MenuMasters 2011: Shari’s Restaurant & Pies

Dessert purveyor takes home Best Menu/Line Extension

Every once in a while a restaurant comes up with an idea so sweet that the biggest challenge is simply keeping up with customer demand. Such was the case with Shari’s Restaurant & Pies’ “Fresh Blackberry Season,” a limited-time offer the Beaverton, Ore.-based family-dining chain ran in the summer of 2010 — the Pacific Northwest’s annual blackberry harvest time.

The promotion was a runaway success, according to officials. Shari’s saw double-digit sales increases in every product area the LTO touched: a 50.7-percent increase in sliced pie sales and a 22.2-percent increase in whole pie sales, year-over-year, plus a 25.7-percent increase in shake sales and a 22.7-percent increase in overall cold beverage sales versus the prepromotion period.

Shari’s is no stranger to successful fruit-based promotions. The 104-unit Pacific Northwest chain has previously offered a popular strawberry season limited-time menu lineup, but last year decided to expand its LTO range to include products made with regionally sourced blackberries.

“Everybody kind of does strawberry throughout the year, but nobody did blackberry,” Kevin Bechtel, Shari’s senior vice president of R&D and menu development, said. “Everybody looks forward to blackberry season in the Northwest. It just seemed like a ripe promotion — excuse the pun — to move forward with.”

Items: “Fresh Blackberry Season,” featuring Fresh Blackberry Cobbler Pie (whole or sliced), Fresh Blackberry Cream Cheese Pie, Fresh Blackberry Lemonade, Fresh Blackberry Pie Milkshake
Company: Shari’s Management
Headquarters: Beaverton, Ore.
No. of units: 104
Description of promotion: blackberry-focused extension of Shari’s pie and dessert line
Dates of promotion: July 1-Aug. 31, 2010
Price range: $2.49 - $13.99
Developer: senior vice president of R&D, menu development Kevin Bechtel

According to Bechtel, the entire promotion was born as an extension of Shari’s well-established pie program, which the company has made a main focus for the past 3 1/2 years. Shari’s offers about 20 different pies on its menu at any given time.

Although Bechtel said all the blackberry offerings sold well, the most popular promotional item was the Fresh Blackberry Cobbler Pie, which represented 15 percent of all pie slices sold during the LTO.

“Cobbler is one of those summertime favorites, so the first part of it was just extending the cobbler concept and developing a pie out of it,” he said.
To achieve this, the team created a cobbler crust to bake onto the pie. They then gave it “the essence of cobbler” by plating the item in a bowl and serving it with
ice cream.

“The only other thing we had to do was find the right kind of glaze,” Bechtel noted. “We actually used a fresh, local blackberry jam to really lightly coat the berries to make sure that they stayed nice and fresh, and they didn’t dry out.”

Shari’s hand-dipped milkshakes are another top seller. Bechtel said the chain routinely offers milkshakes to match new pies, such as the strawberry shake available during the strawberry promotion, or the forthcoming s’mores shake, which will complement a s’mores pie slated for the menu this August. And while the idea of a blackberry shake may not have been a big stretch, developing the Fresh Blackberry Pie Milkshake did take some innovation.

“I’m making the pie as I would be normally, munching away and eating that cobbler topping, and I just thought, ‘Mmm. Let’s make this into a milkshake!’” Bechtel said. “We baked off the cobbler topping and crumbled it. Then when we made the milkshake, we ... took that fresh cobbler crumble and stirred it into the shake, so you had that essence of the bite into it.”

Although “Fresh Blackberry Season” certainly appealed to a consumer desire for sweets, Aaron Noveshen, founder of San Francisco-based The Culinary Edge, thinks its success was based more on its seasonal and local allure.

“It taps into the bigger global trend about seasonality,” he said. “The best LTOs create some type of an emotional connection to the brand or what it’s doing. So here is this emotional connection to a local product — something that’s truly seasonal, that you can’t get all the time, that’s at its best right now — and Shari’s is bringing that to you.”

Shari’s vice president of marketing Michael Kiriazis agreed, saying Pacific Northwest residents look forward to regional fruit harvests every season.

“There’s always excitement when we offer their favorite fruits served up fresh,” he noted. “Whenever we can craft a unique message of offering fresh, seasonal and regional products, we think we generate overall long-term interest in our brand.”

Seasonal items sourced regionally come with their share of problems, though, especially for a chain restaurant. Due to limited availability and sky-high demand, several stores were unable to sustain the blackberry promotion, in some cases falling short of the intended end date by two weeks.

“It was challenging to make sure that we managed that inventory getting in,” Bechtel said. “When we were coming out of the season, we had certain areas we had to kind of wean our way out of the promotion because we just ran out of blackberries.”
Still, the promotion’s extreme popularity and overall smooth implementation means Shari’s will definitely bring “Fresh Blackberry Season” back this year — with an expanded menu.

“Oh yeah,” Bechtel said. “[Customers] are already asking.”

Contact Vanessa Van Landingham at [email protected] [3].