tricks for consumers.
• Set your own anchor. Look at the merchandise and decide how much you're willing to spend before looking at the tag. If the tag price is under your anchor price, you've found a deal. Comparison shopping can help you set an anchor price for an unfamiliar product purchase.
• Bring cash. This method works especially well for big ticket items, like TVs or other electronics. The sales circulars will tell you how much the item will cost, so you can bring an exact amount of cash. This will prevent unnecessary accessorizing.
• Set up obstacles. Retailers strive to make shopping as easy as possible. So instead of heading straight to the checkout line, step outside for a minute. Wallaert suggests leaving your wallet in the car so that you can't purchase anything before taking a minute to think about it. "If you're willing to go back into the store and purchase the item, then it's a good buy for you," he says.
• Call on experts. Expert friends, that is. Maybe you don't know anything about electronics, but you're sure to know someone who does. Ask them to help guide your research.
Friday, March 6, 2009
Crave's cool new winter patio
The popular Galleria restaurant just opened its glass-enclosed four-season patio, so you can take in the outdoors while warming up by the fireplace. When the weather finally warms up, the sliding windows can be opened to let the spring breezes in.
Thursday, March 5, 2009
As restaurateurs, you all strive to deliver a quality, memorable experience. But the whole experience is more than the comfort of the chairs, the taste of the food and the friendliness of the service. Every aspect of your business leaves an impression on the customer and it is the sum of these experiences and impressions that really matters. As customers approach the restaurant, they make an immediate judgment, and that judgment is further refined by literally every touch point from the parking (or valet) to the greeting to the lighting to the menu to the cleanliness to the check presentation. And, if they take food home, when they grab it out of the fridge the next day, it is another reminder of the quality of the experience. How does that package look on their refrigerator shelf? What does it say about your business?
Every restaurant needs to have a brand promise of what they want that impression to be. Then, that promise needs to be fulfilled everywhere. Are you a farm-to-table restaurant that uses Styrofoam takeout containers? That’s a conflicting message that will have an affect on customers. Are you a dining establishment with higher price points that uses a plastic menu holder? That gives the impression that you are not delivering the quality you claim. Do you pride yourself on your wine and cocktail list, but have a young wait staff that hasn’t tasted the product and describes everything in basic textbook terms? That will show your commitment is only skin deep. Are you trying to achieve the impression of comfort, yet use white linens on the table? Customers may perceive you are too stuffy or expensive.
It is important to take a look at each and every customer touch point, identify inconsistencies with your brand promise and then fix them. Does your menu design really express the quality of your offerings? When your take-out bag is walking down the street, does it convey the same message you try to achieve in your restaurant?
Competition is too tough right now to lose any opportunity to send the right message. Are your messages consistent? Or do you need a brand refresh to ensure your brand promise is solid and you can execute it flawlessly?
You have the ability to do more than just deliver good food. How good do you want to be?
(Shea works with restaurateurs to conduct audits of the overall restaurant experience giving honest assessments in all areas, helping to strengthen brands and relationships with customers.)
Wednesday, March 4, 2009
Monday, March 2, 2009
By Rachel Hutton
The chops were far better than the Saturday-night special of roasted leg of lamb stuffed with spinach, feta, and loukaniko sausage. I'd liked all its components when I'd eaten them as part of the sampler platter, but in this version the lamb meat was dry and bland—nothing like the chops—and the filling was so blah that the spinach might have been shredded newsprint for all the flavor it added. The other traditional dish I'd skip is the phyllo-topped custard on the dessert tray: Its texture was mealy, its sweetness was piercing, and the accompanying chocolate syrup had all the allure of Hershey's.