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Michael Symon’s Fat Doug Wins Burger Bash

Michael Symon's Fat Doug

Michael Symon’s Fat Doug

Brad Halsten's Blackened Sabbath

Brad Halsten’s Blackened Sabbath

Perhaps it’s the slaw. Or the signature ShaSha Sauce. Or that the patty is made with equal parts ground sirloin, brisket and short rib that’s grilled and topped with pastrami, Swiss, that Napa cabbage slaw and that vinegary sauce. All those elements make up the Fat Doug Burger that Michael Symon menus at his B Spot restaurants, and this year the burger was judged the best at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival’s Burger Bash. It was Symon’s fourth win in five years: Fellow Food Network chef/personality Bobby Flay won the People’s Choice award last year, ending a three-year Symon reign. But this year it was Symon again.

Shake Shack’s BurgerMeister cheeseburger topped with crispy beer-marinated shallots and Shack Sauce won the Bash’s Judges’ Award. Judges were more Food Network personalities (Anne Burrell, Geoffrey Zakarian and Trisha Yearwood) plus Travel Channel’s Andrew Zimmern. No actual burger-joint operators were asked to judge.

The night’s dark-horse winner was Chef Brad Halsten of The Burger Dive in Billings, Mont. His Blackened Sabbath burger with blackened spice, bacon, beer-battered onion ring, garlic-basil mayo, goat cheese and arugula with Sriracha was named winner of the Best of the Bash award. That honor is given by the Red Robin chain, which pledged to use Chef Halsten’s burger—no doubt with a different name—as inspiration for a future burger in it premium Finest line (just as it did last year with Chef Laurent Tourondel’s winning Smash Smoke Burger). Halsten also took home a check for $10,000.

If you’re contemplating mounting a Burger Bash promotion at your joint, the list of Burger Bash contenders and the burgers they served follows. If you want the recipe for Michael Symon’s Fat Doug, go here. Enjoy.

4 Rivers Smokehouse, Winter Park, Fla.
Irish Brisket Burger
Brisket burger topped with corned beef, caramelized onions and special sauce
Side: Fried dill pickles

Good Stuff Eatery's Coletti Smokehouse

Good Stuff Eatery’s Coletti Smokehouse

5 Napkin Burger, New York City
The PTF Burger
Fresh ground beef topped with butter-roasted Portobello mushrooms, truffle mayo and fontina cheese
Side: Onion rings

The Blue Ox, Lynne, Mass.
Sin Burger
Prime beef, applewood-smoked bacon, Swiss cheese, truffle aïoli, lettuce and tomato on brioche bun

B Spot, Cleveland
The Fat Doug Burger
Burger with coleslaw, pastrami, aged Havarti and stadium mustard
Side: Sweet and hot pickles

Biscayne Tavern, Miami
Tavern Burger
Lettuce, tomato, purple onion, bread & butter pickle chips, house-made rémoulade on a Martin’s potato roll
Side: Grilled Portobello caps Click here to continue reading Michael Symon’s Fat Doug Wins Burger Bash

How Jack in the Box Owned Late Night

The “King of Late Night” isn’t Jimmy Kimmel, David Letterman, Conan O’Brien, Jimmy Fallon Seth Meyers or Arsenio Hall. It’s Jack.

Jack in the Box today announced strong sales for its first fiscal quarter, ended Jan. 19, 2014, and credited the branding of its late-night daypart for half the 1.9% gain in same-store store sales. Breakfast contributed the other half.

Late night “has been an equity for us over a long time. What you’re seeing now is us owning it,” said Chairman-CEO Lenny Comma during today’s earnings call with analysts.

It's own name and packaging make Munchie Meals an experience.

Their own name and packaging make Munchie Meals an experience.

Late night (9 p.m. to 5 a.m.) accounted for 15.3% of Jack in the Box sales in fiscal 2013, but only with last September’s “Munchie Meals” rollout did it stop just being open late and begin to treat late night as something different, said Chairman-CEO Lenny Comma. “We were the first to establish equity in the late-night marketplace but we didn’t reinforce that with consumers,” he said. The new menu and marketing for the overnight hours changed that. “It was our way to say, ‘You know who we are at late-night. You’ve always known who we are at late night. We’re doubling down.’ ”

The “Munchie Meal” campaign worked well because “we branded the restaurant experience.” With items such as the recently introduced Bacon Insider burger, the buzz is all product news. But the late-night effort “was about the entire experience and not just the product,” Comma said.

“We’ve got everything from new packaging and new products to lighting and music that take place during that daypart. And we really are trying to get those folks that are out and are looking for that 24-hour business that they can frequent during the times of night when they’re out having a great time.,” he said.

The late-night Munchie Meal line is available only between 9 p.m. and 5 a.m. It has its own distinctive packaging, which separates it from other dayparts and helps make it a special experience. The $6 meals include a Stacked Grilled Cheese, Exploding Cheesy Chicken sandwich, Loaded Nuggets and Brunch Burger, each served with two tacos, a half order of curly fries and a 20-oz. fountain drink. The late-night meals are not available all day, unlike the rest of its menu.

Source: Jack in the Box

Source: Jack in the Box

Comma said breakfast also drove Jack in the Box’s sales during the quarter. The chain promoted several morning items including a new Turkey & Egg White Breakfast Sandwich, adoption of Southern-Style Biscuits and a “2 for $3” deal on breakfast sandwiches. It also promoted two LTO burgers: the Jalapeňo BBQ Burger and Fajita Ranch Melt. Comma said the chain intends to continuing balancing its menu mix with lower- and higher-cost items.

Jack in the Box’s average check was $6.75 for the quarter, compared with $6.52 a year earlier. Menu pricing was up 2.6% vs. year-ago but much of that increase had been taken earlier in the fiscal year.

QSR magazine’s 2013 Drive-Thru Performance Study pegged the average Jack in the Box drive-thru transaction at 234 seconds, far slower than winner Wendy’s 134 seconds. Comma said new equipment and better training should be able to reduce Jack in the Box’s time by 60 seconds.

“About half of that will come by improving the outlier restaurants to be more in line with our faster-running units, and the other half minute will really come from process re-engineering, which will include some equipment that should both speed up cook times and extend hold times,” he said. “We’re actively testing new equipment and procedural changes that are yielding positive results.”

Comma made an interesting comment about its Qdoba fast-casual Mexican chain, which had a same-stores increase of 2.3% for the quarter. “We won’t be able to differentiate Qdoba on the basis of food quality” because food quality is a given among fast-casual players, he said. Instead it will need to occupy a space “based on other cue the brand gives off.” This isn’t true among QSR burgers, where food quality remains uneven and can be a selling point and a differentiator.

McDonald’s Fancies Chicken Schnitzel in Australia

McDonald’s will relaunch its “M Selections” premium tier to its menu in Australia next month when it unveils new Chicken Schnitzel sandwiches on sourdough, a breakfast burger and brands it all with distinctive black packaging. A second phase to the campaign in late March will see the return of the Angus the Great burger and a recasting of the entire Angus line.

McDonald's introduced the "M Selections" tier in Australia in 2009.

McDonald’s introduced the “M Selections” tier in Australia in 2009.

The upscale “M Selections” category was created in November 2009 and included the recently introduced premium-price Grand Angus, Mighty Angus, Chicken Deluxe, Chicken Bacon Deluxe, Chicken Tandoori Wrap and others. Marketing used the tagline “It’s a little bit fancy.” This came at a time McDonald’s also was adding upscale menu items in Europe, such as France’s “Le M” and Germany’s “Der M” burgers on fancy rolls.

But in 2011, when Australia added an Angus the Third burger, the “M Selections” name was missing and it has been used only occasionally since. The ad tag, meanwhile, morphed into “Not schmancy, just a little bit fancy.” The original “It’s a little bit fancy” advertising tag will accompany the return of the “M Selections” name on March 5. DDB Sydney handles McDonald’s in Australia.

Next month will be the first time McDonald’s has branded the “M Selections” with its own black packaging. The planned rollout next month was confirmed by multiple sources: McDonald’s did not respond to a request for confirmation.

By 2011, the "M Selections" line had grown to six sandwiches.

At its height, the “M Selections” line had grown to six sandwiches.

The new Chicken Schnitzel & Citrus Mayo Roll and Chicken Schnitzel & BBQ Roll sandwiches arriving March 5 aren’t necessarily permanent, but neither do they come with expiration dates. The “fancy” tier’s new Angus & Egg Brekkie breakfast burger will stay on the breakfast menu only until late April. French Toast Fingers will be gone at the beginning of April.

The Chicken Schnitzel & Citrus Mayo sandwich has a breaded chicken patty with lettuce and citrus mayo on a 6-inch (sub-style) sourdough roll. The Chicken Schnitzel & BBQ tops the schnitzel patty with Swiss cheese, lettuce, red onion rings, McChicken Sauce ( a mustardy mayo) and Southern BBQ Sauce on the same long sourdough bun.

The Angus & Egg Brekkie Roll will be McDonald’s first real breakfast burger. It combines an Angus patty, egg, Swiss and McChicken sauce on a kaiser bun.

The Angus the Great was an LTO in 2011. Chicken Bacon Deluxe, which also returns to the menu March 26, was eliminated in the purge of upscale menu items on McDonald’s Australia menu in April 2013. Also dropped then were the Grand Chicken sandwich; Chicken Caesar wraps; and morning items NYC Benedict Bagel, Bakehouse Brekkie Roll and Rösti Brekkie Wrap.

The Angus the Great and Chicken Bacon Deluxe will be built on 4.5-inch bun that now will be used for all existing top-price sandwiches (such as the Grand Angus, Mighty Angus and McChamp premium chicken).

Since it removed the Angus Third Pounders last May, McDonald’s has not had a true high-end burger on its U.S. menu. Executives said in the past that it was possible an Angus burger could return as an LTO.

Looking for Burgers at Beard’s Best New Restaurants

The dining economy must be improving because many of the 30 semi-finalists for the James Beard Foundation’s 2014 “Best New Restaurant” honor are the sorts of high-end seafood or tasting-menu restaurants that struggled and often disappeared during the recession. Not surprisingly, there are more kimchee-inspired stews and tastefully grilled branzino on menus here than there are burgers, but burgers are not completely shut out.

The Cavalier, San Francisco

The Cavalier, San Francisco

At San Francisco’s The Cavalier, for example, Executive Chef Jennifer Puccio spotlights such dishes as Ale-Brined Berkshire Pork Loin but she isn’t afraid to also include a Blue Bar Burger ($16) with English Cheddar, tomato chutney, mustard and “thrice-cooked chips.” Down the coast at stylish Connie and Ted’s in West Hollywood, the seafood-focused menu makes room for a Hook Burger and Bacon Hook Burger ($15), the latter with Neuske’s bacon.

I had little hope of finding a burger menued at a restaurant called Izanami at Ten Thousand Waves, but I was wrong. The Santa Fe restaurant’s $14 Nami Burger is a 6-oz. Wagyu beef patty with caramelized onion, shimeji mushrooms and mizo glaze. MilkWood in Louisville  offers two organic burgers: A beef version with umami ketchup, aged Cheddar, bacon, comeback slaw ($12); and a pork burger with Napa kim-chi, cracklins, Havarti, rémoulade and cilantro ($11).

Like shimeji, pipikaula was an ingredient new to me. It’s a sort of Hawaiian beef jerky and it’s on the $15 Kulana Ranch Burger, along with avocado salsa, served at lunch at MW in Honolulu. There’s nothing mysterious about the $13 Grilled Cheeseburger American with American cheese, lettuce, onion, pickle, mayo and mustard offered at brunch, lunch and dinner at Pinewood Social in Nashville.

The remaining 24 semi-finalists for “Best New Restaurant”:
The 404 Kitchen, Nashville

Connie & Ted's, West Hollywood, Calif.

Connie & Ted’s, West Hollywood, Calif.

Aragona, Seattle
Ardent, Milwaukee
Asta, Boston
Bar Sajor, Seattle
Betony, New York City
Brindille, Chicago
Carbone, New York City
Casa Rubia, Dallas
Chi Spacca, Los Angeles
Coqueta, San Francisco
The Elm, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Estela, New York City
Fish & Game, Hudson, N.Y.
Laurel, Philadelphia
Nico Osteria, Chicago
Pêche, New Orleans
Ribelle, Brookline, Mass.
Rose’s Luxury, Washington, D.C.
Serpico, Philadelphia
Tosca Cafe, San Francisco
Trois Mec, Los Angeles
Uncle Boons, New York City
Virtù, Scottsdale, Ariz.

Where Burgers, Cargo Containers & Kickstarter Intersect

British restaurateur Tom Reaney is seeking to raise £30,000 (roughly $50,117) through online-funding platform Kickstarter to transform his Burger Bear pop-up burger stand into one permanently housed in two stacked used cargo containers. The project will be funded if the total is raised by March 14, 2014.

The Black Forest Bear burger was a London Burger Bash winner.

The Black Forest Bear burger was a London Burger Bash winner.

According to the Kickstarter page, the restaurant—which will be located in the Shoreditch district in London’s East End—will be unlike any other burger joint in the city. “Expect panoramic views of Red Market and its street art from the glass-walled overhanging upper container. The vibe? Down and dirty street food, as ever. You can still take away like the good old days. And if you care to linger—downstairs or up—it’s a high-stalled, neon-lined, diner-style PARADISE! (the Burger Bear kind).” In addition to the disco vibe there will be craft beers and cocktails.

“The interior will be built largely from second-hand, reclaimed materials, by volunteers, so it’s as sustainable and cheap to do as feasibly possible,’ according to the Kickstarter page. A “gigantic spinning burger” is envisioned atop the containers.

The stand’s menu includes a namesake Burger Bear classic cheeseburger; Angry Bear with  jalapeňo relish and hot sauce; and Grizzly Bear with bacon and the restaurant’s signature Bacon Jam (which it sells). A larger menu for the proposed container restaurant will have more burgers and Chicago all-beef hot dogs.

Burger Bear, opened in mid-2012, also is known for accepting payment in bitcoins digital currency, which it began doing last November. In January, the Wall Street Journal reported that one in five Burger Bear customers were using bitcoins to buy their burgers.

Although certainly not common, other restaurants have been fashioned from shipping containers. Among them are El Rey in Washington, D.C., and Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria, British Columbia.

Premium Burger Lifts Red Robin

Red Robin Gourmet Burgers’ results for Q4 and 2013 weren’t smoke and mirrors; they were Smoke & Pepper. The chain said the success of the premium-price Smoke & Pepper Signature Burger—the first of a planned Finest burger line—contributed significantly to the Q4 results. Comp sales were up 3.7% for Q4 and up 4% for the year. Guest counts were off 1.4% in the quarter but average check was up 5.1%.

CEO Steve Carley said Smoke & Pepper contributed about half the positive shift in menu mix the chain saw in Q4. An increase in alcohol sales share to 8% and better appetizer sales accounted for the other half.

RedRobin_SmokePepper_New2Introduced in November, the half-pound Black Angus Smoke & Pepper burger is priced at $13.49, about 30% above its main Gourmet tier and nearly double the $6.99 for the value-tier Tavern Double burger. Smoke & Pepper already accounts for 5% of sales, said CMO Denny Post. “Trial has been so strong and guest response has been so strong” that the Finest category will do well with or without ad support, she said.

Post said three potential new Finest burgers are in test. As reported earlier, the burger that wins Red Robin’s Best of the Bash award at this month’s South Beach Wine & Food Festival likely will be adapted as a Finest. The Smoke & Pepper burger was inspired by Chef Laurent Tourondel’s award winner at last year’s festival.

The chain said it is adjusting its Burger Works fast-casual concept, introducing a “2.0” version in Fort Collins, Colo. This includes changes in menu, kitchen and interior design that make Burger Works “more closely aligned with the Red Robin brand.”

Red Robin expects to open five Burger Works this year including units in Chicago and the District of Columbia. The company expects to open 20 Red Robin locations as well.

CFO Stuart Brown said that despite the current spike in beef prices Red Robin intends to take only a 1% price increase this year. Red Robin is willing to sacrifice some margin to increase value for guests, he said.

BK’s 2013: Smarter If Not Richer

Burger King Worldwide CEO Daniel Schwartz called 2013 “an important year” but it wasn’t a great one. Diluted earnings per share rose 22.4% yet the key indicators of restaurant performance were shaky. Globally, Burger King reported a 1.7% increase in comp sales for Q4 and a 0.5% increase for the year. Comp sales for North America were positive in Q4 for the first time but ended the year down 0.9%.

Source Burger King Worldwide

Source Burger King Worldwide

Year-to-date comp sales for 2014 have been in the red, Schwartz said, citing weather and competitive activities for the negative results.

Burger King’s global increase was slightly better than the 0.2% increase in 2013 comp sales reported by rival McDonald’s Corp. Schwartz and North America President Alex Macedo stressed that its new menu products did not result in “operational complexity.” A Burger King spokesman says that phrase was  “not intended to be in response to any comments by competitors.” This site earlier suggested that it might have been an echo of McDonald’s COO Tim Fenton’s remark last month that it had “created a lot of complexity” and overcomplicated its menu last year.

Of course, Burger King was the master of menu complexity until, as Macedo conceded today, it “got smarter about balancing the menu.” That happened after Q2 when Burger King’s U.S. sales were down 0.5% after dropping 3% the previous quarter. That was when Burger King said it was stepping back from its habit of introducing a bushel of new menu products at once.

Offers like the recent Tropical Burger line have boosted Hungry Jack's sales in Australia.

Offers like the recent Tropical Burger line have boosted Hungry Jack’s sales in Australia.

Since then it has pursued a “fewer but more impactful” menu strategy. “We keep it simple at the restaurant level” by adding products that are “easy for customers to assimilate” and easy for crew to prepare, Macedo said. Putting four fries 0n a burger to create a $1 BK Fry Burger certainly isn’t a challenge. But it also has added Satisfries, the recently enlarged Big King and the $1 BK Rib Sandwich, all of which Schwartz said have driven sales and customer traffic.

Excess still rules in some markets: Burger King’s Taiwan operations recently created the Super Deluxe BBQ Bacon Whopper with a beef patty topped with a split sausage, ham and bacon. Such creativity works: Burger King’s Asia/Pacific operations posted a 6.2% increase in comp sales for Q4 and 4.1% for the year (coming off a -0.5% performance the previous year). South Korea and the Hungry Jack’s operation in Australia were particularly strong.

Burger King remodeled 600 restaurants in 2013 and 30% of its system has been refreshed. The average cost was $300,000 to $350,000, but the ROI was solid: an average sales uplift of 10% to 15% (although the company did not say how long the uplift lasts).

At year-end, Burger King’s nearly 100%-franchised network included 13,667 restaurants, a 670 increase. North America continued to shrink with a net reduction of 40 stores to close with 7,436 units.

Burger King Beefs Up Big King

Big King, the double-decker burger that Burger King revived in November as a Big Mac lookalike, is getting bigger. Now it’s the size of a Quarter Pounder.

The original Big King

The original Big King

Burger King announces on Feb. 11 that it has beefed up the Big King so that its two patties now total a quarter-pound of beef. The rest of the build is lettuce, onions and signature King Sauce on a three-layer toasted sesame-seed bun.

The price—$3.69—stays as it was despite the added weight. Also continuing are the “Two for $5” mix-and-match offers that Burger King has used to promote the Big King, Spicy Original Chicken Sandwich, Original Chicken Sandwich and Alaskan Fish Sandwich.

If the expansion to quarter-pound size was meant to be another jab at McDonald’s, it comes when the leader already is smarting and sensitive to criticism. Earlier today McDonald’s Corp. announced global comparative sales of +1.2% for January thanks to strong performances in Europe and Asia. In the U.S., however, last month’s lousy weather helped produce lousy results: a sharp -3.3% decline in same-store sales.