As restaurants develop menu items in the midst of a pandemic, one of the key drivers of revenue has been food that gives diners a new experience. Of course, this was true even before the pandemic—in 2019, Datassential reported that 86 percent of foodies and Gen Z said they were always looking for different cultural experiences that will broaden their horizons—but with international travel shut down, many experientialists have looked to food to fill the void.
At the same time, many food trucks and carts—long the pioneers of street-level foods that end up becoming trends on restaurant menus—have been effectively erased due to a lack of pedestrian traffic. This leaves chefs and operators with a unique opportunity to leverage street food, create a cultural culinary experience, and get young and enthusiastic diners through the door.
So, what is street food? It’s a bit of an open-ended category, but Mike Leccese, culinary director of research and development at Haliburton International Foods, says it can be a huge differentiator for brands right now.
“Street food can be something that is super authentic, with rich and bold flavors,” Leccese says. “It’s about showing someone something really cool and fun, that maybe they grew up enjoying as a kid, or maybe it’s just something new and exciting to them.”
One of the hottest overall food items in 2020 is Elote—also known as Mexican Street Corn—which has shown 127 percent growth over the past four years, according to Datassential. Its relative ease in the kitchen makes it an LTO with a solid margin that can drive traffic, says Leccese.
“Elote has a flavor profile, with lime, chili powder, cotija cheese, and tangy crema sauce,” Leccese says. “That’s something that’s a really easy addition to a menu because it’s only a few ingredients, but it can still generate some buzz.”
Leccese and his team at Haliburton are situated in southern California, so Latin street foods like Elote have always been a part of their expertise. Some other examples of street food-inspired menu items Haliburton has worked with recently include Grilled Zarandeado Tacos, featuring toasted guajillo marinade, charred green onion crema, citrus pickled red onions, and toasted chipotle salsa. Or Crispy Tacos de Papa, featuring Haliburton’s ready-made fire-grilled corn, citrus slaw dressing, and creamy salsa taquera. These items help operators stay on-trend, offer something unique, and still manage to keep prep time and labor down while maximizing food safety, says Leccese.
There’s also an added bonus of partnering with Haliburton in the midst of a pandemic—custom-packaged, ready-to-eat roasted veggies and sauces help facilitate optimal food safety practices in kitchens with increasingly thin staffs.
“One of the things we do best at Haliburton is coming up with custom solutions for brands or even kitchen-specific needs,” Leccese says. “We’re developing food safe, on-trend products that help cut down on labor costs and the touches cooks are having to make in the kitchen, as food safety is so huge right now and kitchens are trying to make do with fewer people. The last thing you want to see right now is a kitchen with 18 tickets in the window and two cooks buried in the weeds—that’s why we are here, to make sure kitchens aren’t taking on that burden alone.”
CTA: To find out more about how to add on-trend street food items, check out the Haliburton website.