Continue to Site

    The 100 Biggest Stories of 2011

  • The top headlines, trends, and buy-outs in the restaurant industry this year.

    18. McDonald’s Execs Open New Concept

    In October, two former McDonald’s executives launched LYFE Kitchen in Palo Alto, California.

    It’s not what you’d expect from a couple of McDonald’s guys. It’s healthy comfort food, or what Mike Donahue, COO of the brand, describes as “a lifestyle restaurant.” The menu includes frittatas, burritos, salads, and pasta.

    “We cater to energy, balance, and lifestyle,” he says. “Nothing will be over 600 calories or 1,000 mg of sodium. There are no preservatives, no butters, no creams, no GMOs.”

    While large-scale expansion is expected (there are hopes for 250 locations within the first five years), the company has four potential sites earmarked in Northern California. The first stores will be company-owned—“so we have control,” Donahue says—but he hasn’t ruled out franchising down the line.

    19. “I don’t really see any excuse for some of the huge errors we saw. I think it is lax quality control that can be improved now that we have identified [it] as an issue.” —Susan Roberts, lead author of a Tufts University study that found that about 20 percent of tested restaurant menu items had significantly more calories than advertised on menuboards and websites

    20. Buffalo Ranks No. 1 for Restaurant Growth

    In the January “Growth 40” report, Pitney Bowes Business Insight ranked Buffalo, New York, as the top large market for quick-service expansion. Combining data, such as the area’s restaurant landscape, changes and projections in unemployment, retail sales, home prices, and disposable income, the report identified the nation’s top 40 markets poised for quick-service growth.

    Other top 10 large markets were:

    21. Seattle, Washington

    22. Rochester, New York

    23. Portland, Oregon

    24. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

    25. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

    26. Austin, Texas

    27. Houston, Texas

    28. Tucson, Arizona

    29. Boston, Massachusetts

    30. “Where’s the Beef?” Returns

    Wendy’s spent the last year reinventing itself, from selling sister brand Arby’s to Roark Capital to debuting a more modern store prototype. In September, the company took it up another notch by reintroducing its “Where’s the Beef?” catchphrase, which first earned popularity in 1984.

    Securing the new campaign’s appeal was the use of “Modern Family” actor Reid Ewing in the new spot.

    31. Popeyes’ New Dip’n Chick’n

    For a limited time this fall, Popeyes Louisiana Kitchen offered Dip’n Chick’n to diners.

    Never heard of it? You’re not alone. Dip’n Chick’n is an invention of the company’s “culinary dream team.” They’re tender chicken breast “scoop” medallions, which have been marinated in authentic Louisiana herbs and spices, then hand battered and breaded and paired with the company’s new signature dipping sauce.

    32. #BarBQforBaldricks

    Twitter doesn’t always have to be about fun and games. In fact, sometimes Twitter can be used to do much more meaningful things. That’s what North Carolina–based Smithfield’s Chicken ’N Bar-B-Q used it for in March when it supported the St. Baldrick’s organization, which funds research for childhood cancer. The company donated 25 cents to St. Baldrick’s for every tweet that included the #BarBQforBaldricks hashtag on March 5.

    33. Georgia-Pacific Helps Joplin Relief

    Continuing on-going relief efforts for Joplin, Missouri, tornado victims, Georgia-Pacific Professional joined the “airlift of support.” The flight delivered thousands of pounds of Brawny Industrial wipers and towels donated by Georgia-Pacific Professional to help with the clean-up efforts.

    34. The Melt

    Who ever said food and technology don’t go together? Certainly not Jonathan Kaplan, founder of the Flip camera and now The Melt fast-casual concept, a grilled-cheese restaurant with an innovative twist. Customers can order and pay for their sandwiches from their computer or phone. Then, using a QR code that is sent to them and scanned at the counter, they pick up their orders hassle-free and in a matter of minutes.

    “We’re using innovative technology to reinvent the fast-casual restaurant experience for the better,” Kaplan says.