Pizza Al Taglio Doesn’t Cut Corners

The Wall Street Journal: “A number of New York pizza makers are now offering the classic treat with different geometry: Their ‘pies’ aren’t pie-shaped. Instead, they are based on a rectangular-shaped style, known as pizza al taglio, that is popular in Rome. Further distinguishing this version: Slices are often served at room temperature. And when it comes to cutting the pizza, forget about the traditional wheel-style cutter. This is a pizza best divided with a scissors.”

“To some extent, the interest in pizza al taglio speaks to the appetite New Yorkers have for a broadening array of pizza styles, circular or rectangular-shaped. The city has seen restaurants offering everything including Detroit-style pizza and the classic Chicago deep-dish version. And that is not to mention the Sicilian pie, another rectangular style, that has been a mainstay at New York pizzerias for decades.”

“Moreover, other Roman styles are also finding their way to the city. Pinsa Lab, which opened earlier this year in Brooklyn, specializes in an crispy circular style, known as pinsa, that is said to date back to ancient times … But pizza al taglio has special appeal for a host of reasons, say fans. Some like the fanciful toppings that are often used: At Fornino, for example, the pizza al taglio comes in versions with everything from heirloom tomatoes and goat cheese to radicchio and figs.”

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Blue-Corn Pixza Helps Homeless Kids

Fast Company: “For every five slices of blue corn pizza sold at Pixza, a piece of paper denoting a sixth slice is set aside. Once a week, those slips are counted up, and the corresponding number of slices are made and brought to a nearby homeless shelter, where Pixza representatives–many of them who once lived in the shelter–distribute them to the youth and have a conversation about Pixza’s program, and how it could lead to a job offer at the pizzeria.”

“Next, the youth are set up with a haircut, a shower, a T-shirt, a doctor’s appointment, and a life-skills course; Souza has set up partnerships with local hairdressers, medical students, and doctors who volunteer their services to the program. When the youth make it through all of the steps–their progress is recorded via a bracelet in which each step is hole-punched as it’s completed, like an analogue Fitbit–they are offered a job at Pixza.”

“Once employed at Pixza, the youth are matched up with a dedicated coach, who walks them through life planning and securing necessities like housing … The youth and mentors meet at Pixza during closing hours to plan: how to use the two-month stipend doled out to the kids to help them secure an apartment, how to source furniture, how they might want to direct their career beyond the pizzeria.”

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Applebees: What Is (not) Hip

Quartz: “It turns out, Applebee’s perhaps isn’t cut out to be a sophisticated, modern bar with a menu that sports chicken-wonton tacos and Sriracha lime sauce shrimp. Since the beginning of the year, the company’s stock price has plummeted by nearly 50%. It’s currently sitting at its lowest point in more than five years.”

“In a recent conversation with investors, Applebee’s executives were blunt about what went wrong. They called out the brand’s overt attempt at attracting a younger, affluent crowd as a strategic misstep that wound up alienating boomers and Gen-X consumers. Even worse, the rebrand never succeeded in luring younger diners.”

“By contrast, Texas Roadhouse made a conscious decision to avoid a rebrand and found success. It stuck to its straightforward menu, designed for those who enjoy the routine of sticking to the same dishes.”

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Digital Scale Cuts Ikea Food Waste

Fast Company: “By the end of August 2020, Ikea wants to cut its food waste at its stores–both in its restaurants and in its smaller bistros serving cinnamon buns, hot dogs, and soft serve–in half. At the heart of this plan is a digital scale. Whenever employees in Emeryville (CA) toss food waste from the kitchen into a bin, it now records the weight of the food. On a touchscreen mounted on the wall above the bin, employees quickly record what type of food was lost, and see feedback about the cost of that food and the carbon footprint. Over time, the patterns in the data will help the company make changes.”

“Ikea began piloting its new food waste system in 2015, and began rolling it out to stores in December 2016. By May 2017, it had launched in 20% of its stores, reducing nearly 80,000 pounds of food waste and saving the company more than $1 million. It’s now in the process of rolling it out to all of its 400 stores, which serve 650 million customers a year.”

Andrew Shakman, CEO of LeanPath, makers of the digital scale, comments: “The moment you start measuring with technology you begin to change awareness levels and you cause people to start to think differently. Whereas in the past they could just throw something in the garbage, now they have to stop and for a moment; they have to record something about it. In that moment, you’re not just collecting data, you’re communicating your values.”

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The Spotted Cheetah: A Cheetos Restaurant

The Wall Street Journal: “The Spotted Cheetah, a pop-up restaurant specializing in dishes made with Cheetos, has sold out all of the roughly 300 reserved slots for its three-day run, say officials with PepsiCo ’s Frito-Lay division that makes the snack … Spaces were gone within six hours of last week’s announcement of the opening, officials said, adding that there is currently a waiting list of more than 1,000 people should anything become available.”

“The Cheetos restaurant, helmed by celebrity chef Anne Burrell, will feature several varieties of the snack in close to a dozen dishes … Menu items, priced from $8 to $22, include Cheetos meatballs, Cheetos grilled cheese with tomato soup and Cheetos-crusted fried pickles. There are even desserts made with Cheetos, albeit the Sweetos variety of the snack.”

“Ms. Burrell, a fixture on the Food Network, said the challenge was to ‘elevate’ Cheetos, but not get too fanciful. ‘There’s a fine line to walk,’ she said.”

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David Chang & The Dropped Napkin Theory

Quartz: “Chef David Chang’s restaurants are pilgrimage sites for foodies from Sydney to New York. But the founder of the Momofuku restaurant group recently disclosed that he gets inspiration on kitchen management from a US fast-food chain where a double cheeseburger, fries, and a drink together cost less than a small plate of pea shoots at Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar in New York.”

Chang comments: “Every time I go to In-N-Out, if there’s time permitting … I stay there until I see one of the employees drop something. ‘Cause it’s always so busy. They drop something, they don’t know they drop something, and then someone else picks it up. Let’s just say they dropped a napkin. They pick up the napkin. They don’t go, ‘Hey jackass, you dropped this,’ like most people would do. They pick it up, they don’t say anything.”

“Previous research has found that organizations that show concern for employees’ development and welfare have higher levels of productivity and job satisfaction. Unhappy workers make more mistakes, have more accidents, and are more likely to be absent. One key to maintaining happiness among the rank-and-file is to ensure good behavior at the top of an organization. Researchers have found that employees are more motivated to help co-workers when they see people in leadership positions going out of their way to do the same.”

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Is Starbucks Ubiquity Hurting Its Sales?

Quartz: A Montreal-based investment bank says Starbucks “has saturated the American market so much that it’s now losing sales competing with itself.”

“On average, for every one Starbucks location in the US, there are now about four others within a one-mile radius to compete against … Over all in 2017, more than 62% of Starbucks now compete with at least one other Starbucks coffeeshop … the number of Starbucks alternatives within a mile of a Starbucks location in the company’s busiest regions have increased from three to five since 2012.”

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Chick-fil-A: Service Trumps Politics

Business Insider: “In a few years, Chick-fil-A has managed to shed its controversial image to appeal to a broader swath of America, all without losing its loyal customers base. Chick-fil-A’s successful expansion north came after its biggest controversy. Dan Cathy, the son of the late Chick-fil-A founder S. Truett Cathy, set off a fury among gay-rights supporters in 2012 that led to nationwide protests after he told the Baptist Press that the company was ‘guilty as charged’ for backing ‘the biblical definition of a family’.”

“These days, Chick-fil-A is warning all its franchisees against speaking out publicly or getting involved in anything that could blur the line between their private beliefs and their public roles as extensions of the Chick-fil-A brand, the company has said … The company still encourages its franchisees to get ‘entrenched’ in their communities … But Chick-fil-A says its focus now — both for local and corporate involvement and philanthropy — is on youth and education causes.”

Also: “Chick-fil-A started modernizing its corporate offices in Atlanta and opened an ‘innovation center’ modeled after the offices of Silicon Valley tech companies … The company hired chefs, food scientists, and dietitians to experiment with new menu items to appeal to upmarket customers who frequent chains like Shake Shack and Panera and are looking for healthier options … Key to Chick-fil-A’s reinvention has been its customer service, which consistently ranks No. 1 in nationwide surveys.” And: The company is investing in its employees. Mark Cohen, a Columbia Business School professor, comments: “Your employees are your ambassadors to the public. The folks who are staffing those Chick-fil-A stores are aggressively reengaging with people and talking about how great the company is.”

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‘All You Can Eat’ Buffets Go Upscale

The Wall Street Journal: “Restaurants that offer all-you-can-eat dining are often more about quantity than quality. But a number of higher-end New York City establishments are looking to reverse that trend. Kesté Pizza & Vino, the pizzeria that offers authentic Neapolitan-style pies, has introduced a daily $20 unlimited-slices promotion … In a more extravagant vein, Megu, a modern Japanese restaurant in Chelsea, is rolling out a $300 ‘Imperial Oyster Experience,’ with all-you-can-eat oysters, including some pricier and rarer varieties, for two diners, in addition to a bottle of Champagne.”

“Restaurateurs offer such deals for a variety of reasons. Some say they do it to try to increase business on slower nights. Others say it is just a way to have some fun.
Megu owner Jon Bakhshi says it was the latter that inspired him to come up with his concept. An ‘oyster bar in the middle of summer just had a nice ring to it,’ he said.”

“Restaurant-industry insiders and observers warn, however, there could be consequences to such promotions, particularly in terms of how they affect public perception of the establishments … The other challenge for restaurateurs is making sure they can profit from such deals, given that patrons are naturally inclined to do the math and milk the opportunities for all they are worth.”

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Food Halls Fight ‘Decision Fatigue’

The Wall Street Journal: “As ambitious food halls open in more urban buildings, developers are trying to make it easier for visitors to navigate pricey stalls and vendors without feeling paralyzed by all the choices. They’re tweaking food hall layouts to incorporate bar seating overlooking open-concept kitchens, nixing larger food-court-era tables and simplifying hip menus … Some are opting for a calmer look—and sound—to help battle what the trade calls ‘decision fatigue’.”

“When opening St. Roch Market, a New Orleans food hall, in 2015, Will Donaldson insisted the same signage be used for each vendor. Instead of music coming from individual stalls, he keeps a central music playlist to cut down on extra noise. An employee appears at each table to bring water and offer a clipboard with all of the offerings. Then visitors get up to find their food. Without a clear, streamlined guide, ‘people can get confused and subconsciously shut down,’ says Mr. Donaldson.”

“Developers are implementing plans that make turnover simpler, too. At Legacy Hall, vendors aren’t asked to sign a commercial lease. Each side can break off the deal at any time … Operators of Brooklyn’s DeKalb Market realized they needed more ability to switch out underperforming vendors by creating only ‘bare-bones’ design.”

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