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Plan Check Charts Its Growth Path

PlanChec_Uchimura1Terry Heller opened Plan Check Kitchen + Bar in Los Angeles in 2012. The concept took its name from the adjacent Building and Safety Department, where architects, developers and engineers have plans reviewed. Heller brought in Ernesto Uchimura (at r.), previously corporate executive chef for Umami Burger, to shape Plan Check’s menu and personality. Now about to open a third location, Plan Check’s innovative menu and daily specials have made it a huge success in a tough restaurant town. spoke with Uchimura about the brand.


I’ve heard Plan Check Kitchen + Bar described as a gastropub, a burger bar and a pub. What did you have in mind originally?
For me it always comes back to comfort foods. So I was looking at comfort foods with a little more modern approach. The concept that developed was just that: A place for modern American comfort food: burgers, chicken, pot roast.

Yours all have twists, like duck breast ham with your Southern Fry chicken. How hard did you work to make sure your food wasn’t like everyone else’s?
Extremely. Los Angeles has a lot of competition; there are many great restaurants. And really it’s a national stage: Your food gets compared to other restaurants across the country. With that in mind, I wanted to do something that sticks out and is interesting and that fulfills my creative urges. But I want it to be approachable, too.

You walk a tightrope between trying to get national acclaim and having commercial success. Click here to continue reading Plan Check Charts Its Growth Path

Wendy’s Rolls Out Pulled Pork Menu

Wendys_PulledPorkMenuTrioWendy’s finally has let the pig out of the pen, introducing nationally the pulled-pork dishes it began testing early this year and has been quietly adding in many markets over the past month.

Wendy’s comes close to busting the traditional $5 ceiling on QSR sandwiches with the new BBQ Pulled Pork Cheeseburger. Priced at $4.99, it’s a Wendy’s beef patty topped with hickory-smoked pulled pork, a slice of Cheddar cheese and crunchy slaw on a brioche bun. Diners have their choice of  Sweet, Smoky or Spicy barbecue sauces as accompaniments.

Also joining the menu is a $4.49 BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich that omits the beef patty. Finally, the $2.99 BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries start with Wendy’s Natural-Cut Fries and add on warm Cheddar cheese sauce, hickory-smoked pulled pork, diced red onion and one of the three barbecue sauces.

The BBQ Pulled Pork Cheese Fries are the most innovative of the new items, although the Canadian chain Harvey’s Pulled Pork Poutine comes close. In June 2012, Burger King introduced its Memphis BBQ Pulled Pork Sandwich. Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s added the Memphis BBQ Thickburger in August 2012 and a Texas BBQ Burger topped with barbecued brisket earlier this year. Red Robin in June promoted a smoked-brisket-topped Colossus Burger and White Castle has done a BBQ Pulled Pork Slider LTO.

The Pork Board says pork was the fastest-growing protein in the foodservice industry in 2012 and 2013, citing Technomic’s Volumetric Assessment of Pork in Foodservice research. A record-breaking 9.25 billion pounds of pork sold were through foodservice in 2013, an increase of 462 million pounds since 2011. The board says that growth exceeds the foodservice growth of all other proteins over that period.

Jack in the Box Targets Millennials

Jack in the Box today will launch a Jack’s Munchie Peel instant-win game promotion that it believes will resonate more strongly with Millennials than collect-all-the-pieces games…like, for example, the Monopoly game McDonald’s is preparing to begin next Tuesday (9/30).

Instant-win stickers are on Munchie Meal boxes.

Instant-win stickers are on Munchie Meal boxes.

Jack’s instant-win stickers are attached to the purple-boxed Munchie Meals it sells only between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. Millennials are heavily represented in this daypart, which has been a driver of positive same-store sales since the special late-night-only menu was introduced a year ago. One in four stickers is an instant winner. Prizes include Neff apparel; Fandango movie tickets; flights on Southwest Airlines; music downloads; gas cards; and custom Jack in the Box snowboards and skateboards. For everyone 21 or over there also is a second chance to enter to win the grand prize: A two-night VIP experience for four in Las Vegas at the Hard Rock Hotel’s MTV Real World Suite.

“Millennials really are the core of our late-night strategy,” Jennifer Kennedy, Jack’s director of innovation and social engagement, told in an interview. “Whether they’re studying late or working a night shift they’ve been pivotal to the late-night daypart. So we wanted an instant-win game that appealed to them. We know that Millennials like to make a game of things, whether participating in online video games or through social networks or being the first to do or know or own something. We made Jack’s Munchie Peel simple: You peel; you win.” Click here to continue reading Jack in the Box Targets Millennials

White Castle Considers Veggie Sliders

WhiteCastle_VegSlidersContinuing its push to update the brand and innovate on its menu, White Castle is stepping up its interest in Veggie Sliders.

The chain has contacted loyalists by email to ask if a Veggie Slider would appeal to them enough to bring them to a White Castle restaurant. Additionally it is asking consumers to rate the appeal of different spicy topping sauces for the Veggie Sliders, including a Chipotle-Lime and one seasoned with harissa, a Middle Eastern chile blend.  Veggie Sliders with no sauce also is an option.

White Castle said in July that it was testing the Veggie Sliders with Avocado Ranch Sauce (at r.) at 99¢ each in a handful of New York and New Jersey stores. The company said then that the 180-calorie patty is vegan and supplied by Dr. Praeger’s Sensible Foods. The current email survey about spicy sauces suggests test-market diners may have found the Veggie Sliders a bit bland.

With 2013 sales of $533 million, White Castle is the 13th largest burger chain, according to Technomic. It also is one of the oldest, having opened its first location in 1921. But the chain has been working hard to be contemporary in operations and menu. It has introduced an online ordering mobile app, for example. Click here to continue reading White Castle Considers Veggie Sliders

BK Undercuts Monopoly in Australia

HungryJack_Flame2Burger King Corp. says it won’t use guerrilla marketing tactics to undercut McDonald’s Monopoly promotion in the U.S. as it is doing in Australia.

McDonald’s revived its Monopoly game in Australia on September 9 with a promise that 1 in every 5 game pieces is an instant winner (primarily of food items such as Big Macs and fries). But Hungry Jack’s (the name under which Burger King operates in Australia) has responded with a “Flame Their McOpoly” campaign. The offer: Redeem your free-food winners with us instead of at McDonald’s.

A McDonald’s Monopoly game piece winner for a Free Cheeseburger can be exchanged for a free BBQ Cheeseburger at Hungry Jack’s, for example. A Free Beef Burger game piece gets the holder a free Whopper Jr.

A Burger King Worldwide spokesperson says the chain has no plans to launch a similar tactic in the U.S. to disrupt McDonald’s pending Monopoly promotion. McDonald’s announced plans for a Pre-Promotion Sweepstakes to run this week, with the full Monopoly game launching next week (9/30).

Hungry Jack’s also is countering McDonald’s promotion with the launch of a new Cheeseburger Collection menu. It includes a Hashbrown Cheeseburger and a Rodeo Cheeseburger topped with onion rings.

Monopoly Returns to McDonald’s 9/23

McD_Monoply2014500McDonald’s goes to the McWell one more time tomorrow, kicking off another round of its Monopoly game promotion. Actually, a Pre-Promotion Sweepstakes lasts for one week beginning September 23, with the full Monopoly game set to launch on September 30. Menus are not the only thing that McDonald’s is capable of over-complicating.

For the Pre-Promotion Sweepstakes, consumers are urged to Like McDonald’s on Facebook or follow it on Twitter because a special free Code will be given via those channels. Go from social media to for a chance to win $10,000.

With full-tilt Monopoly, consumers can win $1,000,000 (payable as $50,000 per year over 20 years) or one of several new prizes, including a Dream Trip through Delta Vacations, a Beaches Resorts vacation, a Cessna Private Jet Trip (destination to be determined) and $2,500 with a smartphone equipped with Mobile Wallet. The Free Parking game piece could be worth $100,000.

There may never have been more pressure to succeed than this version of Monopoly carries. A year ago, U.S. same-store sales were up +0.7% thanks to Monopoly as well as the Mighty Wings launch. Since then the largest restaurant chain in the world has had difficulty posting positive quarterly reports for U.S. sales. For August, U.S. comp sales were -3.7%, the worst decline in more than a decade. McDonald’s would gladly take a 0.7% gain for September and/or October.

Not in New Zealand, you don't.

Not in New Zealand, you don’t.

Last October, McDonald’s Corp. President-CEO Don Thompson lauded Monopoly as a way to focus attention on core classic menu items such as the Big Mac or Chicken McNuggets. Further,  it “drives traffic and builds average check while also engaging customers in a fun and familiar game experience that’s only available at McDonald’s,” Thompson told analysts then. The company certainly is hoping that Monopoly can work that kind of business magic one more time.


New Zealand’s Commercial Approvals Bureau has said, “No, no, never, never” to Carl’s Jr.’s suggestive TV commercial for its Texas BBQ Thickburger. The “I Love Texas” spot—with model Hannah Ferguson wearing a black-leather sorta swimsuit and sudsing up a grimy truck in a barn plus a special cameo by Paris Hilton—won’t be seen on TV in New Zealand. Of course, every young Kiwi worth his Thickburger has already seen the spot on YouTube a few times and has been irrevocably corrupted.McD_France_Normand


In February 2011, McDonald’s gained credence in France for its commitment to local food sourcing when it launched a snack-size burger made with local Charolais beef. Now the chain is back with not one but two more French cattle breeds.

As part of a “Les Viandes de Nos Regions” (Our Regional Meats) campaign, McDonald’s has created a full-size Charolais burger and introduced another burger made with Normande beef from Normandy; a third with Montbéliard beef from the region of that name; and finally one with Limousin beef.

McD_Denmark_BigCiabatta1The “Le  Normand” burger has French Emmental cheese, lettuce and mustard sauce and is served on a new cross-hatched bun. The “Le Montbéliard” has an onion sauce instead. “Le Limousin” has bearnaise sauce.


Speaking of buns, McDonald’s continues to explore alternatives, at least overseas. In Denmark the chain introduced Big Ciabatta burgers (beef or chicken) on ciabatta rolls not seen here. These have bacon, Monterey Jack cheese, lettuce, tomato, red pepper, grilled onions and a peppery barbecue sauce.

In Spain it introduced “Los Irresistibles”: The double-patty Little Italy and Soho BBQ burgers on seeded buns. Marketing materials describe the latter burger as a “delicious combination of flavors from one of the most cosmopolitan and creative neighborhoods: Soho.” McDonald’s love for naming overseas menu items after New York City neighborhoods continues as well.

McDonald’s Feeds iPhone 6 Appetites

McDonald’s is taking good care of new friend Apple Inc. Representatives of the burger chain were up before dawn today to provide apple pies and apple slices (along with shirts, sunglasses and phone accessories) to early adopters lined up in the dark at Apple stores in Chicago and New York. The iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus were going on sale when the stores opened at 8 a.m.

Mcd_Apple1McDonald’s hopes everyone snaps up an iPhone 6 since it announced last week that it will accept Apple Pay—the new mobile payment system that works with the new iPhone 6s and Apple Watch—at all U.S. restaurants beginning next month. Customers keep a finger on the iPhones 6’s Touch ID and hold their devices near a contactless NFC (near field communication) reader to pay for a meal inside at counters or at drive-thrus. McDonald’s says its operators “invested in the NFC technology for restaurant point-of-sale systems as part of the company’s digital strategy and commitment to customers’ emerging needs.”

“Apple Pay enhances our global digital strategy and is a win for McDonald’s customers who desire greater speed and ease,” Atif Rafiq, McDonald’s SVP-global chief digital officer, said in a statement announcing the partnership. “Apple’s transformative mobile payments service brings a new level of convenience to McDonald’s customers, allowing them to instantly pay and stay, or pay and be on their way. Our support of mobile payment options further demonstrates our commitment to be an influential leader in the retail digital space.”

In June, Rafiq, who previously had held senior posts at Amazon and Yahoo, opened a McDonald’s corporate office in downtown San Francisco, a move that raised eyebrows about its intentions. At the time, Rafiq told Ad Age that the office provided a way to recruit digital-skilled employees and “a way for us to be more plugged into the flow of ideas.” Especially those from Apple, with which it already had been in contact.

Rafiq told Mashable that McDonald’s is responding to a market need for faster service and easier transactions via smartphones, which 85% of the key Millennial audience own. “It’s the new expectation for consumers,” he told Mashable’s Todd Wasserman. “It’s frictionless and gives a lot more power to the customer.”

Wasserman, however, sees the potential for friction from Android smartphone users, who outnumber iPhone users two to one. Rafiq says McDonald’s system will be able to handle Google Wallet and other NFC payment plans.

It’s National Cheeseburger Day: Celebrate Wisely

NatlCheeseburgerDayEvery day is a good day for a burger, of course, but today is National Cheeseburger Day. Like my birthday, this isn’t being celebrated universally, but many burger joints have special plans to honor the day. Among them:

Bar 145's 10-pounder

Bar 145′s 10-pounder

Bar 145 in Toledo, Ohio, will serve a 10-lb. Americana Burger that serves 20 to 25. Advance orders were required. For those with just one friend, Bar 145 also offers a buy-one-get-one on its Stack Your Own burgers.

The Fuddruckers chain has a challenge, too: Finish its 3–lb. burger and 1–lb. side of fries (with bottomless Coke, of course) in one hour and you’ll receive two free meals, one free t-shirt and “undeniable respect.”

Bad Daddy’s Burger Bar locations celebrate with a special $8 Combo: 1/3-lb. Backyard Burger, fries with Bad Daddy’s Sauce and a small Apple Pie Shake. As a special recognition of the day, Bad Daddy’s has agreed to share the recipe for its Buttermilk Fried Bacon with readers. Get it here.

Wayback's Triple Triple

Wayback’s Triple Triple

The 80-location Wayback Burgers chain hosts its Triple Triple Burger Eating Contest. That’s its famous nine-patty burger. Whichever customer polishes off its famous nine-patty burger fastest today wins $3,330.

Chicago’s Rockit Bar & Grill is serving a special Double Black Angus burger with Gouda, Matilda Beer Mustard and bacon sauerkraut on a pretzel bun, served with house-made Yukon fries and curry ketchup for $13. Sister restaurant Botttlefork serves its signature Bottlefork Burger with fries and a house-made soda for $20.

Classic Cheeseburgers are just $5 all day at Philadelphia’s PYT. Add a PBR for just $1. While you’re there, you also might want to sample PYT’s new Bacon Cheeseburger D’oh Nut. That’s a warm glazed donut filled with delicious bacon cheeseburger and topped with bacon sprinkles. Click here to continue reading It’s National Cheeseburger Day: Celebrate Wisely