"Eight Restaurants that get it right" - Response

On the excellent Food and Fort Worth, Texas blog, Francis calls out a US News and World Report business article that praises eight publicly traded companies (or otherwise large corporations) for their growth, sales and profit. I've already worn all of you out with my thoughts about Wall Street and food quality. So I'll put that soapbox away for now. Rather, I thought I'd comment on each of the 8 restaurants listed.

In the order Francis listed them:

Buffalo Wild Wings- I know people who feel that you shouldn't have to pay for wings - that they're a free appetizer to go with your adult beverage of choice. Certainly this is how it all started in Buffalo. In this way, they're similar to Spain's tapas. Tapas were originally heated up leftovers from the day before, and served up prior to your meal as appetizers. That was my personal experience touring Spain in 1990 and again in 1996. I've long felt that tapas, in today's current interpretation, is for yuppies who can't spell hors d'oeuvres. But I digress... Wings are a pretty limited food choice, and there's a multitude of fast food chains out there like Wing Stop, that satisfy the need for late night munchies (and terribly expensive for what you get - give me a taco anyday!) Where I give points to Buffalo Wild Wings is that they are basically a sports bar that focuses on wings. Sports bars are not cheap to run, and require some investment - so for this concept, I can see the need for a place like BWW. And for what they do, we feel they do it right. So thumbs up from the RJG!

BJ's Restaurants - BJ's is really a brewpub, and this is one area where the RJG can completely understand the need for public investment. You know, it really doesn't take much to get rolling with an Italian restaurant. A few good pots and pans, a reliable stove / oven and a boxful of closely guarded family recipes is all you need (theoretically of course - I know there's much more than that - but at its core, this is it). But running a little private brewery is not something your 70 year old grandmother is likely to sign up for. And it costs a fortune - which is why the brewpubs tend to be fine establishments rather than little hole in the walls. Besides there aren't that many brewpubs, especially here in Texas. In our other home in Colorado, there are many more, but they too are well funded (Rockbottom Brewery and Wynkoop Brewery are corporations with many outlets). I've only been to BJ's once, and it was a long time ago - but since we're back here in Texas, it is for certain we'll go a couple of times. Besides, the RJG loves brewpubs!

Chipotle - We remember when Chipotle was a small independent in Denver. They really were ahead of the curve on the whole burrito as fast food concept. So I'll say something here that should astonish you if you've read more than two posts from the RJG: When McDonald bought them, they actually IMPROVED the quality and added more bold options. And I know very few people in Denver who disagree with me on this point. Qdoba was right behind them (and in this case Jack in the Box picked them up). Since then, McDonald's spun them off to their own corporation. Chipotle suffers from the same fate that almost all national chains do: Inconsistency. This is a not a family owned business where the owners are constantly around to ensure the best quality (or working there themselves). No - most of these are owned by Business School executives who pick third tier first-line managers to run the show. Sometimes these third tier managers are awesome and could easily run far more than a fast food restaurant. Others are not up to the task at all. So sometimes you get an awesome chicken burrito that's blazing hot and fresh - and other times you get undercooked chicken with bitchy service. There's enough alternatives nowadays, that there's no reason to go to Chipotle. But back in the day, one would drive a long way to check them out!

Olive Garden - I'm in full agreement with Francis here. Though I don't necessarily think Olive Garden is bad, it's just that I can't understand why people go here. I don't know anyone who thinks Olive Garden is better than other Italian restaurants in the area. When the RJG had a long term contract up in Racine, Wisconsin back in the 1990s, I was in paradise. There are Italian restaurants on every corner, many of them literally in old homes in old neighborhoods with Pabst Blue Ribbon signs on the window. Some of my co-workers, also traveling from other parts of the country, would still go to Olive Garden. I said "WHY ON EARTH?". The answer? "Because it's a marquee name". There it is folks. Like voting for the same dirty scumball congressman year after year - because you know his name.

Panera Bread - I think the artisan bread schtick has already played itself out. And Panera Bread is pretty generic in that category, even when compared to other yawner places like On the Corner Bakery or Atlanta Bread. Hell, Subway is about on par - for a heck of lot less bread (haha). You want a sandwich? Look for a local place - or for God's sake at least go to Jersey Mike's first.

Peet's Coffee - A friend of mine owns a Peet's franchise in West Texas, and he swears by them - which is why he invested in it. He personally works the store too. Peet was the founder of Starbucks, so he definitely was one step ahead of the others. His second venture won't be as successful, only because the idea is known. For my money, the best coffee chain is Tully's, but hard to find them outside of the Pacific Northwest. I think coffee is more about convenience than quality. What I mean by that is most folks aren't going to drive 10 miles out of the way to get Peet's if Starbucks is around the corner. But for a good meal, they most likely would.

PF Changs PF Changs is a popular choice amongst my business friends. Reluctantly I will go, but I don't get what the big deal is. I'll give points for taking what already existed - the Chinese restaurant - and bringing it national with a huge marketing campaign. The things they're famous for, like lettuce wraps, are good - but it's not unique nor breathtakingly good. Like with the Olive Garden - is it really that hard to find a locally owned Chinese restaurant that isn't already better? People go here because it's a safe choice, and no one will criticize them for taking them to a place where the Tongs are gambling in the back. I'll go the latter every time.

I haven't been to Texas Roadhouse, so can't comment on the concept or viability.


Francis Shivone said…
RJG -- first, let me say that I stop by your blog about once a week but hadn't seen anything lately, so, I'm glad you alerted me to the post.

My summary: great and better than mine.

I have been to Peet's maybe twice and both times the coffee was not good. Unfortunately for companies that have a 95% rate of success, sometimes people hit them at the wrong time.

I grew up with immigrant grandparents who made Italian food from scratch. So, Olive Garden is just not in the radar.

Agree with you on Panera's, but I like the way it is run. Do you remember La Madelaine when the French guy started it? They had a good thing going. No mas, of course.

I'm working on a post on the general topic of the corporate food purveyor. I don't think it is, ipso facto, bad because it is corporate, which I think you do. It is going to be a response to a couple of your posts.

To repeat my summary: you had a much more informed view of those restaurants than I. Thanks, I enjoyed it.

Last thought: oh for the days when I could enjoy a brew pub, but it's like going to an "all you can eat" for me, I'm just too old to enjoy it. After one beer I'm ready for bed.
RJG said…
Thanks Francis for your comments, I always appreciate your perspective.

I plan to (famous last words) update the blog more often. As a regular blog reader, I also get frustrated at blogs who don't update often. And now... I'm one of them. LOL. Part of it is the workload was pretty insane there for awhile and looks to cool down as we get into the Holiday season. The other was the summer move to Denver and a different schedule/routine. So anyway, I hope to get out a few posts a month anyway

And I very much look forward to your thoughts around corporate dining. I think with my BJ's comment alone, I can see where a Publicly Traded company can add value. As I state in my original piece, it is important to distinguish the Wall Street firms from the Corporate chains as they have different options to pursue. I plan on doing a blog piece on Wynkoop one day, but suffice to say that is one of the coolest companies out there - and they demonstrate how a corporation can actually enhance the former independents. And, as a by product, Denver also has the coolest Mayor too ;-)

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