Street foods often grow into the trendiest menu items.

Street food has always been a venue where authentic, global culinary trends are born. Tacos, gyros, falafel—all these cuisines were once more likely to be found at a street cart than at a quick-service restaurant. They have all since achieved ubiquity and helped create countless menu ideas and even entire restaurant concepts. 

That’s why Mike Leccese, vice president of innovation at Haliburton International Foods, is a self-anointed street food junkie. Much of his research and development takes place on the streets of Southern California, where he tracks down the latest trends that can be developed into ingredients and menu items that will help his client operators stay on trend and in demand.  

Street foods are especially popular right now due to their inherent and time-tested portability. With such an emphasis on off-premise fare, those aspects are a huge plus for operators looking to create new menu items that travel well. Street foods also help restaurant brands capitalize on ever-growing demand for global fare: According to Datassential, 75 percent of consumers say they like it when a restaurant’s menu offers ethnic-inspired foods. 

“A great street food is something that’s portable, easy to consume and generates buzz,” Leccese says. “That’s especially relevant now. Also relevant is that street foods typically have big, bold flavors. It’s something cutting edge that you just want to try, and I think all of that translates really well to the quick-service space.” 

Leccese credits social media for the rising appetite to experience new foods and cuisines, which has led to so many street foods going mainstream. 

 “There are accounts that have amassed millions of followers introducing consumers to foods they never would have seen before,” Leccese says. “Now somebody might see a dish from a steakhouse in Dubai, a hotel restaurant in Turkey or a small café in Greece and want to try it. You’re seeing flatbread wraps, lavash stuffed-bakes, some great hearty stews, spreads, dips, and sauces that you’ve never experienced and there’s excitement along with expectation now that those experiences will be available in the fast-casual space.” 

A thought leader in not just street foods but all types of cuisine, Haliburton is a custom-solutions vendor for its client chefs and operators, meaning it strives to get to know a restaurant brand’s needs and then helps build menu ideas that will drive traffic and create a customer connection. Much of its expertise is displayed in the little things that have big effects, whether it’s a custom signature salsa roja on the side of Carnitas Street Tacos, or the sesame cilantro crema on Korean BBQ Tacos. Haliburton also has a whole line of fire-roasted vegetables which can help elevate street food items like flatbreads and falafel bowls. 

“Our business is based around customization,” Leccese says. “We have standard items that we build around culinary trends, but the customization is what we love doing. We have a team of chefs and research and development scientists that are the foundation of what we do—they’re here to help create menu ideas, featuring on-trend items that can be street-food-inspired, and show operators how to market them.” 

“One of the things we consistently tell our customers,” Leccese continues, “is that we’re not only here to provide physical menu items that will work for your operation, but our chefs are here as a resource to bounce ideas off of. Whether it’s an entire concept, or an LTO, we’ve helped create it. We’re here to help and be an extension of your team.” 

For more information on adding on-trend menu items, visit Haliburton’s website.

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