Julie Knudson

History in the Making

Historic buildings bring challenges, rewards for quick-serve operators.
Quick service restaurants build out historic sites for charming sense of place.
The log cabin housing the Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que location in Breckenridge, Colorado, was an assayer’s cabin built in 1881.

Built in 1881, the log cabin housing the Moe’s Original Bar-B-Que location in Breckenridge, Colorado, has seen its fair share of action.

“As I understand it, it was the assayer’s cabin for the town,” says John Rediker, a partner at the Breckenridge unit. Precious metals extracted from the mines were brought in for weighing and valuation, keeping the area’s financial scene humming, he says.

Today, however, the cabin is seeing a new kind of action: The site complements Moe’s Southern-style barbecue with a side of rustic charm.

All’s Fair in Summer Foodservice

With summer approaching, quick-serve operators are preparing to go where their customers go in an effort to boost seasonal revenue. For some brands, that means setting up shop at fairs and other summer festivals, which offer exposure to potential new customers and room for creativity with menu development and marketing.

“People are walking around with a handful of money, and they want to give it to you,” says Carey Risinger, senior vice president of foodservice at the State Fair of Texas.

The Name Game

With constant pressure to churn out innovative menu items, some quick serves are protecting and marketing unique creations through trademarks, which, while tricky to obtain, have paid off handsomely for many owners and operators.

At Austin, Texas­–based Schlotzsky’s, a trademarked sandwich known as The Original is the brand’s best-selling item.

“Our concept started with one sandwich, one size, in one shop, 43 years ago,” says Kelly Roddy, Schlotzsky’s president. “It is named and trademarked The Original, which really identifies it as that sandwich we started with.”

Taking Local to the Next Level

Today’s consumers want to know where their food is coming from and are hungry for local foods. In the National Restaurant Association’s (NRA) “What’s Hot in 2014 Culinary Forecast,” which surveys U.S. chefs, locally grown meats and seafood and locally grown produce were the No. 1 and No. 2 trends for this year, respectively.

Now some restaurants, including quick serves, are taking local sourcing to the next level. The NRA’s “What’s Hot” survey found that hyper-local sourcing—or foods sourced from the restaurant’s premises—ranked as the sixth-most popular trend.

When Family Means Business

Though many women dream of striking out on their own in the foodservice industry, others envision working alongside their spouse or launching a new concept with the help of their siblings. For women looking to partner up in a restaurant brand, family members often make great allies: They know what you’re great at and where you could use some help, and they’re not too shy to speak up when you need to hear the truth.

A Family Affair

Like many kids with restaurant-owning parents, Christine Specht worked for the family business, sandwich chain Cousins Subs, while growing up. But then she went off to college to pursue other interests. “My parents were really great like that,” Specht says. “They would always have made a place for me had I wanted to work in the business, but they certainly allowed me to explore my own avenues.”

For those women who do want to stay involved in and even lead their family-owned brand, it takes a lot of dedication, persistence, and sound business sense.

Spill Your Secrets

Some operators find that cookbooks can boost business.

Quick serve chefs like Jeff Rossman are using cookbooks to earn media exposure.
San Diego chef Jeff Rossman's cookbook highlighted recipes from his restaurant, as well as local farms.

Most quick-service operators are secretive about the recipes for their menu items. Some even turn their secrecy into a marketing strength; KFC, for example, is famously tight-lipped about the 11 herbs and spices in its Original Recipe fried chicken.

Other companies, however, have found that recipe transparency in the form of cookbooks can draw in more customers and even build a unique brand positioning.

How to Tap Into the Mom Network

Legions of moms are blogging—4 million of them in the U.S. alone, says Wendy Hirschhorn, CEO of New York City–based Wendy’s Bloggers, an organization that connects marketers with bloggers. But even though these bloggers wield significant influence with other moms, quick serves have not yet used the group to its fullest potential. “They don’t get to [cover] many restaurants, and that’s something they would all love to do,” Hirschhorn says of the bloggers in her network.

In the Know

Many women who reach the upper ranks of foodservice leadership owe much of their progress to supporters who have advocated for them over the years. And as more women strive to advance in the industry, they’re finding that these supporters—what the Women’s Foodservice Forum (WFF) calls sponsors—and all they have to offer may be key to success.