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Editor's Letter: Waves of change

Editor's Letter: Waves of change

Robin Lee Allen on the April 16, 2012, issue of NRN

During a recent multi-week road trip along the Eastern Seaboard, my parents stopped in Charleston, S.C., where they visited a fine-dining restaurant called 82 Queen. While there, a regular customer recommended they try the she-crab soup. They were not disappointed.

82 Queen specializes in Lowcountry cuisine and prides itself on its local ingredients, including, as stated on its website, “shrimp, crab, grouper, flounder, snapper and black fish … so fresh they were probably swimming in local waters a day or two before being served at our tables.”

That image — and the use of that image for marketing purposes — is a powerful one, playing to consumers’ appetites for fresh, regional fare that both differentiates the dining experience and buoys the local economy.

Unfortunately, both are at risk.

In this issue’s lead story, we explore the labor concerns and pending regulations that are threatening the domestic seafood industry. While officials at 82 Queen were not part of our story, many restaurant operators dependent on domestic seafood supplies weighed in, sharing their concerns about the implications for their businesses if local catches become a rarity.

In keeping with the regional theme, Denver-based Smashburger has established a reputation for offering burgers that feature the ingredients and personalities of the towns they inhabit, and now the 150-unit fast-casual chain is doing the same with salads. A few months ago, Smashburger debuted regional salads like the Miami Heat, a mix of greens, mango, pineapple, papaya salsa, frita potatoes and other ingredients, topped with spicy chipotle dressing. Miami Heat is sold only in Miami-area stores. And Smashburger is not the only operator that is updating its salad offerings. Read more about this new crop of salads in the Food & Beverage section.

Breakfast is another area in which operators are stepping up the competition for sales. As the race for breakfast dollars heats up, we shed new light on the hurdles for quick-service players looking to grow early daypart business. In the Operations section we examine such challenges as the growing competition from c-stores and supermarkets, the daunting job of altering consumers’ morning routines, and the need to differentiate a brand in an increasingly crowded field of QSR players.

While we’re discussing challenges, this issue’s Special Report revisits three regional Growth Chains first profiled by Nation’s Restaurant News in 2007 — just as the recession technically began and the consumer mind-set started to shift from conspicuous consumption to full-fledged frugality. In scouring documents from then and now, we discovered that despite the adverse conditions of the past five years, the trio continued to grow. Given the economic pitfalls that hobbled so many operators, we checked back in with these chains to learn how they accomplished it and what they’re planning next.

Also planning ahead is a group of restaurant operators who understand that success can beget more success. These operators want the fruits of their efforts and those of their companies to more fully benefit the constituencies they serve — in particular, their neighbors, employees and customers.

Called Changers of Commerce, the movement is intended to evolve “the capitalist system to one that still focuses on a free-market, entrepreneurial approach to business, yet is much more engaged in society,” according to Jim Knight, senior director of training for Hard Rock International.

On my parents’ road trip, they had time to reflect on the still-struggling economic climate and the need for more such engagement in our society. In addition to bringing back some she-crab soup mix for the family, they also shared tales of the huge disparity in the rates of economic recovery being experienced in different parts of the country.

Increased efforts toward compassionate capitalism might be one way to help a more bountiful tide rise in communities nationwide. And few businesspeople are as likely to understand this fact as restaurateurs, who always have been a philanthropic and caring group of people.


Contact Robin Lee Allen at [email protected].
Follow her on Twitter: @RobinLeeAllen.

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