Meat Picks | 12.16.14

The Dawn of New Trends

L20 foodIf you haven’t heard about L20’s “reconcept” yet, check out Chicago Eater’s summative. The famed LEYE Michelin-starred seafood restaurant will close at the end of the year for redesign and reopen next February as Intro.

What makes this particular restaurant close so newsworthy is its next-gen objective: rotating chefs. When Intro opens next year, Rich Mellman, the undisputable Godfather of restaurant entrepreneurialism, will have created one of the freshest concepts to hit the Chicago market in recent years.

“Visiting” chefs will work two to three month stints at the new restaurant. The goal is to bring in top talent who operate at the executive chef level, but don’t have ownership. As Mellman described to Crain’s, “We’re going to introduce some of the bright young chefs in the country to Chicago and introduce chefs to a balanced way to think about business.”

Intro will also be the first LEY restaurant to embrace Tock, the cutting edge restaurant ticketing software developed by Restaurateur, Nick Kokonas of Alinea/Next/Aviary fame. LEY plans to “…initially sell pre-paid tickets, like Next and Alinea, costing between $65 and $95 per dinner, excluding taxes, gratuity and beverages.”

Mellman’s concept has all the makings of a home run if all pans out as expected – LEYE partners will have the opportunity to test new concepts and personnel, up and coming chefs will get the educational and exposure opportunity of a lifetime and customers will delight in a consistent flow of new offerings. The Intro stage is set for an ultimate Win-Win-Win.

It’s All Relativehandshake

In a recent Restaurant News post on How To Create Successful Relationships with Your Food Suppliers, buyers sound off on purchasing relationships.

One restaurant operator describes the procurement relationship “like a marriage” where there’s, “love, hate and everything between”. Another says that just shopping prices aren’t the way to succeed, “…building relationships with suppliers is crucial. If they’re not completely on your side, your product is affected.”

If you look up “relativity”, their sentiments make perfect sense: the state of being dependent for existence on or determined in nature, value or quality by relation to something else.

Limiting the number of suppliers you use, maintaining open communication and negotiable product pricing, are some of the top suggestions offered for building profitable, long-term and trustworthy relationships with your suppliers.

Social Outlooks

social graphicIt’s tough to keep up with the pace of digital media; frequency, relevancy and technology can quickly drive any business owner to drink!

True to the pace, social media marketers are consistently challenged by new tech and rapidly changing media platforms. For example, you can (finally) edit captions on Instagram and Twitter now offers the capability of being able to search every public tweet made since the platform’s inception in 2006 –that one, could be scary.

For more updates on these platforms and others (Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Google+), read the Trib’s recent social media outlook post.

P.S. If the thought of dealing with all this “social stuff” stresses you out, check out this Forbes piece on How Successful People Handle Stress – great tips for getting through the holiday season too!

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Life After BBQ Pitmasters | Robby Royal’s Secret Sauce for Success

What do professional Pitmasters have for Holiday dinners? At Robby Royal’s house, they smoke a turkey and “do a ham” on Thanksgiving to go along with cornbread, dressing, deviled eggs, gravy, butter beans and sweet corn. “I inject it [the turkey] with creole seasoning and smoke it ‘low ‘n slow’ overnight at 225,” attests Royal. “On Christmas, we usually grill steaks, prime rib roast, or fry fish.”

Royal says they grill year round. His wife Stephanie cooks at least twice a week on their Green Mountain Smoker or Holland [gas-burning] Grill – even when it’s “32”, which Royal notes is cold for them in Georgia.

12.4BigPigJigRescue Ratings

The Rescue Smokers competition team has racked up 89 1st Place rankings over the last five years among countless other wins. Since claiming the Season 5 BBQ Pitmasters title last June, Royal and his partner, Raymond Poor, have met with unexpected notoriety and new opportunities.

At a recent Georgia “cook” a 9-year-old boy and 6-year-old girl from Tampa made a beeline for the team’s trailer to meet the guys who won BBQ Pitmasters. A Dad from Lakeland, Florida, drove his kids, 10 and 13-year-old junior barbeque competitors, up north to shadow the team for a weekend. Surprised but delighted by the unexpected attention, Robby is quick to point out the kids on Junior BBQ teams absolutely “know what they are doing. They are great young Pitmasters,” he subscribes.

While there aren’t many junior level competitions (yet), Robby likes the idea of kids cooking outside versus being glued to “indoor technology” for hours on end. “I grew up around the grill – grew up hand-churning ice cream – we were outside all the time. Kids need to get out again!”

Royal has three grown daughters, 22, 25 and 26, and two granddaughters, ages, 5 and 7; Poor has two children, ages 14 and 19. Both men feel very fortunate to have “great wives” who support the competition lifestyle. Royal says his granddaughters are starting to show participatory interest, (and possibly a son-in-law), but is quick to warn, “when you start cooking 28-30 times a year, you may want to back off, so you can keep it fun.”

New Avenues

Outside of the competition circuit, the team is busy “ tweaking flavor profiles” for their own bottled sauce slated to come out next year in four varieties: Original, Sweet Heat, Mustard and Vinegar. Royal says the mustard sauce is inspired by his partner’s restaurant chicken dish. “Ray’s restaurant is doing very well – we have seen a wider variety of people coming in [since their TV win]. There’re only 9,500 people in our county, but Ray has lots of great reviews on Yelp from people travelling through!”

Royal and Poor also created a weekend barbeque school model to help others develop competitive skills. They had their first session last September, where they talked about the quality of rubs, sauces, and meats, demonstrated a variety of tried and true techniques and cooked eight different products over the course of the weekend.

CookingClass“We can cut the 3-4 year learning curve it normally takes to be competitive and potentially save people 30-40 thousand dollars in the process. Every competition you go to, costs – you pay for travel, entry fees, ingredients, etc. So you’re investing about $1,000 on average every time you go to a competition.”

Poor and Royal have spent as much as $10,000 on one competition – something he says they didn’t realize would be quite that expensive until they were fully committed to it.

They hope to offer the weekend session two to three times a year, and are looking to do the next class sometime in the Spring. Royal says they couldn’t do it without the help of Butcher BBQ, Stub’s BBQ, Swamp Boys, and others, who sent samples of their products to use for their first session. “They’re all great; we help each other.”

Helping others is what “it’s all about” according to Robby. “If we can help someone else get in the top 10, or get a win. To see folks get their first call, see them walk the stage for the first time… it’s about wanting to win, but also being happy for others.”

Strategic Differences

Royal feels the biggest difference for him between backyard and competitive cooks is that he isn’t necessarily cooking what he likes to eat in competition. “Judges lean toward the sweeter side. I put Montreal steak seasoning on my ribs and a little bit of butter – I want to taste the meat.”

When it comes to Dry Ribs, Royal claims they don’t compete well. “Judges are trained for sauce – they’re judging for flavor – even if they know that’s not what they want, they’re judging what’s in front of them.”

On the subject of sauce, Robby offers the main difference between tomato, mustard and vinegar based sauces is strictly, “100% regional. It boils down to what you were brought up on. We do sweet/vinegar sauce. The Carolinas and Virginia are going to be vinegar; in South Carolina and Kentucky they like mustard based sauces.”

RS TENTRobby professes if he and Ray had cooked just for Myron [Mixon aka The Winningest Man in BBQ] they wouldn’t have won. They tried to cook with a more Mid-Western flair (Kansas City, Iowa, Colorado) to appeal to Tuffy’s and Moe’s backgrounds because they needed to consistently win over two of the three judges on the show. Their “secret sauce” was strategy.

Wrap Up

Would they want to do Pitmasters again? Royal says he’d love the opportunity and would like to see an all stars version of the show. “If they call, we’d absolutely go!”

The team will always do their home cook, the Big Pig Jig, which they’ve won before, in addition to an annual KCB event in the area Royal currently organizes. He doesn’t think they’ll quit, but may scale back. He forecasts they’ll probably do 8-10 events next year, but quickly hedges over the fact there are 15 to 20 events in Georgia they still haven’t done.

Robby feels he and Ray have been very blessed. They are extremely appreciative of the support they have from friends, family and sponsors. He feels strongly about being proud of others and enjoying seeing them be happy.

“There are a lot of Pitmasters that love to see people do well and others that don’t like to see others win. We shake everyone’s hand even when we’re bummed we didn’t win. Be proud of others and enjoy yourself seeing other folks happy!”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Eddie Merlot’s New Menu Scores Big

Ask a restaurateur or chef how they go about changing their menus and you’ll get a wide variety of answers depending upon the type of establishment they run. Whether the challenge is a full menu revamp, or a seasonal change, striking a harmonious menu balance between creativity, cost management and consumer demand is never an easy task.

Wagyu1IMG_0895EWhen Eddie Merlot’s revamped their entire fall/winter dinner menu, (50 changes were made), EM owner, Bill Humphries, further challenged his staff with a very specific task: find a new steak that has the WOW factor! “We went to numerous ranches and top purveyors to find it,” described Tony Dee, Eddie Merlot’s Corporate Executive Chef.

What they found was a 20 oz. Wagyu Bone-In New York Strip that has never been offered in the U.S. from Greg Norman Australian Prime. Per their request, Norman’s company fabricated a “Signature Wagyu” with a marble score of 6.

Considering that most prime grade cuts have a marble score of 3, Merlot’s new Strip promised everything ‘wow’ and more. What makes the cut so different according to Dee, is “the texture and the taste. It has a buttery taste to it and the marbling is fantastic!”

Wagyu2IMG_0899EThe response thus far has been overwhelmingly positive from EM staff and customers. Are they worried that someone will try to copy them now? Dee mused he doesn’t know how you’d ever be able to copyright a menu, “there’s nothing we can do about it if someone copies us now – but that would be the best compliment.”

In addition to the new Strip, Merlot’s upgraded their 32 oz Signature Wagyu Tomahawk Ribeye, and added a 20 oz Bone-In Bison Ribeye and 7 oz Bison Filet Mignon to the mix. Wagyu sliders, burgers and even a ½ pound Wagyu hot dog are on their new Lounge Menu now too.

On the subject of changing menus, Dee says it’s important to do it for seasonal change and variety. You have to keep the freshest of ingredients on the menu when they’re in season to be satiable and fiscally smart. “We try to be smart as much as possible,” offers Dee, “but we’re also not afraid to go out and find great product. We want to provide the very best we can – that’s one of the reasons this company is so great.”

From the desk of John Cecala || Website   LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Clips | 6 Posts for Managing Meat Costs

Last week, Fox News reported that some fast-food chains had experienced ground beef rates “up 24 percent from a year ago”.Steer Grass

Meat prices are high; that’s old news. News also not likely to change quickly according to a cattle market publisher who says, “livestock producers are just starting to replenish their herds”, and doesn’t expect prices to come down “until 2017.”

The challenges of drought in a market with steadily increasing global demands, puts us knee deep in the classic cycle of things get worse before they get better. Needless to say, keeping balance between food costs, and customer expectations is all the tougher for it.

If you’re looking for inspiration on cost containment, check out our most recent post: Why is it so hard to get a thick steak these days? (The short answer is larger cattle; with larger cattle there are larger muscles.)

Restaurants who want to offer a variety of smaller sized steaks without sacrificing taste or presentation will find this a helpful read. Smaller portioned Rib Eyes and Strips can be thick, juicy and cost efficient!

For additional tips and ideas on managing meat costs and menus, check out our list of relative posts below.

Premium alternatives to Prime Rib and Tenderloin without the premium price:      How to Manage Holiday Menu Costs with Boneless Strip Loin

Bill & Hold, Reduce Portion Size, Alternative Cuts, Trim Specs and Buy More/Receive Less are some of the best methods for defraying cost:                     5 Tips to Keep From Paying More

What if we said you could make more money (real margin dollars), with a higher food cost percentage? Crazy, right? How Food Margins Get You to the Bank

How do you maintain profits with food costs escalating faster than your customer’s disposable income? Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays

Help in four words: chop-ready-primal-cuts …no waste, hidden costs or by-products!  How to Slim Down Your Food Costs in the New Year

From the desk of  John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Why is it so hard to cut a thick steak these days?

With the bumper corn crop this year and record high cattle prices, feedlot operators are bulking up cattle to make more money. Great for them – not so much for restaurants.

buedel website steakWhile menu trends have “beefed up” in recent years, ‘bulking up’ makes it tough for restaurants that want nice thick steaks on plates while adhering to portion control sizes.

It’s important to know that restaurants don’t always have unilateral control over how thick steaks can be when cutting to a specific portion weight. This leaves many chefs wondering, Why can’t I get thicker cuts of my favorite rib eyes or strips in the portion sizes I want?

The Dilemma

Heavier cattle, also means larger muscles. Rib Eyes, for example, are commonly running over 16 pounds in size when in years past the average was 12 to 13 pounds. At the same time restaurants like to plate nice thick steaks, usually 1.5″ or thicker while keeping to the portion control weight that best controls their food costs.

The increased average size of cattle makes it harder and harder for restaurants to get the portion size they want in conjunction with the thickness they want. The dilemma leaves many to choose between serving thicker steaks that are higher in portion weight, or properly portion weighted steaks that end up very thin and wide making for a less than desirable plate presentation.

Why Size Matters

Let’s say your goal is to serve a 1.5” thick 14 oz portion cut steak. The size of the loin that you start with will largely determine if both your goals can be met.

14oz CutLineImagine you have two whole rib eye loins. One loin is smaller; one loin is larger. As you can see from the picture above, your cut line will be in a different place depending on the size of the loin to achieve a 14 oz portion. Consequently, the larger loin will yield a much thinner 14 oz steak, and the smaller loin will yield a much thicker 14 oz steak.

Price Buyers Beware

The obvious solution would be then to purchase smaller size loins, right? Technically yes, but smaller size loins, or “downs” as we call them in the meat industry, are getting harder to come by and thus, usually carry a higher price.

Price shoppers who buy the lowest cost boxed beef to cut their own steaks will likely be getting random sized loins. Lowest priced commodity boxed beef often comes with higher loin weights from the larger loins of heavier cattle as opposed to lighter loins harvested in years past.

The problem steakhouses then have in offering smaller (lower ounce) sized steaks like Rib Eyes and NY Strips, is that smaller sizes would look like pancakes on the plate because the muscles are so large. People are accustomed to large, thick and juicy steaks –thin cuts are just less impressive on the plate. Steakhouses would be embarrassed to serve steaks in this fashion.

Alternative Solutions

Hand Selecting

If you’re cutting your own steaks and want thicker steaks without giving away portion control, request that your meat supplier hand select lighter loins or pick lighter master case weights to fill your boxed beef orders.

RibEyeWhile hand selecting is sometimes impossible with large broad line distributors, specialized meat purveyors like Buedel Fine Meats can usually accommodate such requests. This helps you deal with the problem before your meat comes in the door.

You can also achieve a nice balance between price, steak thickness and lighter portion weights by being a bit creative with your trim specification and merchandising on your menu. Try using the Boston Cut.

Boston Cuts

You can take a large loin size, say 15+ lbs, and cut it in half lengthwise making two 7.5 lb pieces. From each half then you can cut a thick small portion weight steak.

Boston CutWe call them “Boston Cuts” and they make a beautiful plate presentation for smaller ounce steaks. Boston Cut steaks are becoming more popular for a la carte menus and banquets.

These cuts are trending now for several reasons. Diet conscious people who prefer eating in moderation can still enjoy a smaller portion size with the luxury of a hearty looking delicious steak. Chefs can enjoy consistent sizes and cooking times while having a more attractive way to serve smaller portion sized steaks.

Boston Cuts of Rib Eye and Sirloin Strip are also great alternatives to higher priced tenderloin filets for banquet menus and split plates.

ABF Natural Beef

Another way to battle record high beef prices is to retreat from commodity cattle weights – specifically those getting heavier due to the increased use of added growth hormones, antibiotics and beta-agonists in the feed. Consider purchasing beef that was raised without added growth hormones or antibiotics.

True All Natural Beef such as, Niman Ranch and Creekstone Farms Premium Angus, which come from cattle raised without added growth hormones or administered antibiotics and tend to be smaller in size.

Don’t be fooled by the USDA’s generic definition of “natural” [a product containing no artificial ingredient or added color and is only minimally processed] either. Pretty much all conventional beef fit this description today. Rather, look for brands that publish their handling protocols which specifically state never-ever policies.

The nation’s low cattle supply will portend the current state of all time high beef prices a few more years before things return to normal. Or, perhaps what is happening today may indeed be the new normal. The good news is, you do have options to get the thicker steaks you want.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 11.6.14

Millenial Mayhem

Last week the NPD Group, a leading industry market research firm, released a study on the latest spend trend findings related to Millennial influence.

Coveted as the sweet spot market niche for everything from tech to tacos, restaurant owners may be surprised to learn where the 18 to 34 year old age group spent most of their $95 billion food bucks for fiscal year ending June 2014.11.6 NPD Chart

Marketers would like to think 25-34-year-old Millennials, settled into careers, buying homes and having children, are devoted to the fast casual category. But according to NPD’s findings, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Of the 14 billion restaurant visits made by Millenials in this fiscal time frame, the destination majority weighed in at QSR s (quick service restaurants) across its 18-34-year-old population. While trends do provide an increase in fast casual spending, the number is extremely small when compared to the big picture spend.

Other notes made by the study pointed to voice and expectations. What this 74 million + population says on social media about where they go, and what they found there, remains one of the biggest cursory markers for the industry. Foodservice providers acknowledge brand injury through technology and the power of influence at hand.

Price promos, coupons and loyalty programs are also uber-essential to Millennials because they “expect to be rewarded for their loyalty”, reports NPD. What sets this group above others may be the fact that when their “dining expectations” aren’t met they are, “quick to spread the word.”

Down the road, NPD says growth in this spending segment, “the largest of the six key US generational groups”, will be further spurred by Hispanic influence.

New Fest in Town

11.6 RamenOrganizing Chefs, Bill Kim of bellyQ, Tai Dang of Embeya and Gene Kato of Sumi Rolata Bar appeared on Lunchbreak earlier this week in honor of Ramenfest.

The inaugural event, which debuts this Saturday, will challenge a line-up of 20 local chefs to interpret their take on the classic dish – a polar opposite to the pennywise micro-cook student favorite.

A portion of the proceeds from ticket sales and a planned silent auction will also benefit Common Threads, dedicated to educating children about different cultures through food and art.

The event sold out immediately online, and the Chefs are already hoping to make it bigger and better next year by adding a culinary contest to the mix.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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One on One with Gibsons Top Chef, Randy Waidner

2014 marked the 25th Anniversary of Gibsons first restaurant –Gibsons Steakhouse on Rush. Since then the Gibsons Restaurant Group (GRG) has grown to a family of six, with additional expansion plans in the works.

We sat down with GRG’s Top Chef, Randy Waidner, to talk about meeting the challenges and expectations of running and maintaining a successful restaurant operation today.

gibsons headerYou’ve been an Executive Chef for over 20 years and GRG’s Corporate Chef for the last 8, what do you see as the biggest differences between these positions?

The corporate structure definitely has more to do with admin, managing the exec chefs, labor, cost of goods, menu development, global expansions, etc. Sometimes I miss the cooking every day, but this is an exciting part of the business. It’s very rewarding driving sales, controlling costs and so forth.

What’s your favorite part of your job right now?

Expanding the restaurant and providing opportunities for people. Cooking is my passion, and there’s still so much to it.

What have you found to be your biggest challenges in recent years?

That could be several different things depending on what aspect of the business you’re talking about. But, staffing, finding quality staff that are able to be trained, then cost of product and consistent supply of good product.

It’s tough to find really good quality people. Our business is very demanding, and it takes a special person who can adapt to our environment –it’s not hour by hour, it’s minute by minute here. You also absolutely need to have a culinary background to be in the kitchen.

Have you noticed any shifts in consumer behavior in recent years?

They are more educated and want to know the chefs. They’re into where the product is sourced ‘…is it from a farm?’ Just to say something is “organic” doesn’t mean as much anymore –is it sustainable? Our customers know where we get our produce from, and they like to frequent those places.

How do you get those messages across?

We train our staff to tell them, sometimes we put it in on the menu, but it requires a lot of staff education.

What type of marketing works best for you these days?

Now, social media has helped a lot. I truly believe an educated staff, both front and back, goes a long way – that’s more measurable than any ad anywhere. It’s hard to measure ads. Once customers are in the building, you take care of them – that’s what you do – that’s an immediate measure.

What is the key to a great steak?

It’s sourcing, not just “USDA Prime”. For us, it’s all about the source. We try to source the breed, the farm, the packers, etc. all along the chain. We actually go and see how the animals are being born, treated, fed, harvested… Then when we take delivery, we just add our seasoning salt and extremely hot heat to get a nice char. It takes anywhere from 14 to 20 months and sometimes longer before our cattle are ready –when the farmers say the animals are ready. SteakWhat’s your favorite cut?

W.R.’s Chicago Cut [a 22 oz. bone-in rib eye], but it’s really tough to pick just one.

What first attracted you to culinary?

Apparently, when I was 3, I told my mom and aunt that I wanted to be a chef. I don’t know where that came from, but my first job was as a busboy at a country club. I was mesmerized at the orchestration going on in the kitchen. I’d watch them [the kitchen staff] sautéing, chopping, moving about without looking – they just knew when someone was behind them.

Where did you grow up?

In Northbrook [Illinois]. I took some cooking classes in high school; it was called “Home Economics” then, but I still took them. Then I went to J&W in Rhode Island and spent five years out there.

What advice would you offer to young chefs?

You want to say, ‘Are you crazy!?’, but TV has done an incredible amount for our industry. It’s gone from blue collar to white collar –taken us from the dungeon of the kitchen to the limelight. BUT, there’s only one Bobby Flay, just like there’s only one Tiger Woods.

I think culinary schools should also consider offering equipment care. Everyone looks to the Chef to get these things done. If you’re the Chef, you’re the general, when something goes wrong you need to know how to figure it out.

It’s a lot of hard work, dedication, time… you give up things. I know lots of people who are great chefs, but just don’t know how to make money, you have to have a balance of both.

Gibsons has expanded steadily; what new properties are on the horizon?

We’ve got a project in Manhattan, Orlando, and Philly; we’ll have some more in Chicago too, it’s exciting! Since I’ve been here, we’ve done four, and now we’re adding three more.

Let’s talk a moment about the current properties in the Group. How is the Montgomery Club doing?

We’ve had it about a year; we started with a soft open. We can do 2-300 plated, and we’ve done 1,000 for cocktails and hors d’ oeuvres. We’ve done Charles Tillman’s [Chicago Bear] charity event twice.

What made you open an event only venue?

We did it because there were times when we were limited to parties of 180 at our restaurants, and people started asking us about doing more.

How is Quartino Ristorante doing?

Quartino is doing great. Chef Colletta, the managing partner is wonderful. Everything is from scratch; it’s a fun place to go to and a fun place to eat. It is really casual, but the level of the food is very high. To keep increasing sales over the last 9-10 year time period, is amazing.

Then there’s ChiSox Bar & Grill

ChiSox

We’ve had it four years now; it is right outside of Parking Lot B …and tied to how well the Sox are doing. It’s a great sports bar; there are 75 screens. We have a giant smoker in the back, and everything’s done fresh.

Will you do more sports venues?

I’d like to…

What was it like putting a restaurant inside a casino?

Yes, Hugo’s Frog Bar & Fish House in the Rivers Casino. They wanted a steakhouse, but we made it a chophouse with a blended menu – Gibsons [Rosemont] is so close to it. They sell a lot of fish too. We’ve heard a lot of people go to the casino for Hugo’s food without ever gambling!

The new Florida venue will be more like a Hugo’s; the NY location will be an American high end, and Philly will be a Hugo’s chophouse kind of a thing. HugosHow hard is it to keep the operational side up to speed with the growth?

That goes to the people. We really hold our employees in very high regard, without them we don’t have anything. We are always looking for great people; we are always training.

One thing that sets us apart is we don’t upsell. You don’t have to go through another series of questions before the order is finally taken. Unless you order Bombay, we’ll give you a gin and tonic. We want to make people feel they’re being taken care of versus being sold more.

It’s unusual to have a server talk you out of something too, but we want to make sure to let them know when they’re ordering too much food with portion sizes, etc.

What do you think is the #1 standout about GRG?

Whatever venue we’re talking about, it’s always about the quality of the product, service and the extreme value of what you get. These are the three things that stand out. Nobody beats us on product; nobody beats us on service; nobody beats us on value.

How did you feel about winning Eater Chicago’s Best Steakhouse contest this year?

That’s HUGE because that’s our customers saying so! (Who knows how all those “best steakhouse in the country” ads ever get into the magazines you see on airplanes.) Chicago is a force to be reckoned with! Over the last 24 years, there are always one to two Chicago chefs being recognized by James Beard…

Are you excited about the JB Awards coming to Chicago?

It’s SO huge the awards are coming here next year. It’s not about beating out New York; it’s about having a global view. We are coming together as a culinary nation.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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Meet Chuck, Your New Bestie

What’s one of the best things you can do to handle rising meat prices? Get to know Chuck!

With meat prices at an all time high, chefs and consumers alike are scrambling for ways to buy meat affordably. One of the best things you can do to meet the challenge is to get to know Chuck –intimately.

Chuck 101

ChuckMapThe upper shoulder area of a steer, the forequarter, is commonly known as the “Chuck”, comprised of a network of interconnected muscles that move the animal when it walks.

The amount of Chuck’s connective tissue makes it generally less tender and tougher than middle meats such as rib eye and strip loin. But what makes Chuck so attractive is its inexpensive price and versatility.

Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts. Worth repeating, Chuck costs 30% – 40% less than other cuts! Add this to the fact that Chuck can be ground, as well as cut into a variety of roasts and steaks, and it’s easy to see why hooking up with Chuck is an economically smart and versatile move.

Chuck Cuts

Below are just some of the varieties of ways Chuck can best serve your menu and budget when cut into roasts or steaks: (Pictures from BeefItsWhatsforDinner.com)

Roasts from the Chuck

Roasts cut from Chuck contain a lot of connective tissue, including collagen, which partially melts during cooking. This makes the meat excellent for stewing, slow cooking, braising, and pot roasting.

Chuck Roast (Pot Roast) Shoulder Pot Roast  Pot Roasts offer robust beef flavor; are lean, moist and tender when braised (pot roasting).
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 182 calories; 6 g fat

7-Bone Chuck Roast  The 7-Bone Chuck Roast includes a cross cut of the shoulder blade. The bone is shaped like a “7″, which gives the cut its name. The 7-Bone roast or “steak” is generally considered a rather tough cut of meat and needs to be slow cooked or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 11 g fat

Petite Tender Roast  The Petite Tender, also known as the Teres Major, is the second most tender muscle in the animal after the Tenderloin. It’s found deep inside the Chuck and is lean, has a great beef flavor, a nice bite texture and is about half the price of Tenderloin. It can be roasted, or cut into 4oz medallions that look just like tenderloin filets which can be skillet cooked or grilled.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 150 calories; 6 g fat

Steaks from the Chuck

The different muscles found in the Chuck can be further cut into steaks. Recommended cooking methods are Marinate, Grill or Broil and Skillet.

Steak StripFlat Iron Steak  Also known as Shoulder Top Blade Steak and Top Blade Steak
The Flat Iron Steak is a trending favorite on many of today’s menus. It is the sixth most popular steak at restaurants in the U.S. now according to recent statistics provided by the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 189 calories; 11 g fat

Chuck Eye Steak  Also known as English Steak, London Broil and Shoulder Steak
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 178 calories; 9 g fat

Ranch Steak  Also known as Shoulder Center Steak. Ranch steak is cut from the shoulder roast; it has a beefy flavor but is tough. It is best when braised, or grilled, to no more than medium.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 155 calories; 6 g fat

Short Ribs  Also known as Chuck Short Ribs. Short ribs can be bone-in or boneless, are hearty in flavor and offer a versatile number of menu options –absolutely delicious when slow roasted or braised.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 201 calories; 11 g fat

Wrap Up

ChuckGroundLast, but not least, Chuck also makes a highly flavorful Ground. It is often used for Hamburgers, Meatloaf, Meatballs, and as an ingredient in many ethnic dishes.
Nutritionals: 3-ounce cooked serving: 215 calories; 13 g fat

You can’t beat the affordability and versatility of Chuck. Use these cuts with creativity and help manage your food costs, increase your food margins and satiate your appetite.

For more tips and ideas read, Value Steaks from Lesser Known Cuts and Cheat Sheet for Meat. Find recipe ideas at: http://www.beefitswhatsfordinner.com/recipes.aspx.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats   Facebook

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BUEDEL HONORED WITH GOVERNOR’S EXPORT AWARD

CHICAGO Buedel Fine Meats & Provisions was honored last night with the Governor’s Export Award in the category of New Exporter by the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity (DCEO).

Exports are a vital part of Illinois’ fluid economy and continued economic growth in the State. The Governor’s Export Awards are the State’s highest recognition of export achievement honoring Illinois companies that achieve excellence in exporting and to organizations which provide substantial export assistance to Illinois companies.

The State encourages all Illinois companies and organizations that work to promote Illinois products and services abroad to participate in this awards program.

Award Criteria

Illinois businesses are judged on their activities in the following of cateGovAward6.jpg.pnggories: export sales figures, foreign destinations, history of export activities, company size, products/services, business strategies, solutions and innovations.

Each year a DCEO judging panel reviews applications for this prestigious recognition in 6 categories: New Exporter, Agricultural Business Exporter, Service Exporter, Export Awareness & Development, Exporter of the Year and Exporter Continuing Excellence.

Recipients of the New Exporter award must have no more than three years of activity in foreign markets. Buedel Fine Meats began exporting to Asian and Asian Pacific destinations in 2013.

Thrilled & Honored

Buedel’s VP of Sales, John Cecala and General Manager, Tim Vlcek, accepted the New Exporter Award at a reception which took place last night at the Union League Club of Chicago.GovAward1

Pictured L to R: Adam Pollet, Director Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, John Cecala, Buedel VP of Sales and GM, Tim Vlcek, Daniel Geoff, Deputy Director DCEO.

Cecala credits much of their company’s global strategies to the guidance they received from programs offered by the Illinois Department of Agriculture Marketing, (IDAM) and exposure to international buyers afforded at the National Restaurant Show (NRA).

“Combined with our direct marketing efforts,” Cecala says, “Ag Marketing and the NRA show helped our company successfully develop foreign market initiatives for our products. We are absolutely thrilled and honored to receive this award!”

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From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

 

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How Food Margins Get You to the Bank

The majority of chefs and restaurateurs we talk with use food cost percentages as a primary measure of effective purchasing and implied profitability. Monitoring food cost percentages is certainly an important metric; however it is margin dollars that take you to the bank –not food cost percentages.

What if I told you that you could make more money, i.e. real margin dollars, with a higher food cost percentage? Crazy, right? Read on…

Percent V. Margin

The Food Cost Percentage measures the cost of the ingredients as a percentage of the menu selling price of a dish:10.21MarginCalc3

Most would agree this is a good metric that measures the purchasing side of the equation. However, it fails to tell you how much money you made and by itself paints an incomplete picture.

To calculate the food cost percentage for an entire menu in aggregate for a time period, inventories are necessary:

10.21MarginCalc2If you were expecting a theoretical food cost percentage to be 39% and your actual food cost percentage was 45%, that difference is a measure of inefficiency.

The reasons for such discrepancies may be caused by over portioning, theft, poor product rotation, spoilage or excessive waste. Subtract your Actual Food Cost from the Expected Food Cost and multiply that result by sales for the period, to understand how much money was wasted for that time period.

Actual Food Cost Percentages vs. Expected Food Cost Percentages can help you identify problem areas in the kitchen. However, looking at food cost percentages alone fails to tell you how much money you actually made or lost.  It’s margin dollars that pay the bills not food cost percentages.

Margins Bank Bucks

Your Food Margin measures the actual margin dollars a menu item contributed to your bottom line profits. You take margin dollars to the bank, not food cost percentages.

Focusing on a menu item’s contributing margin dollars versus food cost percentage can potentially make you more money despite a higher food cost percentage. Thus, focusing on Food Margins could then be a more impactful method to building a profitable menu.

Calculate the Food Margin of an item by subtracting the Total Item Cost from the Menu Selling Price. This will illustrate the profit made every time you sell this item:

10.21MarginCalc1The following example compares the two methods on a typical menu decision:

10.21MarginChartAt first glance, the steak sandwich cost appears significantly more expensive to produce than the chicken –until you take a look at the cash drawer.

In this example, the gross profit on the steak sandwich is 16% higher than the gross profit on the chicken sandwich, yet has a 12% higher food cost percentage. You will take more actual dollars to the bank with the steak sandwich in this case by focusing on Food Margins instead of Food Cost percentages.

Plus One

Add one more part to the equation – the psychology of your customer.

Consumers prefer to pay a little more when they perceive the item to be of higher value. It’s called the “Price-Quality Effect” as researched in Holden and Nagle’s book, The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing, A Guide to Growing More Profitably.

According to Holden and Nagle, price-quality research provides, “…customers worry less about the price if higher prices denote higher quality. Creating a perception of exclusivity, rareness or quality will persuade the buyer to be okay with spending more. The product itself doesn’t need to be of the highest quality. If the branding denotes a high-quality ethos, customers will spend.”

Bank on it!

The next time you review your end of period financial statements and think, my food cost percentages are too high, the ingredients I’m buying are too expensive, and/or I can’t afford to upgrade my food, figure the bankable math first!

Calculate your food margins and note all higher qualities on your menu. Train your wait staff to properly explain higher quality and leverage the psychology of the price-quality effect.

Bank on Food Margins versus Food Cost %.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Chef Jake Burgess | On Trend at Prime 47

Prime 47 is one of downtown Indy’s top upscale steakhouses. With a second location in Carmel, and a third recently opened in Cincinnati, we spoke with Prime’s Regional Executive Chef, Jake Burgess, about expansion, the state of his industry and trends.

Why Cincy?

The investment group plans to expand the Prime 47 name. It had the same feel and vibe of the [first] restaurant – huge windows… you’re looking outside the whole time.

Pictured Above & Below Right: A long table view from Prime’s mezzanine and  historic preserved windows.

Prime 47 in downtown Indy was originally the Indiana Gas Company, we kept the original floors, ceilings, etc. In Cincy we found the same type of building there, located by the performing arts center.

How many restaurants are you looking to open in the future?

We’ll stay in the Midwest for now for the next 5 years, then, further west/southwest –southwest is where it’s at.

What first attracted you to the culinary field?

I grew up on the east side of Indy in Fortville and started washing dishes at a pizza joint at 15 in 2001. The oven guy called in one night and I got to work the ovens, and that’s when it changed. I majored in Food & Hospitality [at Ball State], but then didn’t think I’d like to take the corporate G.M. route, so I went to work for the best restaurant I could. I did a stint in Georgia, came back, worked for Mo’s, [former Prime owner group] then at Capital Grille, Sensu and on to my dream job with Prime 47.

When did you fall in love with making food?

At 17, when I was managing the pizza place. I came up with some new pizza and styles of pizza. Some of my ideas were put on the menu, and I was really excited about it. But, I started really learning culinary when I went upscale. The best words of advice given to me were, ‘You just have to engulf yourself.’Cooking pic

Pictured Right: Chef Burgess carefully drains bacon grease to reserve for making future stock. Cooking bacon on parchment keeps the bacon in place for easier draining, a kitchen tip he says home cooks can use too.

Industry Views

What do you see as your biggest challenges now?

As most of the restaurants felt with the weather in the Midwest last winter, it was hard to get people out of their houses while prices on protein and fish were going through the roof. We’re heavily convention based downtown; the convention base is down 30% for the year in Indy. Some of the annual conventions have also stopped returning due to cutbacks.

How do you manage prices?

We get steaks in whole and fish in whole and come up with 3 or 4 dishes out of it. We can make fish stock out of bones, etc., for soups and specials. In the past, we wouldn’t have a use for it.

It’s all about “Nose to Tail” now, isn’t it?

Yes. We take stuff that 10-15 years ago was deemed unusable, or nobody wanted.

How easy or hard do you think it’s been for customers to accept that?

Social media is a double-edged sword – but people are now intrigued by it. When people “like” on social media it helps others to want to try new things. You can have some fun with it too.

Are you an advocate of social media?Tuna + Wagyu

I think social is huge – we rely on it a lot – it’s helped a lot of people to change their minds. 15 years ago, there were no phones allowed at work, now we encourage the staff to check in on their accounts and let people know they’re at work. It’s free advertising! It’s changed the way we do business.

Pictured Above & Below Right: Plated Tuna & Wagyu. Prime’s table side fresh meat presentation.

How’s ownership dealing with transparency?meat tray2

They’re getting used to it – you don’t want to be behind or too far ahead. You don’t want to be New York in Indy right now – they say we’re 5 years behind Chicago and 10 from New York – but some things today, wouldn’t have flown then, and can now.

On Trends

What do you see as the next big trend?

Farm to Table –there are a lot of places where that’s all they do …if we can just get corporate into that. There’s a lot of product I’m buying from farmers 15-20 miles away from me now.

What’s the difference between Farm to Table vs. Buying Local?

We intertwine both. We buy the freshest and the best we can buy. So, if my beef prices go up, I have to raise menu price, because I’m not going to sacrifice for grade.

That brings up another good point; how do you feel about the way many restaurants misuse the word, “prime” on their menus?

Prime marketing… Prime Steakhouse has just one prime steak on their menu –a lot of their stuff is choice. Anytime I get a deal; my customers do. I have a great deal on Wagyu right now, better than some of the others, and we pass that on.

Which steaks are really prime? If there are several same steaks on the menu, ask; research before you go in to compare prices.

Logo with quoteWhat are your best selling meats these days?

Our 8 oz. filet is the top seller and Ribeye, which is handcut in-house and a little cheaper, if you’re into marbling. The 14 oz. bone in filet is hot right now too. We also have a 30 oz. Wagyu Tomahawk –it’s known as, “Indy’s most expensive steak”, people split it 30% of the time.

Do you see a difference in the amount of food consumed by customers?

I see carbs going down, lots of steamed vegetables and fresh produce going up… and fish going up. I also had a customer in here recently who ordered the 30 oz. Wagyu, with sides and had dessert too.

Do you think the Steakhouse trend will change?

I hope not. Indy is really booming; there are more coming in. I don’t see any change in the near future, but over time trends happen.

What would you do if steakhouses went out of vogue?

We are a big bourbon steak feel – we’d have to do some quick market research to see where you can take it. I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Our steakhouse has the best services in the state; we are very interactive –we like to put on a show. We’re “fine dining”, but we like to say, ‘fun dining.’ The martinis are shaken at the table every time, we have the meat presentation and we wish our customers “happy birthday” with a personalized piano rendition played especially for them.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 10.10.14

Chef’s Hall of Fame

The next inductions to the Chef’s Hall of Fame will take place at Castle Nightclub on Thursday, October 16th at the annual fund raising benefit for the Chicago Culinary Museum.2014CulinaryHallofFame

 

 

 

 

 

 

This year’s honorees are:

Chef of the Year, Chef Stephanie Izard –Chef/Partner Girl & the Goat, The Goat, James Beard award winner, Top Chef Season 4 winner and cookbook author.

Pastry Chef of the Year, Chef Gale Gand –Former Food Network Sweet Dreams host, cookbook author, James Beard award winner, co-owner of TRU and the newly opened Spritz Burger.

Industry Leader, Phil Stefani –Restaurateur of more than 15 restaurants and private event venues including: Tuscany, Riva, Crystal Gardens, Chango Loco, Navy Pier Beer Garden, Castaways, The Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier, Phil Stefani’s 437 Rush, Phil Stefani Signature Events and Tavern on Rush.

Legendary Chef, Chef Michael Kornick –Chef/Partner DMK Restaurants: DMK Burger Bars, Fish Bar, Ada Street, County Barbecue, DMK Burger & Fish and Henry’s Swing Club.

Industry Legend, Larry Levy –Founder of Levy Restaurants, an internationally recognized specialized food service organization with market leading share of high-end sports and entertainment facilities throughout North America and Europe and network of restaurants.

25 local restaurants will be serving at the event, which also includes an open bar, DJ and silent auction. (Buedel Fine Meats is proudly donating a shopping spree to our online store for the auction.) There’s still time to buy tickets here.

Book Virgin

VH ChicagoIt is official, Virgin Hotels Chicago is now taking reservations for 2015. From the iconic messaging, “calling them rooms is like calling the Space Shuttle an airplane” (they call them chambers), to the dedicated Step Outside pages on their website filled with food, attractions and stores to see outside of the hotel, VH Chicago is in full marketing mode.

Located in the heart of the Chicago Loop, the hotel took over the 27 story Dearborn Bank Building on the corner of Wabash & Lake –Virgin also restored and recreated the architectural features of the historic 1928 Art Deco landmark.

VH Chicago2The impending roster of food and spirits is equally inviting: Miss Ricky’s (American diner), Two Zero Three (coffee and wine bar), Common’s Club (a breakfast, lunch and dinner social club where “everyone’s a member”) and The Rooftop Bar.

We wish all the best to Virgin Hotels Chicago and Executive Chef Rick Gresh.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn   @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 10.3.14

Best ‘Burb Burger

ParadisePupEaterChicago Eater just published a guide to “11 Great Suburban Restaurants”. Running the gamut from pizza to upscale fresh, #4 on the list is Paradise Pup in Des Plaines, which made the list for their highly acclaimed cheddar burgers –Gene & Jude’s in River Grove took top dog honors.

Those in the know have long treasured the tiny fast food stand decades before Guy Fieri brought national attention to them on Diners, Drive-ins, Dives. The Pup’s char-grilled fresh ground with melt in your mouth Merkts Cheddar and grilled onions stake permanent claim in the upper echelon of Chicago’s best burger joints.

Hot dogs, Polish sausage and shakes are also major fan favorites. The 3 Layer Fries are hands down, to die for –sour cream, real bacon bits and Merkts cheddar smothered over a fork worthy pile of French fries.

Open six days a week from 11-5 (only!) you can expect to wait in lines that spill out the door and wrap around the building on any given day, at any time, in most any type of weather –that’s how good their food is!

Oktober Check-in

10665714_613092738809814_1277960021209318271_nFast approaching the midway point of a seven week long Oktoberfest, Executive Chef Klaus Lotter of Hofbräuhaus Chicago (HC) shared some thoughts on food fests and the return of German cuisine.

Since this is our second year running the Oktoberfest, we have a better grasp on what to expect and how to handle it. The main focus is on being prepared. As is the norm in the kitchen, as long as you are prepared and well stocked, you can handle any business that comes your way. Keep organized and work clean!

Raised in Chicago and having worked in Germany, Chef Lotter says it’s a “privilege” to be a part of the HC team and the resurgence of German cuisine.

You know, it’s really an honor for me to give Chicago back an authentic German experience and offer them a cuisine that has lost some popularity over the last two decades when there were more options and locations to go to. Just like some of my chef colleagues at the Brauhaus Chicago, Schnitzel Platz and Edelweiss, we bring to the public a taste of something close to our heart and from our heritage. It all starts with the authenticity and care.Schnitzel

Chef Lotter provides that “the ALWAYS favorite” at HC is Wiener Schnitzel, and their crispy Pork Shank is a local weekend favorite (served Fri-Sun only). Based on last year’s numbers and this year’s projections, he estimates they will go through 20,000 of their famous Giant Pretzels and another 30,000 of the regular sized during Oktoberfest.

Hoftoberfest runs through Friday, October 31st. Make online reservations here.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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It’s Okay to Chew the Fat!

BigFatSurprise2Have you heard about “The Big Fat Surprise” yet? It’s a new book which takes to task over a half century’s worth of bad fat rap.

Pursuant to nine years of trailing the research and conducting expert interviews, author Nina Teicholz’s challenging revelations on Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet is rattling the cage of many a diet guru and medical pundit.

Good Fat/Bad Fat

An independent investigative journalist, Teicholz relentlessly pursued a tedious journey of facts and fiction which began with a post-World War II rise in heart disease in America. Triggered in part by President Eisenhower’s 1955 heart attack, a WSJ review recounts Teicholz’s tracking of (government backed and tainted) clinical study results which were irrevocably embraced by the media and echoed forward by food manufacturers.

Teicholz describes the trail of historical data as “the blood sport of nutrition science” suggesting that decades of scientists would use extreme measures to shield their findings over contradictory others. Some of Teicholz’s provocative conclusions include:

* The health benefits of eating red meat high in saturated fat outweigh the benefits of eating lean red meat with less saturated fat.

* Red Meat is the only food which improves good HDL cholesterol levels

* Diets which are void of the saturated fats in meat, eggs and dairy have ultimately increased carbohydrate consumption thus contributing to diabetes and obesity

As you can imagine, contemporary proponents of cardiovascular health are quick to contradict. In a CNN interview, Doc du Jour, Dean Ornish, professes, “If you eat a diet that is high in animal protein, your risk of dying from everything goes up considerably. If you eat a plant-based diet, which is naturally low in fats and refined carbs, a whole foods plant-based diet, the disease risk decreases.”

Industry pub, Meating Place, notes that Teichholz’s book comes at a time when the 2015 issue of the DGA (Dietary Guidelines for Americans) is looming in the wings. Interestingly enough, no less than 20 government agencies (see the full list here) legislate and rely upon the DGA.

The odds of reversing current DGA guidelines from low intake of saturated fat echoed further (and lower) by the American Heart Association by next January are pretty slim.

Food for Thought

Ornish also says Teicholz’s book is “dangerous” because it tells “people what they want to hear.” And there’s the AMEN moment –who doesn’t want to eat bacon with great abandon?

You can’t help but wonder if the Atkins Diet wasn’t closer to the mark than decades of critics would have us think. Everyone I’ve ever known who tries it loses weight quickly—but as soon as they stop “doing Atkins,” they gain it all back.

Where swapping out sugar for fat may be a great accelerant for weight loss, it still always comes down to balance. Low fat, doesn’t mean no fat, and bacon, will always rule!

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 9.12.14

Hoftoberfest2014oktoberfest-v31

Tonight is THE night at Hofbräuhaus Chicago—the kick off to an amazing seven-week long celebration—Oktoberfest. Unlike any of those weekend tent events you may go to, there’s no better way to take in this annual German-pa-loosa than at Hofbräuhaus.

If you haven’t been to Hofbräuhaus yet, you absolutely don’t know what  you’re missing. From the inside view of their shiny micro-pretzelsbrewing vessels to the gigantic pretzels flown in from Germany and their amazing pork shanks and schnitzels, they take European ambience and cuisine to whole new level.

Celebrity keg tappers, food specials, live music (every day of the week), contests porkshankand more will elevate the routinely jovial Hofbräuhaus atmosphere through October 31st. And, of course, there will be “Oktoberfestbier”, a full-bodied lager with a “toffee like sweetness.” Hofbrähaus still uses recipes “handed down by the Duke of Bavaria, over 400 years ago”—you can’t get more authentic than that.

Make reservations online and check out their Sept/Oct newsletter here for more info. #HoftoberfestCHI

Foot Long Reaches New Lengths

100ftBratThe town of Bellville, Illinois plans on celebrating their 200th anniversary with a porkwurst of preposterous proportion. The town will attempt to cook a 200 foot “gluten-free lean pork” bratwurst at their bicentennial celebration on Saturday, September 21st.

In August, an attempt to do a 50 foot brat failed, but the town team of dedicated volunteers successfully cooked a 100 foot ‘wurst earlier this week in preparation for the 200 foot milestone. Read more at belleville200.com.

Craft for Conservancy

ChiAleFestA new festival will premiere at Grant Park next weekend. The Chicago Ale Fest, dedicated to the celebration of American craft beer, will run from Friday, September 19th through Saturday the 20th at Grant Park.

More than 200 beers from over 100 breweries will be featured, in addition to live music and food from area restaurants such as, Shaw’s Crab House and Tokio Pub, to name a few. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the Grant Park Conservancy.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays

9.8Foodstuff IndexWe’re all paying more for food now than we did last year. According to a recent report by Bloomberg’s Chase van der Rhoer, food prices are up 19% from December of last year. In the meat industry, we’ve seen as much as 44% food cost inflation since 2012 on many popular cuts.

At the same time, average base pay increases for 2014 will remain at 3 percent for the second year in a row in the U.S.—roughly one percentage point below pre-recession levels, according to the seventh annual Compensation Planning Survey by Buck Consultants.

The dichotomy of faster food price escalation over wages presents major challenges for restaurateurs. How do you maintain profits with food costs escalating faster than your customer’s disposable income?

Quality Costs Customers

Restaurant patrons are faced with paying higher prices—myself included. I’m much more discerning about where I spend my money now. I want quality, and a dining experience that satisfies me—that makes me feel my hard earned money was well spent. People want to walk out of a restaurant saying, “We’d come back here!” no matter if it’s fast casual or fine dining.

Some of my favorite local restaurants have cut the quality on their food to deal with higher food costs this year. As a customer, it’s disappointing to me. I find myself saying, ‘No, let’s not go there. It’s not as good as it used to be.’ I’d rather spend a little more money and go to a place where I walk away feeling satisfied and delighted.

What gives customers that, ‘come back’ feeling? It’s a combination of great service and great quality food. When I have a bad experience with the service, but the food is delicious, I’m much more forgiving than when I have bad food experience. When the food quality is poor or less than what I expected, I’m hesitant to go back. Sure nobody’s perfect and there are times when something goes wrong, but if I give the place another try and I have the same poor quality food experience, I’m done—cross that place off my list.

How do you feel when you dine out and are met with disappointment?

How Quality Pays

9.8Quality EffectWhen buyers opt for lowest prices despite quality, customer experience problems often begin. Quality ultimately reduces costs and builds customer loyalty. While that’s hard to measure on comparative bid sheets, there are many studies that prove quality pays in the long run.

In the 1979 book, Quality is Free, author Philip B. Crosby explains the idea of understanding the true “cost of poor quality,” by illustrating out how much it really costs to do things badly. Crosby demonstrates the cost of bad quality is inevitably more than the higher costs of good quality from the onset.

Every dollar you don’t spend on making up for poor quality becomes a dollar right to your bottom line. In the food service industry, every dollar you don’t spend to comp a meal, replace spoilage or decrease yields on finished goods from cheaper products, are dollars going straight to your bottom line.

Good quality increases income by attracting more customers and repurchase probabilities. At the same time, good quality lowers costs by elimination of lost business, rework and waste. Some studies show that implementing quality-focused programs can increase profits by 5%-10% of sales. Quality is not only free; it pays.

Quality is Relative to Consistency

What most restaurant patrons look for is consistency. When it comes to food, consistency starts with the quality of the products purchased. They can be consistently good in quality, consistently bad in quality, or inconsistent in quality. When food is purchased consistently good or consistently bad, the result is predictable. The worst scenario is when there is inconsistent quality.

Inconsistent quality usually stems from shopping for the lowest price and being fooled by the promise of quality. We see this every day in the supply side of the food service industry. Potential customers send out bid sheets with generic descriptions of the products they want prices on like, “GROUND BEEF” or “CHOICE FILET—ben franklin28 OZ”, and then often buy the lowest bid. This is why shopping the ‘exact same item’ is so important; not all ‘GROUND BEEF’ or ‘CHOICE FILET—8 OZ’ are the same.

Any purveyor can quote a low price week to week using lower quality products to win the bid. But in the end, what do low quality, lower bid winning products really do for your restaurant? They deliver inconsistency and ultimately damage future returns.

Increase Quality & Consistency

Quality Doesn’t Cost, It Pays! was a tag line a friend of mine had painted on his produce trucks. I love this expression because it speaks directly to successful food cost management. Here are four cost savvy tips you can use to help increase quality and consistency:

  • Survey your staff. What does your wait staff hear from your guests about the food quality and consistency? What do your chefs and line cooks say about the quality of the food they prep?
  • Check your garbage. How much and what kind of foodstuffs are in your back of the house garbage? Low priced/Low quality food often spoils faster, has more waste and less yield. How much uneaten food are your bussers clearing off the table? Were your guests less hungry than they thought, or less happy with the quality of their meal?
  • Be specific and finite with your purchase specifications. Cite brand names or sources, specific quality grades and origins.
  • Work with suppliers that care about quality as much as you do. Define what quality means to you and how you measure it. If your suppliers don’t understand your true objectives, their guestimates can introduce inconsistent quality.

Paying a lower vendor price versus a higher one seems like a beneficial move—but the critical comparative here is that the purchase is for the exact same item. Look beyond price and focus on quality to improve your bottom line. You will reap positive results in the long run and be glad you did.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 9.4.14

B2—Bookings

With the holidaLeadGenGraphy booking season in full swing, hospitality, event planners and suppliers may gain inspiration from a new report by Chief Marketer, which provides 67% of B2B marketers say content marketing is one of the top channels they rely on for lead generation.

In addition to content marketing, the survey cites website registrations, social media and pay-per-click advertising “posted the most significant gains” in seeking new leads. Only 12% of respondents say they rely on single channels for lead gen versus 64%, who rely on multiple channels to drum up new business. Read more about the report here.

Top Cluck

BuedelPoultryPicAccording to an Allegra Food Service trend report, chicken accounts for 31% of all restaurant main dishes. Easy prep, cost and religious preference, are cited as the reasons for the recent spike in poultry popularity.

Other noted trend categories include street food, all-you-can-eat, small plates, healthy choices, gluten-free labeling, craft beer, all day breakfast, artisan coffee and BBQ. Trends on their way out are fruit bars, bubble tea and gourmet hot dogs.

Bacon Bubbles

BaconGumYou love bacon. We love bacon. But do we really want to chew this fat—in the form of bubble gum? Believe it or not, there are meatball, foie gras and pickle flavors available too. For more bizarre bubble brands, check out the Daily Meal’s weirdest gum flavors list.

If you want to stick with the real thing (and who doesn’t when it comes to bacon), The Great American Bacon Festival takes place this Saturday at Union Station. Buy tickets online.

Those who can’t make it to the fest this weekend might want to check out Zagat’s best bacon spots in Chicago; among the top picks, David Burke’s Primehouse and Benny’s Chop House.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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5 Ways to Tell if Your Rep is an Order Taker or a Value Provider

Risky contractSales representatives (still) play in an important role in our economy. Outside of self-serve sales, they facilitate transactions between buyers and sellers—they are the glue that binds tech, info, action and service together today. Yet most of us dread getting calls and emails from sales people for fear they’ll try to sell us something.

The big question is: Are you getting true value from your sales rep or mere transactions?

Sales Call, Line 2

Unfortunately, a lot of the bad rap came from the telemarketing industry. The statistical geniuses laid out a success plan for the ratio of outbound calls to sales results: the more people you call on will eventually lead to a sale. The funny thing is direct mail had been doing this for years. Send out enough pieces in mass, and you’ll get the coveted 2% return—on a good day. Something always sticks to the wall.

Companies rushed to hire banks of telemarketers armed with auto-dialers to plow through terabytes of databases in a non-stop effort to reach as many people as possible with their spiel. Consumers were bombarded with solicitation calls, usually beginning with the dinner hour and continuing throughout the evening.

It’s been about 10 years now since the Do Not Call Registry provided consumers with the ability to put an end to nuisance sales calls. That, combined with today’s digital channels, has all but put an end to telemarketing sales—unless you’re a charity seeking donations or an existing service provider (banks, credit cards, insurance) calling on your customers to offer them additional products and services.

At work, we’re called on by business-to-business (B2B) sales reps wanting to sell us something they believe will help our business. How many voice mails do you get each week from someone wanting a minute of your time to tell you about the benefits of their product or service? How many of those calls do you return? My guess is almost none of them.

When You Want a Call

When you have a need and want to buy something to meet that need, who do you want to talk to? That’s right, a sales rep …really? Yes, of course, you do, because it’s on your terms and not the other way around.

Ironically, even when we’re open to dialog with a sales rep we do so reluctantly assuming we’ll have to endure the pitch process to get to the information we really want—just a simple answer to our question.

Such reluctance stems from past experience with less than professional (just plain bad) sales reps who don’t listen and never shut up. They are the sales types who smother us with a spiel of what they assume we want and how great their company is. Sales reps worth their weight in gold (true professionals) don’t do this. They earn the trust of their customers first—they are the reps people want to do business with.

Good Rep/Bad Rep

The differences between the types of reps you want to do business with and the kind you don’t is simpler to spot than you may think. Here are the 5 top things to look for when seeking value providers vs. order takers:

1. They do their homework before they meet with you

Professional sales people who deliver real value take the time to do their research on you and/or your company. They spend time understanding your business to be able to explain the benefits of their product or service as it relates to your business.

In our business, we help chefs and restaurateurs with fine meat programs tailored to fit their needs. We take the time to learn as much as we can about our customers and prospects by studying their menus, eating at their venues, reading their customer reviews online and more. When we do our homework first, we can have more meaningful conversations with our customers about their business.

Reps who do their homework make better use of your valuable time and streamline the path to meeting your needs. If a sales rep opens the conversation with something like “…tell me about your business,” they probably didn’t do their homework beforehand.

2. They listen first and talk second

We set our aim to abide by the following expression at Buedel Fine Meats: We have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Meaning, we should listen more than speak.

Professional sale reps deliver real value when they listen first. They ask quality questions (sincerely) about your needs and seek comprehension of your goals before talking about their company. They want to know what drives your company’s needs, your decision making process, how you’ll know if your needs are met, and so on.

Value based sales reps know they must demonstrate how their product or service could benefit you in the context of your needs. The only way for them to do this is by listening first. Of course, there is an appropriate time for the sales rep to do all the talking so you can understand how their product or service can meet your needs, but if a rep is talking more than listening first, it’s a sign they’re putting their commission before your needs.

3. They make it safe and earn your trust

Professionals who deliver real value create a safe environment for you and they work to earn your trust. What I mean by a ‘safe environment’ is they create an atmosphere of accommodation without risk. Value adding sales reps accommodate your needs, not theirs. They work with you on your terms, not theirs. They follow your buying process, not their selling process.

Most sales people are under pressure to make sales, but the sales reps that add real value accommodate you without risk. An example of risk would be something like “… you have to buy it today, or the deal is gone.” Really? I doubt it. Earning your trust involves avoiding ultimatums and high pressure tactics.

We generally prefer to do business with people we know and like—we give them our trust because we find it safe to do so. Earning your trust is a process, not an event. Professional sales reps who add value know how to earn your trust and create a safe, no-risk environment to do business with you.

4. They say, “No” and frame it

Quality sales reps expect a long-term relationship with you. They understand that after they’ve earned your trust and your business there should be more business with you down the road. They also know that saying “yes” to everything you ask for, want or need is virtually impossible to deliver on. Conversely, they have the intelligence to say “no” when necessary to avoid purchase disappointments—in reality, they tell the truth.

The best value providers don’t just say “no” when they know their company will be unable to deliver on something, they also frame it with reasons why and propose “yes” alternatives. This gives you, as a buyer, an understanding of what and why they are able to do things and the opportunity to consider buying alternatives.

When you get what you expect, you’re happy. When you don’t, you feel like you’ve been taken.   Professional value based sales reps say, “no” with alternative ways to say “yes” so that you get what you expect.

5. They follow up in a timely manner

Probably the most important attribute of all that distinguishes a value provider from a transactional one is that they follow up in a timely manner. How frustrating is it to you when you’re under deadlines to get things done, and you can’t because you’re waiting and waiting for someone to follow up with you? Very frustrating!

All of us from time to time forget things, lose track of a to-do or without intention let something slip between the cracks. That’s human nature. However, if lack of follow-up by your sales rep is the norm rather than the exception, he/she is not bringing value to your relationship.

True pros are responsive in a timely manner. If they promise to get you an answer to your question by tomorrow, they get your answer by tomorrow, not next week or next month. They do what they say they are going to do. They return your phone calls and emails within a reasonable time frame. They realize that your time is valuable and when you need something it’s important to you. If they can’t follow up in a timely manner personally, they coordinate someone else following up for you on their behalf because you’re important to them.

Wrap Up

Reps who do their homework, listen first, work to earn your trust, avoid false promises and consistently follow up with you in a timely manner are professional value providers. Order Takers are often unprepared, like listening to themselves talk and will say anything to get the sale.

Who would you rather do business with?

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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Meat Picks | 8.21.14

Menu Mayhem

esq-big-boy-081611-xlgAuthor William Poundstone’s four year old book, Priceless: The Myth of Fair Value (and How To Take Advantage of It), is causing a new ruse for the hospitality community. Restaurant News penned a digital lead to a story published in the Daily Mail about it this week and the Food Network also blogged about it.

At task for restaurateurs, is a big reveal on what customers should keep an eye out for on menus—specifically spilling the beans on menu marketing tactics used by many restaurants and why.

One of the main points highlighted in both write ups, cites a 2009 study which showed that leaving the dollar sign off listed menu prices encouraged an 8% spend increase among customers. Which is why, as the UK press put it, “Pound signs are disappearing from menus as quickly as cod are vanishing from the oceans.”

Other coverage highlights included points on why certain items are set off in boxes on menus and why “specials of the day” really aren’t that special at all.

This is definitely one of those posts that any business cringes over. No company wants to advertise why they do or don’t include certain wording or aesthetics in things they publish for public consumption whether it be menus, ads, websites, etc.

Certainly, no one wants a server to say, “I’m going to try to up sell you right now,” right before they suggest more drinks, appetizers or dessert. Consumers are savvy—they understand the art of the deal. (They often try to use it to their advantage too.) Things like this needn’t be spelled out in neon.

Fests & Feasts

sausagefestThe bad news is summer is winding down. The good news is there are still some great festivals left on the calendar. Here a few:

Sausage Fest Chicago kicks off tomorrow at 5 pm in a new location, at St. Michael’s on N. Cleveland Ave. in Old Town and runs through Sunday.

What makes this event a stellar stand out is its “Sausage King of Chicago” competition. Contestants vie for the crown by raising money for charity—this year, for the Wounded Warrior Project. The contestant who raises the most donations for the cause is crowned king. In addition to the royal title, the winner also gets prizes and free food and drink throughout the festival weekend.

BashWabashLogo-300x284Also this weekend, the 11th anniversary of Bash on Wabash takes place between 13th Street and 14th Place on Wabash in the South Loop. The festival offers music, food, drink, vendor booths, arts and crafts, and is jam packed with lots of kid activities, including a 5k Run and 10 mile Bike.

Bash on Wabash brings neighbors and business together to benefit the GSLA (Greater South Loop Association) with a portion of the proceeds going to the South Loop Food Pantry.

Find more festival dates at Time Out Chicago.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website  LinkedIn  @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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SOHO Chicago

bldgChicago has evolved as a restaurant mecca of design, dining and overall guest experience. SOHO HOUSE CHICAGO—which opened last Monday—is all these things.

Soho House Chicago is the fourth location to open in the US, joining New York, Miami and Hollywood. It is part of a unique and stunning group of member based hotel-clubs that aim to “assemble communities of members that have something in common.”

Founded in London in 1995, Soho House was built to accommodate people working in the creative fields—film, fashion, advertising, music, art and media—the goal being to “assemble communities of members that have something in common.” Since then, the brand has grown to 13 locations worldwide.

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION

Nestled neatly near “restaphoto 4urant row” in the Randolph Market District, Soho House Chicago is located across the street from Green City Smoked Meats, on Green Street.

Pictured left: Fresh lunch counter

Soho’s club/hotel accommodations include separate dining, bar and lounge areas, a rooftop pool, 15,000 square foot gym (with a boxing ring), an ultra plush screening room and more. Add to this, three restaurants open to the public located at street level which are dedicated to local sourcing, prime quality and casual cuisine:

photo 5Pizza East Modern wood-fired oven pizzeria: open B/L/D and brunch on the weekends

Chicken Shop Just free range rotisserie chicken (and sides) sold by the whole, half and quarter: open 5-11 M-F and 10-11 on the weekends

The Allis Bar & Lounge serving B/L, Afternoon Tea, cocktails and small plates  Pictured above: Homemade Porchetta

One other standout about Soho is the rich history of their location—and the fact they took the time and care to document it on their website:

Soho House Chicago is located in the Allis Building, a historic five-story industrial warehouse…The building was commissioned in 1907 by Charles Allis, an influential industrialist, art collector and philanthropist from Milwaukee, as the headquarters of the Chicago Belting Company. Close to the city’s Union Stock Yards, which supplied the raw animal hides for its products, the Allis Building is one of the city’s best examples of concrete industrial loft design.

More history here.

RAVE REVIEW

When you work in a business auto-tuned to all things restaurant, hospitality and food service, the next “latest and greatest” is often met with great scrutiny. But that wasn’t the case when James Melnychuk from Buedel took in Soho’s opening this week. Here’s how James describes the experience:

The atmospherePicture1 is that of relaxed sophistication, without the fussiness and pretense often encountered in downtown Chicago. They have activities (seminars and classes) posted daily. It’s not limited to the constraints of an exclusive club—it’s also a meeting place.

The Allis feels like a lounge, where you can have drinks and a selection of great fresh food from the café counter for a relaxing midday or afternoon work break. At Pizza East, the platters of the day’s offerings surround the open kitchen in an absolutely enticingly display.

The atmosphere and deliciousness of the food speak for itself. I’ve been back twice already since the opening for lunch!

We wish Soho House Chicago much success in the Windy City.

From the desk of John Cecala || Website LinkedIn @BuedelFineMeats  Facebook

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