Monday, July 27, 2009

What's IN it for You: July 27

LEYE founder Melman wins NRN's Pioneer Award for '09
Maybe it's a stretch to consider Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises as an independent operator since it has 80 restaurants and $336 million in annual sales, but Rich Melman is definitely the quintessential entrepreneur and somebody who, in my opinion, is a positive example for any independent restaurateur reading this blog. When he wants to grow his Chicago-based empire, he's just as likely to think up a whole new restaurant concept than to build another unit of an existing brand he owns.

My first NRN 50 issue in 2006 was all about multiconcept operators, and the chief executives and founders of those companies all name-dropped Melman like he invented not only several restaurants, but the entire restaurant industry. Maybe he did. NRN is checking on this.

So the fine-dining guys are putting out a few scrumptious loss leaders to get the people coming in. Sounds pretty good, especially the lobster roll sliders. I doubt they'd be able to follow Quiznos down the road to a $4 sandwich, then a $3 sandwich, and now a $1 sandwich deal.

Somewhere Rick Berman rejoices.

Shocking, I know, but restaurant owners aren't thrilled with the idea of anybody being allowed to carry a firearm into their places of business. At least restaurant owners are allowed to post signs on their doors banning guns from the premises, but in principle this law seems screwy. Really, we want more guns in public places that serve alcohol? If the argument from the gun lobby is that people are better able to protect themselves from people with guns if they've got guns of their own (and I don't know if it is, I'm speculating), that's ridiculous.

I was glad I got a chance to do something in-depth in the magazine with an independent restaurant and visit the place in person. Not a luxury I often get when deadlines require me to write daily Web briefs and weekly articles while chained to my desk. The basic premise I got from Brad Nagy, co-owner of Frankie & Fanucci's in Hartsdale, N.Y., is that restaurants don't really get to have a soft opening anymore. If you open soft, you're writing the script for getting killed and not lasting long.

For a what it's worth, I'm seeing a similar philosophy from the chains. I just finished a marketing story for next week where chains like Buffalo Wild Wings and Einstein Bros. are doing massive food giveaways to have a big opening day at new units.



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