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Johnny Rockets Eyes Retail as ‘Lifestyle Brand’

Johnny Rockets toasters or steak knives? It’s possible. The California-based chain has announced a new Johnny Rockets At Home program that will extend its brand to retail freezers, housewares, music and more. Orlando-based The Blackwood Group will represent the brand for licensing. This comes shortly after Johnny Rockets announced four new Route 66 prototypes for its restaurants, including a drive-in-movie concept, a drive-thru concept, a food truck and a mobile pop-up restaurant. A fast-casual Johnny Rockets Express concept also is part of its emergence as a “lifestyle brand.” BurgerBusiness.com spoke with James Walker, Johnny Rockets’ chief development officer, about the ambitious plans.

You’ve been so active, moving the brand into several new arenas. Is there a danger you will dilute the Johnny Rockets brand?
That’s an interesting phenomenon with Johnny Rockets. We have brand awareness that I would say, arguably, is more like what you would see with a brand with 2,000+ restaurant locations. So we have phenomenal brand awareness but our footprint is still quite small. We’re 330 stores and we have rabid fans in our customers base. So I would say we’re a long way way from the dilution problem.Johnny Rockets At Home

It’s something we talk about, certainly. With the new concepts, the CPG [consumer package goods] products, we’re making sure that we’re making long-term, wise decisions now to avoid that. But that’s not going to be a daily concern for some time. We have lot of brand space.

Does the Johnny Rockets At Home program involve more than just food?
It does. When you think of Johnny Rockets, the things that jump into most people’s minds are going to be our burgers, our chili cheese fries, our shakes. But we’re a lifestyle: We’re fun, we’re entertainment, we’re music. I guess you could call us retro. So hard goods like center-of-the-table items themed after Johnny Rockets, small appliances or things that carry on that heritage of music and fun make sense for the brand. Click here to continue reading Johnny Rockets Eyes Retail as ‘Lifestyle Brand’

McDonald’s Adding BYO Kiosks in Australia

McDonald’s is testing next-generation technology for build-your-own burgers that it plans to install throughout Australia over the next 12 months.

A McDonald's exec shows "A Current Affair" how the kiosk works.

A McDonald’s exec shows “A Current Affair” how the kiosk works.

For its BYO testing in Southern California, the chain is using an iPad-size screen mounted to the wall or ordering counter. But in one restaurant in western Sydney, Australia, McDonald’s has installed a tall, standalone touch-screen kiosk at which customers can choose all ingredients for the their burger and pay with a credit card there or with cash at the counter.

Diners can build a “Create Your Taste” custom burger beginning at AU$8.95 (US$7.80), with some add-ons carrying additional charges. Users also can choose to make their order a small or medium Create Your Taste Value Meal with fries and drink for AU$11.45 (US$9.98) or AU$11.95 (US$10.42), respectively.

Customers have the option of brioche or crusty bun or no bun. The next choice is the number of 110 gram (3.9 ounce) Angus patties desired, with additional patties at AU$1 each. Next option is choice of cheese and number of slices, followed by optional bacon, egg or cooked egg toppings (at AU$1 each). Sauces such as barbecue or chipotle mayo can be chosen. Fresh ingredients such as tomato, lettuce and Aussie favorite sliced beets carry no additional charge, but guacamole, grilled mushrooms, grilled pineapple or tortilla strips are each 50¢ additional. Click here to continue reading McDonald’s Adding BYO Kiosks in Australia

Playing Chicken: Burger King Cuts Nuggets Price

Burger King today is slashing the price for a 10-piece serving of its Chicken Nuggets to $1.49, dealing a double blow to McDonald’s, where Chicken McNuggets carry Monopoly game pieces and where “core products” such as McNuggets have been a marketing focus.

BK Nuggets_1.49_400The limited-time offer cuts the price for Burger King’s Nuggets to nearly one-third the $4.29 price for 10 Chicken McNuggets. McDonald’s Dollar Menu & More offers a 20-piece McNuggets for $5, but Burger King now offers that many for just under $3.

Packaging for the 10-piece Chicken McNuggets has two game pieces for McDonald’s recently relaunched Monopoly promotion. The 20-piece McNuggets box has four game pieces. Burger King is betting that consumers will opt to save money rather than try to collect all four railroad pieces once again.

Burger King makes it clear this price cut is a competitive tactic as well as an effort to provide consumers with value. “With the growing consumer demand for chicken menu items, we wanted to offer our guests an aggressive deal rivaling anything our competition has ever done,” Eric Hirschhorn, Chief Marketing Officer, North America, says in a release announcing the price reduction.

10-piece McNuggets have Monopoly game pieces.

10-piece McNuggets have Monopoly game pieces.

During the July 22 Q2 conference call with analysts, McDonald’s President-CEO Don Thompson emphasized that the chain’s rebound depends on traditional products such as McNuggets and Big Macs as well as new menu items. “We need to see baseline improvements in all core products as well as a boost over the baseline based upon the new products that we implement,” Thompson said.

Burger King is having fun tormenting McDonald’s Monopoly game. As reported here earlier, in Australia, where it operates as Hungry Jack’s, Burger King advertised that it would honor Monopoly food-prize winners.

Chicken McNuggets have been an important, iconic menu item for McDonald’s since their introduction nationally in 1983. The chain has fooled with them very little since, although this summer it tested Shakin’ Flavor Chicken McNuggets. Like the Shakin’ Flavor Fries it also has tried, the McNuggets test served them in a bag for shaking with Spicy Buffalo, Garlic Parmesan or Zesty Ranch flavorings.

October Burger of the Month LTOs: Standout Sauces

Amid all the expected Oktoberfest, Thanksgiving and Halloween influences on this month’s Burger of the Month LTOs at burger bars it’s easy to overlook one particular creative channel that many share: sauces.

House-made sauces have become key differentiators for signature burgers that give a menu an identity. They also lend prepared burger builds sophisticated appeal that can withstand the “build your own” push. Why go BYO when you can order one of these October Burger of the Month specials with their distinctive sauces, ingredients and flavors? [The complete list of October BOTMs can be found here.]

Wahlburgers, Hingham, Mass.; Fall Delight Burger: Turkey patty, Vermont Cheddar, roasted butternut squash relish, wilted spinach and warm apple butter.

Wahlburgers' Fall Delight

Wahlburgers’ Fall Delight

Buckeye Beer Engine, Lakewood, Ohio; Fall Harvest Burger: Beer Engine’s own half-pound burger topped with two slices of applewood-smoked bacon, grilled rainbow chard, sweet corn chutney, roasted pumpkin seeds and a sun-dried tomato aïoli. Served on a butter toasted bun and served with house chips and fried pickle.

Slater’s 50/50, Southern California; The Cubano: A 2/3-lb. turkey patty, Swiss cheese, smoked pulled pork, pickled red onion, banana-rum mustard and fresh mint, served on thick sliced sourdough.

Deemer’s American Grill, Laguna Niguel Calif.; Gouda Burger:All-natural Angus beef, smoked Gouda cheese, bacon-onion relish, wild arugula, tomato, and herb aïoli.

Blue Door Pub, St. Paul, Minn.; Hullabalucy: Burger stuffed with sweet-potato mash and blue cheese, topped with maple fluff aïoli, resting upon a smash of sweet potato mash. Click here to continue reading October Burger of the Month LTOs: Standout Sauces

This Week’s Most Intriguing Burgers

Welcome October! September was a bit, well, boring on the burger front so it’s nice to see burger creativity reassert itself. I’ll round up the Burger of the Month specials soon, but here are this week’s most intriguing burgers:

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants in California isn’t known for its burgers but they’re in the Halloween spirit with the $13.99 Frank’N’Burger, which the chain says is “pieced together with the delicious parts of various other burgers, entrees and side dishes.” What you get are a ½-lb. Angus patty, two beef franks, two strips of bacon, a fried egg, American cheese, onion strings, jalapeños, Farrell’s Sauce and a Jacobs Ladder (pickle).

Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlour Restaurants in California isn’t known for its burgers but they’re in the Halloween spirit with the $13.99 Frank’N’Burger, which the chain says is “pieced together with the delicious parts of various other burgers, entrees and side dishes.” What you get are a ½-lb. Angus patty, two beef franks, two strips of bacon, a fried egg, American cheese, onion strings, jalapeños, Farrell’s Sauce and a Jacobs Ladder (pickle).

For everyone who has tried but failed to get a burger joint to make a truly rare burger, Chicago’s DMK Burger Bar presents the Bloody Burger: Steak tartare, Dijon mustard, red onion, cornichons, garlic aïoli, vinegar chips and a fried egg.

For everyone who has tried but failed to get a burger joint to make a truly rare burger, Chicago’s DMK Burger Bar presents the Bloody Burger: Steak tartare, Dijon mustard, red onion, cornichons, garlic aïoli, vinegar chips and a fried egg.















Click here to continue reading This Week’s Most Intriguing Burgers

Restaurants Lose Ad Spending Swagger

Even the millions of dollars McDonald’s spent in Q2 in support of its World Cup sponsorship couldn’t stop the restaurant category’s continued slowdown in advertising spending. Through the first half of 2014, restaurant spending was up just 0.4% (to $3.37 billion) compared with last year’s first half, according to data from Kantar Media. Restaurant spending had been up 1.9% in Q1, so Q2 spending was down sharply.

Decorated fry boxes were central to McDonald's World Cup marketing.

Decorated fry boxes were central to McDonald’s World Cup marketing.

Last year, restaurants were far more bullish, increasing spending by 5.2% while overall U.S. spending was up just 0.9%. This year it lags behind the average: Total U.S. advertising spending during this year’s Q2 slowed to a 0.7% improvement versus a year ago. For the first six months, total U.S. spending was up 3.1%.

Sports had a major affect on where ad funds were directed. Spanish Language TV spending jumped 41.5% in Q2 thanks to three weeks of World Cup coverage at the end of June. Cable TV spending rose 9.3% thanks in part to the World Cup and semi-finals games of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament (on cable for the first time). Network TV ad spending declined 7.2% for the quarter, Kantar reports.

For digital advertising, Kantar measures only display advertising, which was up a healthy 6.2%. For the first half, Internet display advertising spending is up 9.7%, an increase greater than any other media channel except Spanish Language TV.

McDonald’s World Cup marketing did produce a handsome ROI in social media, according to a report in Ad Age. It says McDonald’s ranked fifth among World Cup sponsors with a 36.4% growth in its social communities (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube) during the competition. That’s some consolation for the 3.5% and 3.2% drops in U.S. same-store sales it saw in June and July, respectively, during the World Cup.

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. BurgerBusiness.com 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.