The saying goes that history repeats itself. That might be the case today in the limited-service restaurant industry, as one of the world’s oldest foods, street food, has again risen to prominence in the U.S., with everything from Vietnamese banh mi sandwiches to Italian piadas finding success among American consumers.
Sam Oches is <i>QSR</i>’s editor.
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I came into the quick-service industry working for Tom Monaghan at Domino’s Pizza in 1995. My responsibilities at Domino’s were marketing and product development. I came from a career of marketing and innovation in the grocery industry at Procter & Gamble, Gillette, and Nabisco, and I brought those skills with me to the restaurant industry and helped Domino’s create exciting advertising, promotions, and new products to draw traffic into the restaurants.
The story of the future of the foodservice industry starts with a man, a man who trained to become a chef, a chef who wanted to do things differently. Or maybe it was that all he could afford to do was something different. But in his first restaurant, different is what he did: different service format, different ingredients, different sourcing partners, different idea of what was possible outside of the fine-dining arena.
Today’s so-called “celebrity chef” usually comes with a handful of calling-card resume builders: TV appearances, cookbooks, award nominations, a portfolio of esteemed restaurants. And Chef Rick Bayless, as celebrity a chef as they come, is no different.
I worked at Baskin-Robbins all through high school and all through college, and really got into management. I did everything for the franchisee when I was in college—I ordered product, I hired, I fired, I did payroll. So it really got me into the business and hospitality. I thought it was a lot of fun, and I really enjoyed it.
These days in the quick-service and fast-casual restaurant industries, the Millennial reigns supreme. The coveted demographic, approximately 20–35 in age and roughly 80 million members strong in the U.S., is the all-important target whose liberal tastes and propensity for all things digital and social media has forced the industry into a new era of innovation and transparency.
My dad managed a large catering operation out in eastern Long Island, New York, and I started working for him I think when I was in the eighth grade. Like everyone else, I got started as a dishwasher, and we would cater four weddings every weekend. Eighth grade, I was washing dishes; ninth grade, I was doing some prep work. By the time I got to tenth grade, I was cooking in the kitchen, and by my senior year, I was running the kitchen. I became enamored with the foodservice industry, probably because I watched my father be so successful at it.
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I’ve been a “lifer” with this family business called Chick-fil-A. I started visiting our family restaurant, The Dwarf Grill, nine months before I was born. When we were very young, my dad [Truett Cathy] would take me, my brother, and my sister to the restaurant, where we would not only scrape the chewing gum from the bottom of seats and tables, but we would entertain guests with table-side songs. We were reluctant at first—especially since we had to wear the dwarf costumes that my grandmother made for us—but after a while, people started giving us tips.
I was taught by good people that you can capture magic if you’ve got a wonderful place that attracts really good people who believe in what you do. The thing that really gets me is there are about 1,300 Toppers team members out there today, and by and large, those people are highly engaged and believe that we’re building something special; they’re very passionate about what we’re doing.
Roll tape. Two women behind a cluttered counter smile into the camera, a range of designer outfits framing the wall behind them. They talk of a dream to open a business, a love for their corner of Washington, D.C.
Cut to individual glimpses of two men, one laughing as he sits on an orange leather sofa, the other staring contentedly into the camera, a disheveled artist’s studio enclosing him, paints splashed on the background wall. Voiceovers talk of music, of art, of the investment the community makes into these things.