Call it a reflection of consumers’ growing desire for local fare or their increasing demand for cleaner food with minimal processing and fewer ingredients. But one thing is for sure in foodservice today: What’s old is most decidedly new again.
Both brands and customers are returning to an old-school approach to foodservice, and it’s not just about sourcing local products or crafting menus made with old-world approaches and processes, though that does play a big part. No, it’s a do-it-yourself mindset combined with additional nostalgic factors—authentic soda jerk uniforms at an old-school ice cream parlor, for example, or a seafood concept that still operates in a decades-old seaside shack—that’s separating a growing crop of limited-service concepts from the rest. While simplifying their products and processes by going back to the old-school way of making and serving food, these restaurants are amplifying the dining experience in the most modern way possible.
Here are four brands using traditional approaches to food making, sourcing, branding, and more in a way that’s all at once both old and new.
Beecher’s Handmade Cheese
Locations: Seattle and New York City
Specializes in: Handcrafted cheeses from local dairy sources
For Beecher’s Handmade Cheese founder Kurt Beecher Dammeier, what started as a fondness for cheese that developed while he traveled through Europe in his early 20s blossomed in the early 2000s into a wildly popular destination for Seattle cheese lovers with a taste for artisan creations and handmade varieties with no processed ingredients. Using local dairy sources and traditional cheese-making methods to create each of its cheeses, Beecher’s goes against what Dammeier calls the “commodity Cheddar-ization” that’s become common throughout the foodservice industry.
The cheeses, crafted behind a glass window within each store, are aged for a minimum of 20 months using just two ingredients: milk and bacteria. “We get our flavor naturally by actually aging it for a long time,” Dammeier says. “A lot of cheeses in our world aren’t like that.” Its cheese lineup regularly includes Beecher’s award-winning Flagship cheese, its peppery Marco Polo variety, and its whole-milk Just Jack, alongside a number of other artisan cheeses.
With an old-world, turn-of-the-century-style logo and a store design that gives off distinct vibes of an old general store, Beecher’s brand and products—which include not only the cheese it makes, but also sandwiches and an Oprah Winfrey favorite, Beecher’s World Famous Mac & Cheese—naturally evoke a yester-year feeling for customers, Dammeier says.
By bringing back an age-old, five-step cheese-making process and doing it where customers can watch it happening, he says, Beecher’s hopes to encourage guests to think about where and how all of their food is made. This old-school philosophy in regards to transparency is also the key to building a trusting relationship between the brand and its customers, Dammeier says.
“It’s a full-on demonstration that they can trust us, because we’re making it right in front of them. And I take that very seriously. I think that trust is really the only thing that you have as a brand,” he says. “We operate our company in such a way that says we just never want to breach that trust.”
Location: New Orleans
Specializes in: House-made meats
An offshoot of New Orleans–based Cajun restaurant Cochon, Cochon Butcher has been slicing up old-world magic in its meat shop and wine bar since debuting in early 2009.
“We really wanted to do something of the same caliber as we do in our high-end restaurants in a casual atmosphere,” says Stephen Stryjewski, chef and owner of Cochon Butcher, as well as fine-dining concepts Cochon, Calcasieu, and Pêche Seafood Grill. “Things taste a lot better when you’re using higher-quality ingredients and artisanal methods and highly trained people.”
From the sourcing of grass-fed, heritage-breed pigs to the use of less-refined products and ingredients, the butcher shop’s artisanal, old-school methods appeal to consumers’ increasingly sophisticated tastes and desire to return to the simplicity of the past, Stryjewski says.
The shop, which consists of both a meat counter and a fast-casual dining area, uses entire pigs to create various meat cuts, such as Andouille sausage, chorizo, sopressata, merguez, and more. It also presents guests with an entire menu of café offerings like pork belly sandwiches and Le Pig Mac, a twist on McDonald’s Big Mac made with two pork patties, lettuce, cheese, pickle, onion, and a special sauce on a sesame seed bun.
Stryjewksi says every ingredient in Cochon Butcher, with the exception of canned tomatoes in the winter, is made within the store. For the Reuben sandwich, for example, the butchery uses house-baked marble rye bread, house-made pastrami that’s brined for 10 days and smoked for more than eight hours, sauerkraut made from cabbage that’s fermented for two weeks, and mustard that includes special ingredients like apple cider vinegar, tarragon, and rosemary.
“It just makes a better sandwich when someone has put that much thought and care into it,” he says.
The brand’s customer-service approach is traditional, too. “We really try to concentrate on customer service and try, from the minute people walk in the door, to greet them and have people who work behind the counter selling them meats who are knowledgeable—not only in what they’re selling, but in how to prepare [the meats],” Stryjewski says.
The concept also incorporates small touches like modified table service to instill the level of service that guests were accustomed to in the old days. “People still order at the counter initially and then their food is delivered,” he says. “We’ll leave their checks open, so if they want more cocktails or another round of drinks, we offer that through table service instead of making people get up and get back in line.”