From the classic ballpark hot dog to an exotic Vietnamese sandwich, Nation’s Restaurant News will honor innovative menu offerings during its 15th annual MenuMasters Awards Celebration at the Drake Hotel in Chicago on May 5.
Companies to be honored for their award-winning products or programs are Buffalo Wild Wings, Mama Fu’s, Quaker Steak & Lube, Sonic Corp., The Cheesecake Factory and Wendy’s.
The event also will honor the achievements of MenuMasters Hall of Fame inductee, Jose Garces, and Innovator award winner, Stan Frankenthaler.
MenuMasters Awards are produced by Nation’s Restaurant News and sponsored by Ventura Foods. They honor outstanding menu development plus excellence in foodservice research and development. The winners are selected by the editorial board of Nation’s Restaurant News.
“MenuMasters Awards, now in their 15th year, are among the most prestigious honors in foodservice,” said Randall Friedman, publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News. “We are pleased to partner with Ventura Foods to honor this outstanding display of culinary innovation and salute the brightest minds behind these award-winning menu concepts.”
Chris Furman, president and chief executive of Ventura Foods, added: “Congratulations to the MenuMasters honorees for delivering the kind of culinary excellence that inspires our industry and delights consumers every day. We look forward to congratulating this year’s winners and celebrating the 15th anniversary on May 5th in Chicago.”
This year’s winners are:
New Menu Item
Premium Beef Hot Dogs from Sonic Corp., Oklahoma City, Okla. In March 2011, the 3,500-unit chain reinvented the ballpark classic by rolling out four regional hot dog flavors: Chicago Dog, New York Dog, All-American Dog and the Chili Cheese Coney. Selling for $1.99 across multiple dayparts, these regionally inspired dogs sent average unit sales climbing.
Limited Time Offer
Shake, Wrap & Roll! from Quaker Steak & Lube, Sharon, Penn. A 45-unit, motor-themed concept noted for chicken wings, “The Lube” matched food with cocktails during this four-month LTO last April. “Shake” highlighted five featured drinks served in “Keep The Glass” bar jars. “Wraps” and “Rolls” combined signature wing sauces with the expansion of the chain’s sandwich category that included four new wraps and rolls, among them the Smokin’ Tires BBQ Pork Wrap.
The W Cheeseburger from Wendy’s, Dublin, Ohio. Cheeseburgers are on a roll at the 6,600-unit chain. Following the launch of Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Cheeseburger last October, Wendy’s debuted the W Cheeseburger in November. This mid-priced sandwich fills the price-point gap between Wendy’s 99 cent Everyday Value Menu burger and the premium Dave’s Hot ‘N Juicy Cheeseburger. Made with two beef patties and two slices of cheese, the W’s suggested price is $2.99.
Customize Your Grub from Buffalo Wild Wings, Minneapolis, Minn. Last April’s new menu introduction was the first major revamp in over three years for the 827-unit wings- and sports-driven chain. With 10 new items, the menu encourages guests to match food with signature sauces. New items include appetizers like Southwest Bites and Mini Chili Cheese Dogs. The Asian Zing Chicken Salad headlines new entrées such as the Pepper Jack Steak Wrap and the Screamin’ Nacho Burger.
SkinnyLicious menu from The Cheesecake Factory, Calabasas Hills, Calif. Introduced in August 2011, this menu features nearly 50 items under 590 calories, as well as six signature cocktails with 150 calories or less. The menu lets guests keep calories in check while enjoying the signature rich taste offered by the 156-unit chain. New dishes feature a Mexican Tortilla Salad and Tuscan Chicken, while existing low-calorie items include Beets with Goat Cheese, Chicken Pot Stickers and Asian Chicken Salad.
Banh Mi Vietnamese Street Sandwich from Mama Fu’s, Austin, Texas. The 13-unit chain developed this menu item in just 90 days, from idea to execution, eventually launching it last August to rousing reviews. Offered with beef, chicken or shrimp, Banh Mi is made with grilled protein, and comes with fresh vegetables, and a spicy sauce. It is served on a crispy baguette.
Stan Frankenthaler, vice president, global product innovation and culinary for Dunkin' Brands, Canton, Mass. Frankenthaler joined Dunkin’ Brands in 2005 as the first executive chef in the company’s history. Leading a team of chefs, bakers, beverage specialists and food scientists, he instilled a menu development philosophy that raised the bar for quality and taste in the quick-service restaurant industry.
Frankenthaler began his foodservice career at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. In Boston, he was a highly regarded chef at the city’s top restaurants, including the top-rated Jasper’s. In 1993, Frankenthaler opened his own restaurant, Salamander, which became a celebrated part of Boston’s culinary landscape for nearly 10 years, earning recognition from the Zagat Guide and DiRoNA. He previously was a culinary development team leader for Whole Foods Market, where he helped develop new product lines and recipes.
Hall of Fame Inductee
Chef Jose Garces, master of Latin cuisine and owner of Garces Restaurant Group, Philadelphia. Since opening his first restaurant, Amada, in 2005, Garces has emerged as one of the nation’s most gifted young chefs. He has opened eight additional restaurants in Philadelphia and Chicago; authored a cookbook, “Latin Evolution,” and won the James Beard Foundation’s “Best Chef Mid-Atlantic” award in 2009. In 2010, he won the Food Network’s “The Next Iron Chef” competition, making him one of just seven chefs in the country to hold the title of Iron Chef America. He also is the owner and operator of a 40-acre farm in Bucks County, Penn., where he grows much of the produce used at his Philadelphia restaurants.
In 2011, Garces brought his talents to Scottsdale, Ariz., at The Saguaro hotel, where he manages three distinct dining outlets. He also is the executive chef at Chicago’s much-praised restaurant, Mercat a la Planxa. Garces began his culinary training in the kitchen of his paternal grandmother.
“I’ve been privileged to work with some of the finest chefs in America and Spain,” he said, “but my passion for cooking comes from early memories of preparing meals for my family with Mamita Amada. Even when I was a child, I was drawn to the joy of cooking a great meal. I have always loved the way that food can transform a person’s whole outlook and really make their day.”