This post is part of the Food Writer’s Diary blog.
There seems to be a new trend in limited-time offers: Making them so limited that hardly anyone can get them.
Arby’s spearheaded the trend last fall with its venison sandwich, a 5-ounce piece of farm-raised New Zealand red-tail deer on a toasted roll with fried onions and a Cabernet steak sauce.
The sandwich cost $5 and was only available at 17 of the chain’s more than 3,200 locations, all in communities where hunting is popular, like Birch Run, Mich., and Leechburg, Pa., and only for four days each, or while supplies lasted.
I’m told the 500 sandwiches allocated for each location sold out in as little as 15 minutes.
Then in April, Starbucks created a viral sensation with its Unicorn Frappuccino.
The drink changed color and flavor as you stirred it, was clearly intended to be Instagrammed and was available for all of five days. But at least it was available systemwide.
Arby’s was at it again last month with a smoked turkey leg, seasoned with salt and brown sugar, then smoked and slow-roasted, at just nine restaurants, starting on Aug. 27 and coinciding with the season finale of Game of Thrones.
The turkey leg, priced at $5.99, was available at a mere nine locations — each representing a different part of Westeros (Fargo, N.D., represented the North; Norfolk, Va., represented the Iron Islands; and Atlanta, Arby’s headquarters city, was King’s Landing) — for however long supplies lasted, which I’m sure wasn’t very long.
Now Shake Shack is taking scarcity to a new level with a limited-time offer from Sept. 15-16 at a single location: its original shack in Madison Square Park in New York City.
The chain is bringing Michelin-starred British chef Fergus Henderson of St. John in London to serve a special sandwich and dessert.
Not to be outdone by Arby’s bold move of venison, Shake Shack is offering an eel burger, developed by Henderson and Shake Shack culinary director Mark Rosati. The patty is smoked eel meat mixed with breadcrumbs, lemon juice, salt and pepper. It’s grilled and topped with bacon, pickled red onion, crème fraîche, horseradish and watercress, and priced at $9.99.
Shake Shack will also sell St. John’s vanilla custard doughnuts for $3.99 apiece.
You won’t be hearing from me how they taste, because I’m not going to stand in the undoubtedly insane line that those items will draw.
A smaller chain, five-unit Kati Roll Company, also based in New York City, is teaming up with local restaurants to create new versions of its signature Indian street food.
Each is available between six and 11 days, only at Kati Roll Company’s location in the East Village, the neighborhood that’s also home to the restaurants it’s partnering with.
The Blue Ribbon Fried Chicken kati roll is available Sept. 7-17, and is made with a fried chicken tender topped with tamarind date chutney, cucumber yogurt relish, red onion, mint and cilantro.
On the 18th, Harry & Ida’s will have its turn, providing its smoked pastrami for a kati roll that will also have an Indian mustard sauce called kasundi, yogurt, green chiles, and Harry & Ida’s buttermilk cucumber kraut with red onion and roasted spices.
That will be available until the 24th, and then it will be swapped out for burnt ends from Randall’s BBQ, rubbed with Indian spices, smoked over mesquite and pecan, and dressed with cumin, pickled bird’s eye chile, onions, mango and chile chutney barbecue sauce, with a side of vinegar slaw.
Each of the kati rolls is priced at $8.
Extreme LTOs make a lot of sense, if you ask me. They can create a hell of a lot of buzz, stimulate creativity in the kitchen and allow restaurants to test new items.
I doubt that eel burgers will ever make it onto Shake Shack’s permanent menu, and the entire country of New Zealand doesn’t produce enough venison to provide Arby’s with a year-round supply, but a fried chicken kati roll? Seems like a winner to me.
Contact Bret Thorn at [email protected]
Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary