Kola House: Pepsi Pushes Cola Buzz

The Wall Street Journal: Pepsi’s Kola House, a new bar in NY’s Meatpacking District is mixing kola nuts “into cocktails such as the Curcuma, billed as an ‘enhancing appetizer of African and arabesque aromatics’ with turmeric, lemon and honeydew, and the Kola Love, a ‘dessert elixir and libido enhancer’ with red wine, vanilla and whipped cream. ‘We like to give people a flavor experience they haven’t had before,’ said Kola House flavor chemist Alex Ott, who trained as a biochemist in Germany.”

“Beverage-industry observers say companies like PepsiCo … are making a push into the bar scene, particularly in the all-important New York market, to reconnect with consumers who have lost interest in sugary sodas. Bars are ‘a great place if you want to get soft drinks in front of millennials,’ said Duane Stanford, editor of Beverage Digest, a trade publication.”

“The cola buzz is also being driven by bartenders who see it as a way to jolt cocktails with flavor, reminiscent of the complex, heavily spiced cola drinks of the 19th century. Q Drinks’s Kola soda, for example, incorporates cloves, nutmeg, coriander and citrus, among other ingredients. The flavor is tangy, sweet and savory, said Jordan Silbert, the company’s founder and chief executive, but also familiar.”

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Howard Johnson’s & The American Roadway

The Atlantic: “Howard Johnson opened his first store in 1925. It was a generally unremarkable soda fountain with an orange roof in the Boston suburbs. After discovering that ice cream produced with high butterfat content was popular with his customers, he set up stands on beaches and roadsides, lending his name and trademark orange roof to evince a sense of familiarity and continuity.”

“The stores were clean, the parking lots were paved and well-landscaped, and eventually the designs were standardized, made to appear as symmetrical as possible. Hot dogs were rebranded to the more grandiose ‘frankforts’ and highfalutin chefs like Jacques Pépin and Pierre Franey were poached from the ritzy New York haunt Le Pavillion around 1960 to help build the menu.”

“Eventually, the competitors and imitators spawned by Howard Johnson’s success bested it as the franchise and its old-fashioned sensibility and formality … Howard Johnson’s may not be a staple of the American roadside anymore, but the visually similar franchises it helped popularize go on as far as the eye can see.”

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Quinoa & Kale @ Chick-fil-A

Business Insider: Chick-fil-A is testing a host of new menu items featuring ingredients like quinoa, farro, roasted butternut squash, and chia seeds in hopes of attracting more health-conscious eaters. The chain is testing two grain bowls starting Tuesday: the Harvest Kale & Grain Bowl and the Egg White Grill Grain Bowl.”

“The Harvest Kale bowl features red quinoa, white quinoa, farro, roasted butternut squash, diced apples, and kale topped with goat cheese, feta cheese, tart dried cherries, and roasted nuts. It’s served with a new light balsamic vinaigrette dressing.”

“Chick-fil-A has been getting some complaints after replacing classic menu items like cole slaw and its spicy chicken biscuit with healthier dishes. The company stressed that the new grain bowls would not be replacing any of its traditional menu items, like the original chicken sandwich and waffle fries.”

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Luke’s Lobsters: Rolls From ‘Trap to Table’

The New York Times: “Oil companies have long practiced a vertical integration strategy to track and control the flow of petroleum from the oil field to the gas pump … Now the practice is gaining momentum in the food industry.” Among this new breed of restauranteurs is Luke Holden, co-owner of “19 Luke’s Lobster restaurants, two food trucks and a lobster tail cart in the United States, and five shacks in Japan.”

Luke “holds an ownership stake in a co-op of Maine fishermen, which allows him to track where and how the lobsters are caught, and control the quality, freshness and pricing. He also owns the processing plant, Cape Seafood, that packages and prepares the lobsters for his restaurants.” He comments: “We’re able to trace every pound of seafood we serve back to the harbor where it was sustainably caught and to support fishermen we know and trust.”

“When Mr. Holden agreed to buy all of the co-op’s catches for his restaurants, support its sustainability practices and give the co-op 50 percent of the profits from a Luke’s Lobster restaurant that is attached to the wharf, the fishermen agreed … Mr. Holden is projecting sales of $25 million this year and $42 million in 2018. Plans are in the works to open six new restaurants this year and 40 more by 2020.”

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Friday’s Re-Design: Millennial Minimalism

The Atlantic: “Strategically de-cluttered, devoid of flair—devoid, indeed, of any decor that might distinguish them from their fellow establishments—chain restaurants are melding, visually, into one tentacular beast. They are, en masse, going normcore.”

“The redesigns are … responding to a culture that is renegotiating its relationship with ‘stuff’ as a concept. More and more young people are renting homes rather than buying them; many of them simply intuit, in a way their parents cannot, the life-changing magic of tidying up. In an age defined by anxieties about the limitations of the planet’s physical resources, minimalism is a moral as much as it is an aesthetic.”

“T.G.I. Friday’s recently rebranded as ‘Fridays’; even its name has been subjected to the whims of minimalism. And its new look, whether manifested in Corpus Christi or Des Moines or Alexandria, evokes Silicon Valley—whose corporate spaces, in general, are defined by their airiness, and their emptiness, and their engineering of ‘serendipitous’ social interactions … You don’t need flair on the walls, after all, when you have a screen on your table.”

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Cupping: The Next Big Olympic Sport?

FiveThirtyEight: “For the past two weeks, people at the Olympics have been losing their minds trying to collect yellow and blue plastic souvenir cups that feature the silhouetted athletes of each sport. The cups are sold only with the official Olympics beer — Skol — though many collectors are just dumping out the beer or paying full price (13 reais, or about $4) for an empty cup, several vendors confirmed.”

“But although the cups, which are an advertising product for the beer, have been hugely popular, there is little in the way of official information from the company about the collectibles, which has led to the curious situation of visitors trying to complete a set of some indeterminate number.”

“The confusion comes in part because no official marketing materials were released by Ambev, the South American distributor of Skol, stating the number of cups or how best to collect them. But the mystery has only fueled fascination, making the frenzy around the cups more happy accident than calculated guerrilla marketing.”

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Combrr: Like Uber for Beach Eats

The New York Times: “It’s called Combrr, and it will soon allow people to buy items from concession stands from their towels, avoiding lines that lately stretch clear across the (Rockaway Beach) boardwalk.”

“Combrr works a lot like Uber: Customers drop a pin at their location. Vendors can accept or decline an order, and customers can track its progress from the app. There’s a $5 delivery fee, and the entire transaction, including the tip, is done digitally, bypassing the city’s requirement for a permit to sell items on the beach. But in addition to geolocation technology, Combrr relies on customers’ selfies and instructions. A sample note: ‘We’re wearing pink bikinis sitting under a polka-dot umbrella on 99th’.”

“The Rockaway Beach concessions, which appeared in their present artisanal incarnation in 2011, have been credited with turning the beaches into culinary hubs. So far, the seaside food scene has remained charmingly low-tech — operating out of sandy-floored bunkers and brightly painted shanties with surfboard racks … Combrr, which is free, will be available not long before the concessions close, a week after Labor Day.”

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LTO: Temptation & The Elusive McRib

The Atlantic: “Despite its list of 70-plus ingredients-—or perhaps because of it—few things galvanize the appetite of the American public like the McRib, the boneless pork-based sandwich, which briefly blooms like a spring ephemeral on McDonald’s menus before disappearing each year … In addition to being a cult favorite, the McRib is the best-known iteration of what the world of quick-service food calls limited-time offers, or LTOs.”

“In general their aim is to stoke excitement for a brand and entice customers to make an extra visit without resorting to discounts or cannibalizing their ordinary regimens … LTOs aren’t necessarily meant as a testing ground for full-time menu items; they’re meant to grab attention … Arby’s—historically known best for its roast beef sandwiches—distills its menu items through a decidedly ‘meat-centric’ prism.”

Jim Taylor of Arby’s comments: “We’re in the temptation business with the LTOs, not the education business. If people don’t really know what it is, they are not going to be attracted to it. But by the same token, if what you’re giving them is something they can get anywhere else, they’re not going to pay attention and come into the store specifically for us on an extra visit.”

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Domino’s Pizza Meter: Slicing Big Data

Slate: “In the 1990s, America believed in the predictive powers of pizza. Online anecdotes abounded … When Operation Desert Storm launched in January 1991, the Chicago Tribune published an account of a D.C. pizzeria owner who was able to predict that military action in the region was imminent, thanks to spikes in his sales.”

“But perhaps the best example of the pizza obsession of the 1990s lay in the existence of the ‘Pizza Meter,’ a short-lived annual report put out by Domino’s … By polling delivery drivers, the report claimed to offer insights into American political and personal attitudes. Real conclusions from the 1995 report include statistics like, ‘People who answered the door while listening to rap music were 45 percent more likely to order a meat-topped pizza than non-rap listeners’. Or, ‘People who answered the door wearing polyester ordered 9 percent more vegetarian pizzas than those sporting natural fibers’.”

“Perhaps pizza-based analysis fell by the wayside thanks to the rise of more serious data-driven journalism. Or perhaps there was a growing cynicism about the blatantly branded marketing ploy that was the Pizza Meter. But in the past 20 years … the internet has made us more accepting of such silliness. We don’t necessarily need to correct the pitfalls of the original surveys—like the horrendously unscientific data collection techniques or the flippant attitude toward causation vs. correlation—to capture that unique excitement that came when previously inaccessible insights were made plain and laid bare.”

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Dress Local: Starbucks Fashion in the ‘Hood

The Washington Post: “Starbucks employees will continue to wear the green or black aprons that you’re used to seeing when you hit up their stores. But lots of subtle changes are coming to what workers can wear underneath. Previously, they could only wear black, white and khaki clothing; now, the palette is more varied and includes other subdued colors such as blue, gray and brown. And they are now permitted to wear patterned shirts.”

“By giving employees more flexibility in how they dress, Starbucks is trying to distinguish itself from other employers with comparable schedules and wages … But the dress code for any retailer is not just a talent strategy: It’s also about telegraphing a certain feeling to customers. And by allowing more personalized attire, Starbucks seems to be doing something that is in keeping with a broader strategic trend in retail these days. Mega-chains across a variety of shopping categories are trying to make individual stores reflect their local neighborhoods.”

“Starbucks workers in Brooklyn will likely embrace the dress code differently than those in Miami or in a small, Midwestern college town. And perhaps that can give each of the chain’s outposts a more varied, localized feel.”

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