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Jason Triail has been working with food since he started as a stock boy at an Italian market a few blocks from his home in West Islip, N.Y., on the south shore of central Long Island, at the age of 12.

Jason Triail joins The Habit Burger Grill as culinary innovation director

The former Yard House chef will work to refresh the fast-casual chain’s menu

Jason Triail has joined The Habit Burger Grill as its director of culinary innovation, replacing Adam Baird, who left the fast-casual chain last March.

Triail has been working with food since he started as a stock boy at an Italian market a few blocks from his home in West Islip, N.Y., on the south shore of central Long Island, at the age of 12. He continued working at local restaurants, including Johnny Anthony’s on the Water in Babylon, N.Y., starting in the front of the house and gradually moving to the kitchen under chef John Ferrara.

“I had the checkered pants, chef coat … I was on the pier running lobsters and clams and everything back and forth, and that’s what really kicked it all off,” he said. “I used to make 50 pounds of homemade mozzarella from scratch.”

That got him hooked, although he credits his father, a union organizer for the Teamsters, for his work ethic and his sense of discipline.

jason_triail.jpegHe continued to work at large and small Long Island restaurants until he joined the casual dining chain Yard House as executive chef in 2007.

“I was really drawn to the scratch kitchen, corporate structure, the whole testing piece, and all of that.”

Triail went to work on improving some of the systems.

“We were bringing in broccoli slaw at $2 a pound and broccoli florets at, like, $4 something a pound, so I got whole pieces of broccoli and the Robot Coupe attachment. I was shredding the slaw in-house and saving the florets and I calculated we saved about $200,000 a year across 11 locations,” he said.

He left Yard House shortly after it was bought by Darden Restaurants in mid-2012, after his daughter was born, and started working as senior director of operations for prepared-meal company My Fit Foods. He went on to work for meal kit company Chef’d, where he was named co-founder and chief culinary officer, for around four years.

Next he was vice president of culinary and innovation at Cadence Kitchen, which used cryogenic tumbling to make frozen meals.

“I was working with liquid nitrogen and still have all of my fingers, so I did something right,” he said.

Then he did some consulting and joined FreshRealm, which makes ready-to-heat retail products, as director of new product development and culinary, where he worked around a year and a half.

“I learned everything from organoleptic studies to the retail industry, dealing with all the big brands out there,” he said.

Now at The Habit Burger Grill, he says his career has come full circle.

“I’ve always loved The Habit because when you eat there you don’t feel guilty,” he said. “And the char flavor [of the signature charburgers] sells itself.”

Triail said he also appreciates the fact that it’s owned by Yum Brands, which bought it in March of 2020.

“I saw this opportunity and realized I could be part of something that’s already great and is about to do a 2.0. If I can apply all of the experience of the past 10 years I think I can have a lot of fun and contribute a lot,” he said.

But he said he’s not going in “with guns blazin’ … I’ve got to learn the four walls first.”

He said he’s in the process of working with vendors to understand their capabilities while also looking at sales and other data.

He said early steps in innovation will likely be refreshing the chain’s salads — possibly making heftier ones with pasta or grains — but he’s also exploring new menu categories such as soups. Value propositions might also be in the works, he said.

“We’ve got to keep the core products core, build on that and go a little beyond it, but not go too far that it goes against the grain of the brand or confuses the guest,” he said.

“I really want to support the ‘California Fresh’ [approach],” he added “You can still create indulgent food, but it doesn’t have to be where you feel guilty afterwards, and it has to be what everyone’s looking for. Bold flavors, something that’s memorable, and bringing people together is something that really speaks to my heart.”

Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected] 

TAGS: People Menu
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