A Factory for All The Cheese in China

The Wall Street Journal: “Halfway through his meal at the new Cheesecake Factory in Hong Kong, which opened earlier this year, Ken Wu knew he had to come up with a survival plan to get through the rest of dinner.The amount of food—including nachos, pasta, a pork chop, pizza and fried dishes—was overwhelming.”

“‘Feta cheese, Parmesan cheese, cheddar cheese…I know it’s called The Cheesecake Factory but never could we have imagined how much cheese was in everything!’ said Una Wong, who dined with Mr. Wu,” who “likened the sensation to Sichuan peppercorn, the numbing and spicy flavoring used in Western China that obliterates the taste of anything else.”

“First-timers to the chain say they were attracted by photos posted by online reviewers and tales of American excess relayed by friends and family abroad. After the meal, however, their enthusiasm sometimes diminishes. Mr. Wu … offered this verdict: ‘I don’t think I can have cheese for another three months, at least’.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Shanghai Surprise: World’s Biggest Starbucks

The Washington Post: Starbucks has “opened its largest store in the world: a nearly 30,000-square-foot compound that does much more than simply serve coffee. The new Starbucks Reserve Roastery … in Shanghai, is the first non-U.S. location of a new series of shops designed to offer a more ‘immersive’ experience for coffee lovers, according to Starbucks.”

“It includes three coffee bars, one of which clocks in at 88 feet long — the chain’s longest to date. The coffee bars will serve brews made from beans grown in China’s Pu’er in Yunnan Province … A two-story, 40-ton copper cask towers over the store, refilling the coffee bars’ various silos … As a nod to the local beverage of choice, it also includes a tea bar made from 3-D printed materials, and an in-house bakery employing more than 30 Chinese bakers and chefs.”

“The experience seems curated to keep people milling about the store. It is the first Starbucks location to integrate augmented reality, which refers to technology that combines real-world surroundings with tech, in this case the customers’ smartphones. They can point their phones at various spots around the cavernous room to learn about the coffee-brewing process … The store’s boasting rights as the world’s largest won’t last long, though. The company plans to open a 43,000-square-foot location on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue in 2019.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Casa Barilla & The ‘Fast Pasta’ Trend

The Wall Street Journal: “It’s spaghetti and meatballs like grandma used to make, served in the culinary equivalent of a New York minute. Made-to-order pasta dishes such as fettuccine Alfredo and rigatoni Bolognese are being churned out at the speed of burrito-slinging at Chipotle. Italian food is having its fast-casual moment.”

“Chef Mark Ladner, formerly of Michelin-starred Del Posto, set out to open the McDonald’s of noodles, only healthier, with Pasta Flyer in Greenwich Village. The space, a former Chipotle, has been transformed into a terrestrial-inspired dining room with a hanging UFO and a black-and-white mural of Rome. Mr. Ladner leads the assembly line stirring up sauces for pasta combos such as fusilli with pesto; whole-grain rigatoni in a meat ragout; creamy fettuccine Alfredo; and gluten-free penne. Each are is priced at $7 to $8.”

“An early adopter of the grab-and-go noodle trend was boxed-pasta brand Barilla. Casa Barilla restaurant opened in Midtown in 2013, serving pasta, pizza and salads in a snap. The chain recently expanded to Southern California and to Dubai. Prices range from $7.95 to $12.95.” Restaurant consultant Clark Wolf comments: “This is about better ingredients and better foods in the right portions that happen to be delicious. It was bound to happen. It just had to wait until fear of carbs died down and until Americans learned that there’s more to making pasta than just industrial wheat.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Gucci Gobble: The $300 Turkey

The Wall Street Journal: “When it comes to this year’s holiday bird, New Yorkers aren’t afraid to break out their wallets. A number of gourmet markets and high-end butchers throughout the city are selling specialty turkeys for Thanksgiving that run $200-$300-plus. And in most cases, that doesn’t include sides. At Eli’s Market on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, options start at $6 per pound for a free-range, all-natural turkey, but can go as high as $11 a pound for a ‘heritage’ breed variety.”

“Purveyors of these pricey birds say they have no problem finding customers. Le Coq Rico, a restaurant in Manhattan’s Flatiron District that specializes in poultry, says it has sold out of its allotment of heritage turkeys for to-go orders, priced at $280 each with sides. The restaurant is offering a variety sourced from a Kansas farm, where, according to Le Coq Rico manager Patricia Grunler Westermann, the birds have plenty of pasture to explore. The result, she says, is one tasty turkey. ‘You really feel how they live’ with every mouthful, she said.”

“Still, some food experts remain skeptical, noting that turkey isn’t very flavorful—no matter where it is sourced or how it is raised. Hence, the reason the Thanksgiving meal is so much about the side dishes. ‘Unless a turkey can get up, turn on the oven and put itself in the roasting pan, it is rarely worth much more than a dollar a pound,’ said Allen Salkin, a New York-based food writer.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Starbucks Upscales With Princi Bakeries

The Wall Street Journal: “The opening of luxury Italian bakery Princi inside Starbucks’s Seattle Reserve Roastery is one way the coffee giant is seeking to differentiate itself. Starbucks last week reduced its long-term sales and profit growth outlook due to the difficult retail environment. Howard Schultz, who stepped down as chief executive in April to focus on developing high-end coffee shops within the company, said Starbucks needs to create another brand tier to appeal to more affluent consumers.”

“Mr. Schultz said he envisions including Princi bakeries inside all of the Roastery shops the company plans to open globally. Roastery sales still are too small of a contributor to move the needle for the company’s earnings. But the average transaction in the Seattle Roastery—a tourist destination—is $20, compared with $5 at a traditional Starbucks, Mr. Schultz said.”

“Starbucks said it is also planning to open 1,000 standalone Princi bakeries around the world, with hundreds in the U.S., serving small-batch Starbucks “reserve” coffee.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Coffee Shops Diversify As Traffic Slows

The Wall Street Journal: “Consumers are visiting traditional coffee shops less often when there are a plethora of cheaper options. Everyone from McDonald’s Corp. to gas stations is hawking specialty coffee. Even grocery stores are expanding the space devoted to bottled and canned coffee drinks, which Mintel says poses a threat to coffee shops. Traffic growth to large coffee chains such as Starbucks is slowing, while traffic to small coffee chains and independent shops is declining, according to NPD Group Inc.”

“The troubles facing the coffee business are similar to those plaguing the broader food-retail and restaurant industries, which have an oversupply of retail space that are competing against a proliferation of new food options. In addition, coffee shop visits are less frequent with people curtailing mall shopping and as they work from home or spend more time in their offices during the workday.”

“Caleb Bryant, senior food service analyst at Mintel, said that sales growth for many coffee chains or shops will have to come from an existing base of coffee drinkers shelling out more money for evermore complicated and expensive drinks. Starbucks and Dunkin’ are appealing to more affluent consumers who can pay more for specialty drinks like nitrogen-infused cold brew and vanilla chai … Stumptown, Blue Bottle and Intelligentsia are offering subscription services, selling their beans to hotels and restaurants and getting packaged products into grocery stores as a way to supplement their cafe business.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Google Gaggle: Predicting Restaurant Wait Times

USA Today: “Google Search (and eventually Google Maps) will show diners the estimated wait times for local restaurants to help them skip the crowds and jump the lines. The new feature expands on Google showing consumers looking to change their oil and get their hair cut how busy local businesses typically are. Google gathers this information from aggregated and anonymized data from users who allow Google to track their location using Google apps on their phones or other devices.”

“Now, says Google, diners can click on a time frame and see live or historical data on how busy a restaurant is expected to be and the estimated wait time. The information will be available for nearly 1 million sit-down restaurants around the globe. And up next, says Google: Grocery stores.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Virtual Eateries Put the ‘App’ in Appetizer

The Wall Street Journal: “Tucked inside industrial parks, commissary kitchens and refitted basements in cities like New York, Chicago and San Jose, these restaurants have no dining room, no wait staff, no takeout window and no signage … Many don’t take orders over the phone and are accessible only through online services like Grubhub, DoorDash or Postmates. Virtual restaurants, with their low overhead, are allowing restaurateurs to shift away from the capital-intensive model that kills 60% of new restaurants in their first five years toward something decidedly more techy.”

“Virtual restaurants tap into a larger trend: Americans’ increasing aversion to cooking for themselves. For the first time ever in 2016, Americans spent more at eating and drinking establishments than on groceries, according to U.S. Census data. The food-delivery market is a small slice of that sector: It is only $30 billion in 2017, but Morgan Stanley estimates it could balloon to $220 billion within a few years.”

“The fundamental challenge that all these players are trying to solve is that prepared food remains one of the least-scalable businesses in our economy: Production has proved resistant to automation, the materials themselves are highly perishable and swiftly changing consumer tastes can destroy momentum. A typical internet startup can go from 3,000 customers to 3 million customers just by spending more on Amazon Web Services. No restaurant can do the same.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Threesome Tollbooth: Seclusion as Luxury

The New York Times: Threesome Tollbooth, in Brooklyn, caters “to patrons who prefer to take their cocktails in extreme seclusion. About as wide as the average human arm span, it sits inside the supply closet of a shuttered Italian restaurant. Capacity is limited to three: the bartender, you and your date.”

“’You own the space,’ said the artist N.D. Austin who opened the tiny tavern … After making a reservation, guests are asked by email to meet him — or his partner, Jesse Sheidlower, a lexicographer — outside a graffitied metal door in Bushwick. A brief walk through that door and down an alley leads inside to the supply closet. The closet, one discovers, has been transformed into a small, wood-paneled chamber — the sort of place to which a professor emeritus of English might retire to sip his Scotch and page through Keats.”

“The evening isn’t cheap: The going rate is $100 to $120 a head for about an hour of service. For that you get a menu of five or six 3-ounce mini-cocktails, bearing names like Johann Goes to Mexico; you also get the close-quarter company of your partner and your host. Mr. Sheidlower said the tightness of the Tollbooth has had interesting effects on the clientele … His favorite customers, however, are those who walk in and spontaneously burst into laughter.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Terminal C: This Restaurant is Classified

The Wall Street Journal: “You’re a top-dollar flier. Would you fly an airline more if it secreted you into a speakeasy-like restaurant hidden in a back corner of the airport—and handed you the bill? United Airlines is betting you might. United and airport concessionaire OTG Experience have opened an invitation-only restaurant inside Newark Liberty International. To pump up the air of exclusivity, there are no signs for Classified: It’s behind an unmarked blue door in the back of another restaurant in Terminal C.”

“Classified can entice premium passengers to fly out of Newark rather than Kennedy or LaGuardia, says Praveen Sharma, United’s vice president of loyalty, merchandising and digital channels … The airline won’t say how it decides which customers get invitations. It’s not all about frequent-flier status or fare paid. Long layovers may increase your chances. CEOs and celebrities get invites. United officials can walk-in VIPs or even angry customers left stranded by flight problems … Try as it might to be swank, Classified remains an airport restaurant. The knives are plastic, per TSA regulations … Comments are mixed on frequent-flier forums like FlyerTalk. Some road warriors like it. Others find the food overpriced and the seemingly random invitations annoying.”

“United isn’t the only U.S. airline trying to make downtime at the airport more memorable. American now has Flagship First white-tablecloth restaurants open only to people who buy first-class tickets for international or New York-Los Angeles and New York-San Francisco flights.” Kurt Stache, American’s senior vice president for marketing, loyalty and sales, comments: “It’s for that small, small percentage of customers that generates a disproportionate amount of revenue.”

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail