MRM News Bites: Recession Fears, Food Allergy App and More on This Week’s Plate

Each week, Modern Restaurant Management magazine compiles restaurant industry headlines in MRM News Bites. Send items of interest to Content Director Barbara Castiglia at

Restaurant Recession Fears Overblown

Continued labor market strength means fears that the restaurant industry is in a recession are overblown, according to the National Restaurant Association’s Chief Economist Bruce Grindy.  His Economist’s Notebook commentary and analysis appears regularly on and Restaurant TrendMapper.

Job growth surprised to the upside for the second consecutive month, based on preliminary figures released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.  The economy added a net 255,000 jobs on a seasonally-adjusted basis in July, which came on the heels of a robust gain of 292,000 jobs in June.

The two-month print of 547,000 jobs was the strongest since the last two months of 2015, and was well above the average gains of 151,000 jobs during the first five months of the year.

Reading through to the restaurant industry, the latest jolt to the labor market will likely bolster consumer spending in the months ahead.  Restaurant sales are closely tied to employment trends, and the continued labor market strength means fears of a restaurant recession are overblown.

At the onset of the Great Recession in 2008, real (menu-price-adjusted) restaurant sales didn’t start declining until a full four months after the job losses began.  Recent trends suggest that job losses are not on the horizon, which should help allay concerns that the restaurant industry’s expansion has run its course.

Total eating and drinking place sales were up 2.2 percent on an inflation-adjusted basis between June 2015 and June 2016, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau.  These sales gains were driven largely by the steady, if unspectacular, growth in the economy.  

While the restaurant industry certainly faces a host of challenges, the health of the labor market is not at the top of the list.  As long as the economy avoids a recession, the restaurant industry will avoid a recession. 

Bye, Bye Soda

DineEquity, Inc., parent company of IHOP® Restaurants and Applebee’s® Grill & Bar, announced soft drinks will no longer be featured on the kids’ menus at restaurants across Canada.

“Our menus at both Applebee’s and IHOP throughout Canada offer a wide variety of delicious options designed to meet the needs of our guests, and while the choice is always up to our guests, we hope that removing soft drinks from our kids’ menus will make it easier for parents to help their children make the best choices for them,” said Daniel del Olmo, President, International, DineEquity, Inc.

Beverage items currently featured on the kids’ menus include apple juice, orange-tangerine juice, milk and chocolate milk. There are currently 16 Applebee’s Grill & Bar restaurants in Canada and 23 IHOP restaurants.

Food Allergy App

What happens when the estimated 15 million Americans with food allergies or the 60 percent of American adults who report dietary restrictions decide to eat out?

Until now, it meant spending time researching menus online and calling restaurants to ask about things like food preparation and cross-contamination. The new DineSafe™ app takes the risk out of dining out nearly 8,000 restaurants nationwide, with more being added daily.

#KnowWhatsInYourFood (PRNewsFoto/DineSafe LLC)

With DineSafe, iPhone and Android users can quickly and easily find restaurants whose offerings meet their dietary needs. Restaurants can add their menu to the app tracking Top 8 allergens with the ability to track as many as 33 allergens and 11 dietary preferences. Upon their first use, diners tell the DineSafe app what their restrictions are, and then the app serves up custom menus from nearby restaurants offering foods that are safe to eat within those restrictions. DineSafe is completely free for consumers and restaurants.

Designed by a hospitality industry insider with food restrictions of his own, DineSafe helps diners and restaurants alike to navigate the world of food allergies and special dietary preferences, including vegetarian, vegan, paleo, kosher and other popular choices. Diners can rest easy knowing the menus DineSafe presents are free of their particular allergens, while restaurants can gain loyal followings of people with food allergies, along with their networks of family and friends.

Because a food allergy can turn deadly at any time, the UK and the EU already require disclosure of allergens in food, and many U.S. states are heading that way as well. DineSafe allows restaurants to proactively disclose food allergens right now to the people already interested in dining at their establishments–and to those who might not otherwise think to eat there.

In the coming months, DineSafe will introduce additional dietary preferences, including calorie, carbohydrate, protein and fat content. The company is actively seeking restaurants who would like to add their menu offerings to DineSafe; future plans include expanding into other countries and making the DineSafe app available in other languages. DineSafe, LLC has partnered with menu labeling experts MenuTrinfo® to help restaurants learn about and properly label food allergens.

The DineSafe app is available on the Apple App Store and on Google Play. Learn more at

Future of Food Dinner

WIRED editor in chief Scott Dadich and Momofuku boss David Chang hosted an exclusive dinner at Ssam Bar in Manhattan to celebrate WIRED’s August Food Issue and Chang’s cover story on his “Grand Theory of Deliciousness,” which can be read here.

photo by Cole Wilson for WIRED
Photo by Cole Wilson for WIRED

The evening’s theme was the Future of Food and featured a five-course family-style menu inspired by Chang’s cover story. Before dinner, guests were treated to cocktails at Booker & Dax and appetizers, including the celebratory dish-to-end-all-dishes: Fried Chicken & Caviar, which happens to be the cover of WIRED’s August Food Issue. 

Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence

Servicemen and women from all branches of the U.S. military took part in advanced culinary education, training, mentoring, and networking sessions at the 2016 Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence, Aug. 1-5. The annual event is hosted by the National Restaurant Association Educational Foundation (NRAEF) at The Culinary Institute of America (CIA) in St. Helena, California.

Forty-one students attended this year’s Forum and participated in courses on knife skills, global flavors, and culinary techniques. The weeklong educational event is designed to hone attendees’ culinary and foodservice management skills by offering interactive seminars, cooking activities, and mentoring and career-coaching sessions. The classes are led by top culinary instructors from The CIA, and leaders in the restaurant and hospitality industry participate in mentoring sessions and roundtable discussion to share their expertise with the students.

Highlights included interactive tasting seminars, roundtable mentoring sessions, and a special session added to the traditional CIA program that addressed creative ways to enhance UGR’s (unitized group rations), modules commonly used in the military that provide a complete, hot meal for servicemen and women in the field.

In addition, a competitive healthy recipe contest, sponsored by Rose Packing Company, challenged students to create a complete meal using pork loin over the course of an afternoon.

Senior Airman Caleb Cejka puts the finishing touches on his team's recipe challenge dish at the 2016 Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence.
Senior Airman Caleb Cejka puts the finishing touches on his team’s recipe challenge dish at the 2016 Armed Forces Forum for Culinary Excellence.

GySgt Larry Thomas, SSgt Michael Adamson, Sgt Cindy Argueta, Specialist Karen Butler, SrA Quentin Cole, CS2 Jeremy Knox, Specialist Joshua Miller, Sgt Keon Pondexter and Ssgt Brenton Schmidt served on the winning team. Their winning dish was a Grilled Mojo Marinated Pork Loin with Herbed Saffron Couscous, Cilantro Lime Slaw with Roasted Poblano Peppers and Pan Roasted Tomatoes. The judges were provided with a rubric to choose the winners based on taste, appearance, nutrition, and recipe creation.  

Several industry leaders sponsor and attend the forum including representatives from Sodexo, Hormel, Ecolab, NewChef Fashion, Victorinox, Ventura Foods, Butterball, Hobart/ITW, BJ’s Restaurants Foundation, Aramark, and Sysco.  Trinchero Family Estates hosted a military appreciation dinner and Constellation Brands hosted the graduation celebration.

According to the National Restaurant Association, more than 250,000 military veterans are currently employed in the restaurant industry, and the number of employment opportunities is projected to increase by 25,000 in the next five years.

The National Restaurant Association and NRAEF have a long history supporting the US military dating back to 1956, working to build career opportunities for military personnel, veterans and their families. The Culinary Institute of America also boasts its own deep US military connections, making it the ideal venue for continuing education for military foodservice personnel. Founded by Frances Roth and Katherine Angell in 1946, the school was designed to help returning World War II veterans learn the necessary practical skills to enter the post-war workforce.

Nowait and Yelp partnership

Nowait, the first mobile network for casual-dining restaurants, partnered with Yelp Inc. to enable Yelp users to enjoy the Nowait experience of viewing nearby restaurants’ wait times and “getting in line” remotely with the Yelp app. Catering to restaurants that don’t take reservations, Nowait helps them replace traditional pen-and-paper and buzzers with its front-of-house, iPad-based system.

As part of the partnership, Yelp will be making an $8 million strategic investment. Nowait offers thousands of casual-dining restaurants, including national chains such as Chili’s and First Watch, as well as independent hotspots such as in New York City’s Clinton St. Baking Company, P.J. Clarke’s on the Hudson, and Penelope. Since launching their guest app, Nowait has seated more than 500 million guests to date and continues to seat more than 30 million guests every month.


Growler USA®, profiled by MRM here, has signed a franchise agreement set to bring eight locations to Nashville. The first location is expected to open early next year, marking the first in the state. Former Outback Steakhouse International executive Greg Walther is the franchise partner and lead principal of the group.

“Craft beer’s explosive growth encompasses the changing habits of consumers, who have come to embrace greater variety and more choice – making it an exciting time to get involved in this industry,” said Walther. “Growler USA offers the power of a national brand, but with a hometown feel. I’m excited to join the Growler USA family and look forward to opening our doors in Nashville.”

The Nashville deal is part of greater growth Growler USA has been experiencing, which includes the sale of more than 40 locations across 18 states. Pubs are expected to make debuts in metro areas of Phoenix, Denver, Tulsa, and several other cities by the end of this year. Founded just two years ago, Growler USA is experiencing rapid growth because of demand to support local craft brewers while providing an elevated experience for the consumer.

Chef Emeril Lagasse’s newest restaurant in New Orleans, Meril – the 13th restaurant in the Lagasse organization – will open its doors September 24.

“I’ve always had the philosophy that you can never stop learning, especially in the kitchen,” said Lagasse. “There is always something new to uncover, whether it’s an ingredient, a technique or a way of sharing food. As part of the constant desire to evolve, I wanted to create a space where I could develop my own spin on some of my favorite dishes that have inspired me, whether from traveling or cooking for friends and family at home. The team and I are having a lot of fun and cooking with lots of love. Nothing is off limits at Meril.”

Just blocks away from his famed flagship restaurant, Emeril’s New Orleans, Meril is situated in the heart of the Warehouse District. The neighborhood eatery will offer a casual ambiance, featuring a large horseshoe bar, inviting dining room and open kitchen. The menu will include everything from fresh pasta selections and wood oven pizzas, to pork rib tamales and robata-style grilling.

Meril joins three other Emeril’s restaurants in New Orleans, the last of which opened in 1998: Emeril’s New Orleans, NOLA Restaurant and Emeril’s Delmonico. At the helm will be New Orleans native, Chef Will Avelar. Avelar first joined the Emeril’s team in 2005, and, most recently, served as executive sous chef at Emeril’s Delmonico. He will bring his own unique vision and creativity along with his intimate knowledge of Lagasse’s celebrated style and craft to Meril.

Sage Restaurant Group (SRG)–the Denver-based independent restaurant group, introduced Departure Restaurant + Lounge, a modern Asian kitchen, in Denver.

Similar to its original location in Portland, OR, Departure Denver’s menu offers diners authentic interpretations of Asia’s coastal cuisines. Departure Denver’s décor differs from the Portland location’s maritime-inspired design, drawing inspiration from luxury air travel. Departure Elevated, a seasonal rooftop lounge offering unrivaled views of Cherry Creek and the Rocky Mountains, is set to open later this month in the same building.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge, Denver CO (PRNewsFoto/Sage Restaurant Group)
Departure Restaurant + Lounge, Denver CO

“Departure Denver is exotic, sophisticated, and contemporary, all of which we feel makes it unlike anything else found in the city,” says Peter Karpinski, Co-Founder of SRG and Denver resident.  “The transportive quality of the restaurant will make it top-of-mind for diners looking for escape and adventure.”

Chef Gregory Gourdet, Culinary Director of Departure Restaurants and finalist on Bravo’s Top-Chef in 2015, helms the culinary team alongside Executive Chef Khamla Vongsakoun.

Acapulco’s Grand Acapulco Restaurant & Cantina, a Southern California hometown favorite since 1960, is getting back to its roots while investing heavily in its future. The new look features a beautiful new cantina, dining room, two outdoor patios, and an updated grand entrance next to the indoor-outdoor bar.

Acapulco Downey Remodel
Acapulco Downey Remodel

The 9,250-square foot, 255-seat restaurant, has occupied this location since 1989. The dramatically distinctive re-design was inspired by vacations to Mexico and the great resorts of the Mexican Riviera. The initiative is part of a new vision under the leadership of Bryan Lockwood, who last year became Chief Executive Officer of Acapulco’s parent company, Real Mex Restaurants.

“Our guests are going to be blown away,” said Lockwood. “The Acapulco brand has always been about the feeling of vacation and relaxation, served up with fresh food and drinks. The new redesign provides a perfect setting for that everyday escape. I couldn’t be more pleased with the new look at our Downey location.”

Acapulco Downey Remodel
Acapulco Downey Remodel

The Downey redesign was implemented section-by-section, which allowed the restaurant to stay open throughout the process. The renovated cantina features a new tile floor, bar top, and all new stools, tables and chairs. The painted wall treatment was inspired by intricate Mexican tiles.

In addition to the restaurant receiving a makeover, the menu was also revamped to include fresh dishes like: Chimichurri Poke Tacos, Pozole by the Sea, Crab and Shrimp Enchiladas and Tropical Salmon. A Coconut Margarita was added to the cocktail list, along with an Oreo Cookie Ice Cream Torte to the dessert menu.

The remodeled Acapulco will employ 130 compadre team members, who are all from the local community and surrounding areas. Nearly 20 additional people are expected to be hired by mid-September. The Acapulco brand, including the Downey location, employs over 900 people in Southern California.

Acapulco Downey Remodel
Acapulco Downey Remodel

Amy Morton and Chef Nicole Pederson (photo by Huge Galdones)

Chicago-area restaurateur Amy Morton, Executive Chef Nicole Pederson, and Stefen Bosworth will open the ‘meat-centric hideaway’ The Barn, Rear 1016 Church St., Evanston, IL, this September. It’s a departure from the flexitarian Found, the team’s award-winning first collaboration in Evanston and a nod to Morton’s father, Arnie Morton, with whom she worked side-by-side at his namesake restaurants, Morton’s Steakhouses, in Chicago. Amy’s version, however, features a wide variety of proteins. Options are prepared with accompaniments and sauces in mind.  

“The Barn is a coming home for me. I’ve always known I was going to do something around steak because it’s what I grew up with. And I am excited to do it our way,” said Morton.

Located in a 19th century brick barn hidden in an alley in the middle of town, The Barn is a throwback to the panache of old school service with live music. The impeccable, yet comfortable, service will be exemplified by what comes naturally; staff will be encouraged to go off menu and off script to find ways to create special touches throughout the restaurant, such as warming a guests’ car for their departure and taking reservations by hand. 

The 75-seat restaurant retains the essence of the original building, which once served as the horse stable for Borden Condensed Milk, with 20 ft. ceilings and crumbling brick walls. A whimsical light fixture will illuminate the space, which will also feature a glowing, back-lit bar and a color palate of blues, greens, and cognacs with lots of textures. The design of the space will play a supporting role to the natural centerpieces of the restaurant—the guests and the food.

Fazoli’s experienced a record-breaking month in July with the signing of nine multi-unit and single-unit franchise agreements to develop 22 new restaurants nationwide. As part of the agreements, Fazoli’s will develop new restaurants in cities, including Dothan, Alabama; Snellville, Georgia; Southern California; and Hazard, Kentucky; Sioux Falls, South Dakota; Memphis, Tennessee; McAllen, Texas; Chicago and Central Indiana.

“It’s been a solid year of growth for Fazoli’s, and we’re continuing to see strong interest from entrepreneurs who want to capitalize on the brand’s record momentum,” said Carl Howard, president and chief executive officer of Fazoli’s. “We’ve made several changes to further position Fazoli’s for future success, including new delivery and catering options, as well as an upgraded menu with premium ingredients to meet the growing consumer demand for high quality, innovative menu items. We have no doubt that we’ll surpass our projected goals by the end of the year.”

The growth includes 13 consecutive quarters of same-store sales growth – with franchisees boasting a 5.1 percent year-over-year same-store sales increase in July. In addition, Fazoli’s franchisees are experiencing nearly three times the industry average growth rate, with new franchised restaurants setting company-wide records.

Houston-based Salata is opening 200 new locations over the next few years. Since early 2016, Salata has signed more than 50 restaurants, expanding Salata’s footprint to reach customers in new markets, including Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Lubbock, Atlanta and Beaumont, and responding to the interest and growing demand in existing markets, including Houston, San Antonio and Dallas-Fort Worth.

 “Consumers today are looking for fresh and healthy dining options that are also convenient. The fresh, fast-casual market is expanding at a fast pace with many concepts capitalizing on the opportunity,” said Salata Founder and CEO Berge Simonian. “We are entering a very strong growth phase, and our goal at the end of the day is to be most sought after healthy restaurant of choice.”


Ruby Tuesday plans to close approximately 95 underperforming restaurants by September.

“The decision to close restaurants is a difficult but necessary step as we take aggressive actions to strengthen our organization,” said JJ Buettgen, Chairman of the Board, President, and Chief Executive Officer. “Performance at each of these locations, despite the loyalty of valued guests and the efforts of our dedicated employees, was not meeting expectations. Full-time and part-time employees impacted by closures will be offered positions in nearby restaurants where possible.”

The closings are part of plans to streamline the organization, improve financial profitability, and create long-term value for shareholders through its Fresh Start initiative. The initiative will be achieved through the execution of several key strategies including an Asset Rationalization Plan along with programs to improve the food and beverage offering, dining environment and service at its namesake brand through a Fresh New Menu, Fresh New Garden Bar, and Fresh Experience. These initiatives will be rolled out in phases across multiple markets throughout the coming quarters.

 “Our Fresh New Menu, Fresh New Garden Bar, and Fresh Experience initiatives will position us to accelerate traffic and will be supported by better in-restaurant execution, refining our media and targeting plans, and incorporating the insights from our Garden Bar and remodel tests into our go forward strategy,” said Buettgen. “Through our goal of attracting more women and young families as well as increasing visits from our current Ruby Tuesday guests, we believe we can return to positive same-restaurant sales, expand restaurant level margins, and increase operating profit.”


Landmark New Brunswick, NJ restaurant, Tumulty’s Pub has changed hands, according to Richard Santore of Bielat Santore & Company, Allenhurst, NJ, which handled the transaction.

Tumulty's Pub
Tumulty’s Pub

“I knew that when my salesman Joseph Denker bought this listing into our office that I had a buyer ready to go,” said Santore. That buyer was Richard and Sheila Weber, owner of the Brunswick Grove in East Brunswick. “I was involved in the sale of the Brunswick Grove when the Webers purchased it some 13 years ago. I have stayed in touch with Rich Weber and over the past 12-18 months, he has been actively pursuing a second location, particularly in the New Brunswick marketplace.”

Tumulty’s Pub is one of the oldest businesses in the New Brunswick, having been a longstanding fixture in downtown New Brunswick for more than 80 years. Tumulty’s opened as the University Pub in 1937 at George and Washington Streets in the city. Peter “Brains” Tumulty ran the spot. Tumulty’s son and his wife bought the pub in 1962 and turned it into a restaurant. A fire destroyed Tumulty’s in 1970 and it was rebuilt. In 1982, Tumulty’s moved to its current spot at 361 George Street to accommodate the building of the Johnson & Johnson headquarters.

New Hires

Restaurant Revolution Technologies, Inc. (RRT), a provider of Order Management solutions addressing “off-premise” opportunities within the restaurant industry, brought on Stacey Raus as its Vice President of Operations. He will be responsible for the company’s virtual call center and will report directly to RRT’s COO, Jack Fitzpatrick.

Stacey Raus
Stacey Raus

He will work closely with RRT’s virtual call center, executive management team and company clients to maintain an already established high level of client satisfaction. He will focus his attention and expertise on RRT’s virtual call center operations, client service, technical support, and training and quality assurance programs.

 Prior to joining RRT, he served within Vendor Management for Transamerica for two years where he oversaw client relationships in annuity operations for two key vendors performing back office financial processing that resulted in $3 million in annual savings.  In addition, he had onshore responsibility for two call centers focused on inbound customer support where costs were reduced 50 percent with performance improvements and renegotiated terms.