The Ugly Truth about Dirty Restaurants and Yelp


Would you eat in a restaurant if you knew that the week before they got several people sick? You would be a fool if you did.

Yelp is going from a review site to the first line of defense in foodborne illness outbreaks. We’ve been very supportive of Yelp posting health inspection scores on their restaurant pages, and we would like to see more cities using the Yelp platform as a way to post those scores.


Yelp is going beyond just partnering with local governments to gather and distribute health inspection score data. They are working on an open source datatype that will standardize how health inspections could be uploaded and distributed. Standardizing the scoring data allows for better analysis and quick apple to apple comparisons.

As you read the article below from Food Poison Journal, you will see that people who were affected by the Salmonella outbreak were very vocal themselves about what happened to them.

OpsAnalitica will continue to support more transparency of health inspection scores whether it be on yelp or letter grades, etc.; because we believe that it is good for the restaurant industry as a whole.

With transparency comes additional responsibility for health departments and Yelp. Health departments must make provisions, even if there is a cost associated with expedited service, to reinspect quickly.  A restaurant that get’s a C on their health score that quickly remediates their issues should be able to get a reinspection quickly even if they have to pay.

Yelp needs to be aware that fraudulent reviews can destroy a business and need to put in place ways for restaurants to prove when they are being wronged and to quickly remove fake reviews.

Please enjoy this article from the Food Poison Journal.

Yelp to the Rescue in Los Angeles Salmonella Outbreak at Don Antonio’s

Over the last week, Marler Clark was been retained by two friends who both ate together at Don Antonio’s in mid-March and developed Salmonella.

According to Yelp, a lot more people did as well.


My co-workers and I have been fans of Don Antonio’s lunch specials for years, until now.

We had lunch there Thursday, March 19. One of my coworkers got so sick that she spent three days in the hospital. My other coworker and I got hit with the illness a few days later and not as badly, but we’re still miserable. I am shocked to read the other reviews of people getting sick and am so upset that this was preventable. I will avoid Don Antonio’s at all costs now. It’s not worth the risk of a trip to the hospital.


Don’t go there . On Friday March 20 2015 5 of my co-workers and my self we went to have lunch together and now we all have gone to emergency room! Because of diarrhea vomiting head ache fever and much more! But the worst part is that we went so see the doctor and we are still the same! Now I don’t know what to do because I have tried everything and nothing work.


Is management aware that several customers, including myself got very ill? I went here on March 20 for lunch. Shortly after I got very sick. I went to my doctor and then to the hospital. It is salmonella. I am so angry.. I read the other reviews here so I’m wondering if management is aware? !


BEWARE! I see others have already posted but my daughter and I ate here on 3/19 and she got salmonella. As of 4/3 she is still ill. I’m horribly upset to see others wound up sick too; I am posting in hopes no one goes there.

Golden T.:


As with the other Yelp reviewers that recently went to Don Antonio’s for lunch, my two friends and I also got sick. We ate there on Friday, March 20th. I ended up in the ER for several hours, went through two bags of IV for hydration, took pain medication, anti-nausea medication and antibiotics. I just recently started to feel a little better but still not 100%.

My friend took food home for her family. Her 3 y/o and 14 y/o also got extremely ill. She and her 14 y/o went to Urgent Care and she took her youngest to a pediatrician.

Our other friend, who has a new baby, was also very ill and is struggling to recover.

This is worthy of a Department of Health investigation. For my sick compatriots, I hope that all of us can fully recover from this.

Cassandra S.:

My boyfriend recently got food poisoning or so we thought it was just food poisoning after he ate lunch at the restaurant last Friday. He’s been bed ridden since Friday and it’s now Wednesday. We’ve been to the hospital twice and to the doctor’s twice. Finally, we received a call from the Dr. that he got salmonella. Not freaking cool Don Antonois. Really disgusting.

Veronica L:

My Husband and 3 of his co-workers all ended up with Food Poisoning after having lunch at this place. We spent the weekend at Urgent Care, my husband had diarrhea, vomiting , and temperature of 103.4. Him and his co-workers all have missed work due to the same. I would not recommend this place at all! We all think they recycle their salsa.

Andrea M.:

Salmonella! My friend are here on March 20, 2015 and became very sick. The sickness lasted for one week. Had to go to the hospital multiple times. Test came back as salmonella. Beware – don’t want this happening to anyone else.

Todd H.:

Salmonella! To everybody who has been sick from eating at Don Antonio’s, go to the hospital immediately because it is Salmonella. It was the worst week of my life. Hopefully, nobody else has to go through what I went through.

Leonel Z.:

Warning do not go to this restaurant…

My friends and I came to this restaurant last week on Friday March 20 2015 and we all ended up at the emergency room with a really bad bacteria and didn’t know what it was… They gave me the results today and they said i have salmonella. Eat at your own risk.

And, one from Trip Advisor:

Ms. L:


We have eaten here over 15 years and I was horrified to find out my friend and I got Salmonella poisoning there on March 20, 2015. It’s unacceptable that a Los Angeles restaurant with an “A” rating can be delivering salmonella to its customers for several days. I’ve just discovered others online reviews (see Yelp) confirming the same thing. It’s a disgusting illness, worse than standard food poisoning and serious. Whatever they did, too many people got sick so they should be investigated to find out what’s going on there. It’s an extremely popular restaurant, very successful and there is no excuse for such an incident. Shame on you Don Antonio’s, what happened to all of us who ate there that week could have been life threatening, words cannot describe my disappointment.

Salmonella: Marler Clark, The Food Safety Law Firm, is the nation’s leading law firm representing victims of Salmonella outbreaks. The Salmonella lawyers of Marler Clark have represented thousands of victims of Salmonella and other foodborne illness outbreaks and have recovered over $600 million for clients. Marler Clark is the only law firm in the nation with a practice focused exclusively on foodborne illness litigation. Our Salmonella lawyers have litigated Salmonella cases stemming from outbreaks traced to a variety of foods, such as cantaloupe, tomatoes, ground turkey, salami, sprouts, cereal, peanut butter, and food served in restaurants. The law firm has brought Salmonella lawsuits against such companies as Cargill, ConAgra, Peanut Corporation of America, Sheetz, Taco Bell, Subway and Wal-Mart.

If you or a family member became ill with a Salmonella infection, including Reactive Arthritis or Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), after consuming food and you’re interested in pursuing a legal claim, contact the Marler Clark Salmonella attorneys for a free case evaluation.

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McDonald’s tests delivery in New York

As part of their turnaround strategy McDonald’s has launched a delivery service test in the NYC market. The market consists of 88 stores and the ordering and delivery will be managed through Postmates which is a mobile app technology that allows customers to place orders through their mobile device. The delivery is then performed by independent contractors in their own vehicles. Think Uber for food delivery. Postmates also offers the same service for Starbucks and Chipotle.

An article on cites that the service cost will include a standard service charge and a fee based on distance. The full menu sans ice cream cones will be available for delivery during normal business hours with some stores offering 24/7 delivery.

Seems like a good test market for McD’s especially since David Chang has launched a new concept based around delivery in the financial district of Manhattan. Population density will keep the service somewhat affordable whereas, more spread out areas would increase the delivery fee. Next best option would be college towns, especially for 24/7 service. In the long run I feel like they will need to develop their own technology and delivery system to launch this worldwide. I’m sure that option is on the table should this test turn out successful. Rather than develop the technology the quicker option would be to acquire it instead. We’ll see what the results turn out to be, we’ll be sure to follow and keep you informed.

I have copied the article in it’s entirety below:

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McDonald’s Corp. is testing delivery at 88 restaurants in New York City through the app-based delivery service Postmates, the company said Monday, in its latest effort to modernize its domestic business.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook revealed the delivery test during a 23-minute video describing the quick-service operator’s turnaround plan.

In a following announcement, the company described the delivery plan with Postmates as a “test,” starting Monday, enabling customers to have food delivered from select restaurants in Manhattan, Queens and Brooklyn.

“This is a city where delivery is a way of life,” Mwaffak Kanjee, vice president and general manager of McDonald’s New York Metro region, said in a statement. “We are excited to launch this test so our customers can get hot, freshly prepared food right from McDonald’s kitchens, when and where they want it.”

McDonald’s full menu — except for ice cream cones — will be available for delivery during normal operating hours at participating restaurants. Certain restaurants, the company said, will offer delivery 24 hours a day.

A delivery fee for the service will be calculated based on the distance traveled by the courier, plus a standard service charge.

“Our customers continue to tell us they want their favorites from McDonald’s delivered right to their doorsteps,” Julia Vander Ploeg, vice president of McDonald’s USA Digital, said in a statement. “We’ve listened to their feedback and are excited to launch this initiative. We look forward to learning from this test and continuing to innovate as we offer our customers everyday conveniences and new ways to experience our brand.”

The move marks the latest deal between a large restaurant chain and Postmates, which also has delivery deals with Starbucks and Chipotle. Postmates lets customers order delivery online or from a smartphone app, and uses an Uber-style model of independent contractors who deliver food with their own vehicles.

In addition to the operators using Postmates, a growing number of quick-service and fast-casual chains are testing or implementing delivery as a way to expand their reach and improve convenience. Taco Bell plans to test delivery, and Burger King offers delivery in certain markets.

How delivery benefits the restaurants remains to be seen. Executives of Restaurant Brands International Inc., Burger King’s parent company, said last week that delivery has had no impact so far on the chain’s same-store sales.

For McDonald’s, the test further indicates that the company is looking at just about everything as it seeks to lift domestic same-store sales, which fell 2.6 percent in the first quarter and have been falling for more than 18 months.

The company is testing all-day breakfast service, talking about trimming its menu and working on customization, both through a major service model change known as Create Your Taste and another toned-down effort called TasteCrafted.

McDonald’s is also giving different regions more autonomy to run their own advertising and offer their own localized menu items.


MIT Is Developing Sensors To Detect When Food Is Going Bad

An article on talks about an MIT lab working on a sensor that will tell you when food is going bad vs relying on labels placed on the items. The stat in the article cites that in the US we waste 40% of the food that we harvest. They claim that sell by and use by dates are partially to blame.

I can see that since we live is in such a litigious society food produces are probably very conservative when they calculate the sell by and use by dates. I would guess that most dates are anywhere from a week to a month too soon in order to err on the side of caution. This gives the food producers some liability protection in a sense. With these new sensors they will shift the liability to them instead.

Will this have any effect on the restaurant industry? If you are a busy location you don’t have issues using your food before it expires. This will probably have more of an impact on home cooking and grocery than it will the restaurant industry, but it’s still a pretty neat technology. It’ll be interesting to see how it will be rolled out on a wide scale. It’s in the food producers best interest to sell more and grocery stores and consumers are interested in wasting less. Not really on the same page in that area.

It’s just cool to see all the new technology that’s being developed. I have copied the full article below:

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One reason the U.S. wastes 40% of all the food it harvests is that we don’t have a good handle on the status of that food. As consumers, we rely largely on best before and use by dates that are notoriously conservative, and often flat-out wrong. Actual food decays at variable rates that aren’t reflected in that information.

That’s why new types of food quality sensors could be so useful. If we can assess the actual state of each food item, that should allow us to make more informed choices and thus manage our fridges better. All things being equal, better information ought to lead to better decision-making.

One promising technology: the sensors being developed by Timothy Swager’s lab at MIT. Swager is testing an electrically-conductive material that changes resistance in the presence of gases called amines, which are released when food starts going bad. By reading that resistance from outside a package, you can figure out how edible the food is inside.

“You can put in tags about the size of business cards with an antennae, and then power them and read them with a smartphone,” Swager says. “You can have the sensor buried in the packaging where it’s not even obvious, and you can read it with a near-field communication device.”

The device could be several inches away, like with a contactless payment or ticketing system. The sensor inside the packet contains high-tech nanotube material that reacts to the amines. It’s really nothing more than two contact points with a conductive strip running between.

Swager has set up a company to commercialize the technology and he expects to do the first demonstrations to interested clients this summer. The first applications are likely to be for food workers working with meat and fish, but there’s no reason why consumers shouldn’t get their own devices in due time.

There are efforts to create visual clues for food status. But Swager says his method is better because it doesn’t rely on perception: it produces hard data that can be logged and tracked. And it also has potential to be very cheap.

“The resistance method is a game-changer because it’s two to three orders of magnitude cheaper than other technology. It’s hard to imagine doing this cheaper,” he says.


Healthy Kids Menus

An article on NPR is citing a study that was done by ChildObesity180 on the fast casual restaurant chain Silver Diner changing up their kids menu to offer more healthy options.

The study tracked some 350,000 kids menu orders covering 6 months before and 6 months after they changed the menu. Healthy meant the meal met the standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well Program. The new menu eliminated soda and fries as the default option and offered salads and strawberries instead. The study found that whether there were healthy or not healthy sides the majority of orders went with the default. The “old” sides are still available to order if the customer desires. Silver Diner raised the price of the kids meals 19 cents which they stated had little to no effect on sales.

Interesting study I suppose with all the healthy options hype going on. The fact that the study found that it basically doesn’t matter what’s on the menu as most go with the default options, doesn’t tell me it had a positive or negative effect on sales. You can’t really say that this is what the customers wanted for that same reason. From the time that this study was conducted in 2012 until now the restaurant industry has seen some tremendous growth so it was probably good timing to try out a new menu. It’s nice that more children are eating healthier when they go out, but sometimes fries and milkshake are needed.

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I have copied the full article below:

Will a kids’ meal sans fries and soda still tempt the youngest diners at restaurants?

Chef Ype Von Hengst certainly thinks so. He’s the co-founder of Silver Diner — a chain of fast-casual restaurants in Virginia and Maryland.

Customers want healthier options for their kids, Hengst says. “We tempt them with the stuff they like, but we make sure it’s also good for them,” he says.

Back in 2012, Silver Diner completely overhauled its children’s menu, offering options like teriyaki salmon and quinoa pancakes alongside diner classics like chicken tenders and grilled cheese. The chain also took fries and sodas off the kids’ menu (though customers can still request those items), and it made healthy side items like salads and strawberries the default options.

“This was a huge hit, I think,” he says. “I think everybody — moms and kids — appreciated this.”

Researchers with ChildObesity180, at Tufts University Friedman School of Nutrition, got wind of the changes Hengst was planning, and they wanted to know if he was onto something. So they tracked what families ordered at all of Silver Diner’s locations during the six months before and after the kids’ menu changed — some 350,000 children’s meals in all. The results were published Tuesday in the journal Obesity.


“What we found was that this new menu was really working for them,” says Stephanie Anzman-Frasca, a research associate and adjunct professor of nutrition at Tufts University, who led the study.

Before the changes, only about 3 percent of meals ordered off the children’s menu qualified as healthy — meaning they met the nutritional standards set by the National Restaurant Association’s Kids Live Well program. After the menu revamp, 46 percent of meals ordered met that standard.

And while 57 percent of customers ordered French fries for their kids off the old menu, only 22 percent still requested fries after they disappeared from the menu. All told, about 40 percent of customers stuck with the default side dishes — regardless of whether the sides were fatty or healthy.

“There’s actually a lot of research done in other contexts that shows that people always tend to choose the default. They don’t like going out of their way to choose something else,” Anzman-Frasca notes. So if strawberries and salads are the automatic choice, most parents and kids are going to be happy with that, she says.

Although the average price of kids’ meals increased by 19 cents after the health-conscious overhaul, most customers didn’t seem to notice the difference, Anzman-Frasca adds. The restaurant’s revenues consistently increased during the study period.

“This shows that restaurants shouldn’t worry about disappointing their customers and losing profits if they change their menus,” Anzman-Frasca says.

It also shows that kids’ palettes are more sophisticated than we’d expect, she says. “We’re starting to see in this study that kids are open to more things than we give them credit for.”

Hengst agrees. “Let me tell you, the kids lost it for our low-sodium teriyaki salmon,” he says. “And meanwhile, moms were like, ‘Wow! I didn’t even know my kid liked salmon.’ ”

Silver Diner’s success comes as no surprise to Margo Wootan, the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit consumer group that advocates for healthier foods.

“If you’re a parent and you’re at a fast-food restaurant, it’s likely that you’re tired, and [the kids have] just finished soccer practice,” she says. “You’re going to order whatever is easiest.”

When restaurants make healthy options visible and easy to order, customers tend to respond well, Wootan notes. “So why not make healthy choices easy and automatic?”

A growing number of food purveyors are coming around to Wootan’s point of view.

Disney Resorts recently changed its children’s menus so that meals automatically come with fruits or vegetables and a healthful beverage. Burger King’s kids’ meals now all come with apples and milk instead of fries and soda by default. And lots of other fast-food chains –- including McDonald’s and Wendy’s –- have made similar swaps and dropped soda from their kids’ menus (though parents can still order them).

“And, you know, the kids don’t notice these changes, because they’re really just in it for the toys,” Wootan says.

Still, a 2012 report by CSPI found that 97 percent of kids’ meals don’t meet basic nutritional standards.

“Healthier kids’ meals is one of the hottest trends in the restaurant industry right now,” Wootan says. “But progress is so very slow.”


A Restaurant Without A Restaurant

There’s a great article in Wired about David Chang’s new venture, Maple. Talk about going crazy with implementing technology in a restaurant. Maple is a fine dining restaurant that you can’t dine in. That’s right they only offer delivery ordered through their mobile app.

They have one kitchen in the financial district of Manhattan with a staff of 22. They have a very limited menu each day for lunch and dinner. Where most restaurants focus on ambiance, Maple focuses on delivery. They have developed and implemented very sophisticated software to manage deliveries and the staff of 32 delivery people.

The software tracks the orders that come in and prioritizes them in real time taking into account the current deliveries. It tracks the delivery drivers routes, speed, traffic etc to time everything perfectly. As you can imagine they need to be able to deliver great food at the right temperature in a timely manner. That’s quite a task to manage and could never be done efficiently without technology.

It’s a pretty amazing story. It will be interesting to see how they make out. They plan to expand to other densely populated areas as they grow. I have copied the full article below:

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WHILE HE WAS in business school, Caleb Merkl got to thinking about opening a restaurant. Everyone told him he was nuts, because restaurants are crazy expensive to run and mostly doomed to fail. Merkl knew they were right, of course. But now, he’s gone and done it anyway. Well, sort of.

Technically, Maple, which launched in downtown Manhattan today, is an app. But in almost every other way, it operates more like a restaurant. It’s got a kitchen staff of 22 who cook up a rotating daily menu of fresh meals, curated by co-founder and chief culinary officer David Chang of Momofuku fame, as well as executive chef Soa Davies, formerly of the Michelin starred restaurant Le Bernardin. On any given day, the team is whipping up dishes like arctic char with dill on a bed of olive relish or green chile enchiladas with locally sourced tortillas and home-made green sauce.


The difference is, you can’t actually go to a Maple restaurant. In fact, they don’t even exist. Instead, the only way to enjoy Maple’s food is to order it through the app. Maple is using technology to eliminate one of the trickiest—and most costly—parts of running a restaurant, which is, well, running a restaurant.

This approach distinguishes Maple from the dozens of startups trying to eke out a space in the food industry without actually having to get their hands dirty making and serving the food. There are restaurant delivery services like Seamless and that simply connect you with existing restaurants, and companies like Blue Apron and Plated that send you all the pre-portioned ingredients you need to cook your own meal at home. There are messenger apps like Postmates that let you order delivery from restaurants that don’t offer it themselves. There’s even Uber’s new food delivery service.
Maple is going after something altogether different. It’s the answer to the question: What would a restaurant be like, if you couldn’t actually go to the restaurant? For Maple’s founders, coming up with that answer means thinking as thoroughly about what makes for a good delivery experience as traditional restaurateurs think about furniture, plating, location, and decor.

“Restaurants aren’t set up to do delivery well. They don’t have the budget or time to think about packaging or putting technology together to route the orders intelligently,” Merkl says. “For us, everything we do is about how to make some part of delivery better.”

Restaurant, Redesigned

It all starts in the kitchen. On any given day, Maple offers just three options for lunch, which costs $12 with tip and delivery included, and three options for dinner, which costs $15 all-in. Limiting variety allows the kitchen staff to focus on quality and speed, says Maple co-founder and chief operating officer, Ashkay Navle. Maple plans to open a kitchen in every neighborhood it serves, which Merkl says minimizes the time it takes to go from Maple’s oven to your door. For now, Maple runs just one kitchen, which exclusively serves Manhattan’s densely populated Financial District, but that will change with time. “It’s about building as much density as we can, which is why our delivery zones are so tight,” Navle says.

But while limiting Maple’s geographic footprint helps, what really makes its model work is the technology that runs it. That’s also what helped Maple raise $22 million from tech investors like Thrive Capital and Greenoaks Capital Management. The team has redesigned virtually every piece of technology that runs a traditional restaurant from scratch. As orders come in through the Maple app, the kitchen staff doesn’t simply cook them on a first come-first served basis, and send them out in that order. Instead, the technology prioritizes the orders based on what other orders are coming in to ensure its delivery team is traveling the most efficient route.

When the delivery team is actually on the road, Maple’s delivery app tracks them all the way, measuring their velocity to determine how much time they spend on the bike, how long it takes them to walk to the person’s door, which streets have the most traffic, and which buildings take longer to deliver to than others. The app processes all of this information and uses it to inform future routes. “The system gets better at making these decisions over time,” Navle says.

It’s this technology that Will Gaybrick, who is both a Maple co-founder and a partner at Thrive Capital, says makes Maple a smart investment. “In general, food service is really not leveraging technology to scale,” he says. “But it’s technology that lets us serve better food, faster, fresher, and at a better price.”

The Complete Package

There’s a sophisticated science to Maple’s method, but of course, there’s an art to it as well. Not satisfied with tossing your meticulously delivered meal at you in a grease stained brown bag, Maple’s founders also went to great lengths to ensure the packaging itself is optimized for delivery. That means they tested nearly every off the shelf package to find the one that can withstand heat and condensation the best and minimize the amount of space the food has to shift around. They also hired one of the Museum of Modern Art’s former assistant creative directors to design their subtle yet sophisticated branding.

“Restaurants have that asset, but it rarely travels with delivery,” Merkl says. “We think it’s especially important to recreate some emotion around food, when we don’t have a physical space.”

What’s more critical to Maple’s success than any of this, though, is the fact that the food is actually incredibly good. With Chang as a co-founder, Maple has access to one of the world’s most celebrated chefs. That’s an asset no amount of technology could replace. According to Merkl, who was introduced to the Momofuku founder through a connection at Thrive Capital, Chang was receptive to the idea of Maple from the start. “He’s already playing at the highest level, and now he’s more interested in where food is going than he is in how much farther he can push fine dining,” Merkl says.

‘Not a Technology Company’

But while there are obvious advantages to forgoing a physical restaurant, including minimizing overhead and making it much easier to scale, there are also substantial obstacles to delivering on the promise of perfect delivery. For starters, Maple’s business model still requires a huge staff, only instead of waiters and waitresses, it’s a delivery team. Right now, the company has 32 delivery people, and that’s just for one neighborhood. Navle expects it will grow with time.

Then there’s the fact that in order for Maple’s technology to be worthwhile, Maple needs densely packed routes. That means that Maple may never be a practical solution outside of big cities, and even in those cities it will need a large volume of orders in any given area to make the delivery-only model economically efficient. That’s why Maple is only going to expand geographically once it has built a substantial user base in the Financial District.

But while Maple may not scale as quickly as the average tech company, Merkl says it will scale much more quickly and efficiently than the average food company. And that, he says, is what Maple is, first and foremost. “I know it’d be super in vogue to say, ‘We’re building a platform that will deliver you anything,’ but we’re actually just trying to build a food company,” he says. “We’re not a technology company or a logistics company or a growth for growth sake’s company. We’re a food company, and we’re by nature going to grow more slowly, because it’s about building trust over time.”


Chipotle removes GMO ingredients

Chipotle announced that they have removed all GMO ingredients from their menu. GMOs are getting a lot of buzz the last handful of years or so, and being in St. Louis where Monsanto is headquartered, I certainly hear my fair share of the GMO arguments.

For Chipotle the move makes sense, they have been talking about it for a few years and it has finally come to fruition. This is part of their brand; healthy, fresh, organic ingredients. They market this heavily and it’s certainly a differentiator in the industry. Is this a big deal? Or is it just expected from Chipotle at this point as we get more and more familiar with the brand?

Will other chains have to follow suit? Does this matter in the grand scheme of the industry? I wonder if most people care about GMOs or not. Obviously, people like Chipotle and are frequenting their locations often as seen in their sales. Is that because their food tastes great and is reasonably priced or is it because of their image and appeal to the more ingredient aware consumer? My guess is it’s a combo of both, but mostly the former. They make a great burrito.

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Check out this video from the Wall Street Journal talking about the announcement today:


Pizza chains thrive on convenience, value, technology

Nation’s Restaurant News posted an article today on the turnaround and success of large pizza chains recently. Publicly traded pizza chains posted a 6.4% same store sales growth in the 4th quarter of last year. Domino’s posted 14.5% sales growth in the first quarter. Marco’s Pizza’s net sales rose 41% last year. So there are some great numbers coming out of the pizza market.

Go back 6-8 years ago and pizza chains were struggling big time with some (Round Table Pizza, Sbarro and Giordano’s) filing for bankruptcy. The article cites the following as the reason for the turnaround:

  • Pizza chains reworked their business models
  • Improved their menus
  • Found the right value message
  • and worked hard to make their restaurants more convenient

The biggest factor according to the article was adopting technology. Apps to allow for ordering and customer engagement has spurred a lot of the growth and signs point to that trend continuing. Some stores are seeing up 60% of their orders coming from online, mostly through mobile apps. By adopting technology to handle labor intensive tasks, operators are now able to cut back on labor, thus being able to keep prices very reasonable to the consumer. Pizza prices haven’t risen at the rate that other food has recently and technology is big part of that stat.

I have copied the full article below for you:

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Despite intense competition from grocery stores and burgeoning fast-casual pizza players, traditional pizza chains have been outperforming the overall restaurant industry in recent quarters.

Publicly traded pizza chains averaged same-store sales growth of more than 6.4 percent in the fourth quarter of last year, and based on the 14.5-percent first-quarter sales growth at Domino’s Pizza Inc. — its best domestic result in at least 16 years — that performance has accelerated so far this year.

Privately held chains have also been performing well. Madison Heights, Mich.-based Hungry Howie’s same-store sales have risen 10 percent so far this year, CEO Steve Jackson said.

Toledo, Ohio-based Marco’s Pizza is on track to add 150 locations this year, and finish with more than 700 units. Net sales last year rose 41 percent.

How are pizza chains seeing such success? By making their business models convenient, enabling them to take advantage of their natural value to court families and groups looking to feed a lot of people for less money.

“It’s a community food,” said Bryon Stephens, Marco’s president and chief operating officer. “Whether it’s family, friends or neighbors, we add to the value equation and have food everybody can share.”

It’s a remarkable comeback from six years ago, when a strong argument could be made that Americans had reached their fill of pizza.

Domino’s sales fell for three straight years (2006-2008), and at one point its stock was trading at less than $2 a share. Pizza Hut’s sales fell 12 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009. And in 2011, Round Table Pizza, Sbarro and Giordano’s all filed for bankruptcy.

The sector was loaded with competitors. Grocery stores were making inroads into the business with a huge selection of higher-quality frozen pizzas, as well as their own offerings. Convenience stores started selling pizza, too. And the U.S. was saturated with pizza restaurants.

Amid intense competition, pizza chains reworked their business models, improved their menus, found the right value message and worked hard to make their restaurants more convenient.

In particular, they’ve leveraged technology to make it remarkably easy to order a pizza without being in danger of being put on hold.

Pizza chains were among the first in the restaurant business to see technology as a way to make their operations more efficient and customer friendly. In recent years, they’ve intensified technological adoption.

Both Domino’s and Papa John’s get at least half of their orders through digital channels. Domino’s has apps that let customers order through a smartwatch or even a television.

The increased popularity of pizza has coincided with the growth of smartphone use. According to eMarketer, the number of smartphone users has nearly tripled between 2010 and 2015.

At Marco’s Pizza, about 17 percent to 20 percent of sales now come through digital channels, but that percentage is rapidly growing. At some newer locations, the rate is as high as 60 percent.

“The pizza category is one of the first to get on board and embrace the whole tech revolution,” Stephens said.

The chain’s Digitale project lets customers order pizzas over the Internet and by smartphone, but it also tracks those orders to customize its relationship to those customers. It also helps find similar customers, Stephens said.

“We understand who they are and what they’re buying from us,” he said. “We get to social, digital marketing that allows us to communicate to them more frequently. Consumers are more fragmented than ever on where they’re getting their media. We’re spending a lot of money against those initiatives.”

Hungry Howie’s put online ordering in place five or six years ago, and its use is increasing 30 percent to 40 percent every year, Jackson said. The 560-unit chain has enjoyed 20 straight quarters of same-store sales growth.

“We say that online ordering is a big part of that,” Jackson said.

He also admits that he is a relatively recent convert.

“When online ordering started to service, personally it took me a little time to get on board,” Jackson said. “You pick up the phone, call and order a pizza. Or I have to find my computer, turn it on and boot it up. Who’s going to do all that?

“The real transition happened over the last five years with the iPhone, apps. Samsung and Android have done a good job to make our phones so important that we can’t live without them.”

The adoption of technology might finally be shifting the advantage to pizza chains. For years, chains ceded a large part of the market to independents, even as other restaurant sectors consolidated. But many executives now say that technology has shifted the advantage to chains.

“Chains’ tech advantages has led to the erosion of independents’ market share,” Stephens said.

The ease of pickup isn’t just limited to technology. Detroit-based Little Caesars shifted its strategy a decade ago to $5 Anytime Pizza, letting customers pick up large pizzas for the price of a Subway Footlong sandwich. And Papa Murphy’s took take-and-bake pizza and made a chain out of it.

The convenience of buying pizza has combined with the sector’s traditionally strong value, particularly for families and groups who see pizza as a more affordable option.

A family needing a quick meal, for instance, can order a pizza or two for not much more than $10 in many cases. And now they do so easily, either by picking it up directly or ordering via smartphone.

That’s a value that has been in place for years. Jackson recalled his days working at Dairy Queen, when ice cream cones cost 10 cents to 35 cents. Today a cone is $2.

“I was delivering pizza in 1972,” he said. “At the time, it was $3 for a pizza. The competition is selling large pizzas for $5 today. If you take the analogy of Dairy Queen or coffee, that pizza should be going for around $50.”

Letting your Why guide your actions

Check out this video on what makes Chipotle’s pork different.

Chipotle stopped serving pork in hundred’s of it’s stores back in January because one of their suppliers wasn’t living up to Chipotle’s animal care standards. I’m assuming that this cost them quite a bit in profitability as pork is a higher contribution margin item than chicken or steak.

I think that Chipotle’s corporate culture and commitment to selling humanely raised animals is a great example of understanding yourself as a company and what your customers value.

So often companies market their corporate responsibility but when the rubber meets the road, and they have an earnings call coming up, they cave and go for profits and alienate their customers and damage their brand. It is refreshing to see Chipotle practicing what they preach.

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Sexy Thermometer Calibration



Shame on you if you clicked on this because you saw the word sexy; you need to get some.  We found this great article on Kitchen Thermometer Calibration from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.  Here are some of the points that I found most interesting and the full article is at the bottom of the blog post.

  • Use distilled water, the minerals in tap water could significantly affect the freezing & boiling point.
  • Determine the calibration method by what the thermometer is used to primarily temp.
  • You should calibrate thermometers: at least once a month, when dropped, or if  health department regulations call for it.
  • Thermometers must be calibrated within +/- 2 F (1.1 C), discard thermometers that don’t calibrate.
  • Altitude affects boiling points, see chart at bottom of post to determine what your true boiling point is.

Calibration in Ice Water

  1. Add crushed ice and distilled water to a clean container to form a watery slush.
  2. Place thermometer probe into slush for at least one minute taking care to not let the probe contact the container.
  3. If the thermometer does not read between 30° and 34° F adjust to 32° F. Non-adjustable thermometers should be removed from use until they have been professionally serviced.

Calibration in Boiling Water

  1. Bring a clean container of distilled water to a rolling boil.
  2. Place thermometer probe into boiling water for at least one minute taking care not to let the probe contact the container.
  3. If the thermometer does not read between 210° and 214° F adjust to 212° F. Non-adjustable thermometers should be removed from use until they have been professionally serviced.

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Thermometer Calibration

HACCP based food safety programs require accurate record keeping to be successful. Temperature is often the parameter of interest when monitoring a critical control point (CCP). To assure that a temperature dependant process is under control a calibrated thermometer must be used to record temperatures. The majority of thermometers can be calibrated following a few basic procedures.

To be considered accurate, a thermometer must be calibrated to measure within +/- 2° F (1.1° C) of the actual temperature. Actual temperature can be determined in a variety of ways including measurement with an NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology) certified reference thermometer or simply through using an ice water solution or boiling water. Another option is the use of sophisticated, and often high cost, calibration equipment that is increasingly becoming available commercially.

The simplest and cheapest way to calibrate a thermometer is through either the use of ice water or boiling water. Distilled water should always be used as dissolved solutes in tap water can significantly affect both freezing and melting points. Another important consideration is the altitude (Table 1) at which calibration is being performed. At sea level, pure water boils at 212° F but at 10,000 feet above sea level it boils at only 194° F. Barometric pressure also has an effect on boiling point but the effect is much less than that of altitude.

You may visit to determine the altitude of your city.

Thermometers intended for measuring higher temperature items, such as cooked product, should be calibrated in boiling water while those used for taking lower temperatures should be calibrated in ice water. When calibrating in ice water both the water and ice should be composed of distilled water. In either case care should be taken to prevent the thermometer from contacting the container being used as this could result in erroneous temperature readings.

Calibration in Ice Water

    1. Add crushed ice and distilled water to a clean container to form a watery slush.
    2. Place thermometer probe into slush for at least one minute taking care to not let the probe contact the container.
    3. If the thermometer does not read between 30° and 34° F adjust to 32° F. Non-adjustable thermometers should be removed from use until they have been professionally serviced.

Calibration in Boiling Water

    1. Bring a clean container of distilled water to a rolling boil.
    2. Place thermometer probe into boiling water for at least one minute taking care not to let the probe contact the container.
    3. If the thermometer does not read between 210° and 214° F adjust to 212° F. Non-adjustable thermometers should be removed from use until they have been professionally serviced.

Thermometers that are found to be inaccurate (i.e. do not measure within +/- 2°F of the actual temperature) should either be manually adjusted or serviced by a professional. Thermometers that have a history of deviating from actual temperature measurements should be discarded and replaced. To assure accuracy, NIST certified thermometers must be re-certified annually.

Thermometers that cannot be easily calibrated through direct immersion in boiling or ice water can be calibrated by comparing readings with another calibrated thermometer. Thermometers that may be calibrated in this way include smokehouse probes and room temperature thermometers. When doing this it is important that the thermometer used for the comparison has been calibrated recently. All thermometers should be calibrated regularly with those used for monitoring CCP’s being calibrated either daily or weekly, depending on the volume of your operations. Any thermometer that has been subjected to abuse, such as being dropped on the floor, should be immediately recalibrated to assure accuracy. Hard to calibrate thermometers could be compared directly with NIST reference thermometers but this may be undesirable as many of these reference thermometers are glass and mercury and could present chemical and physical hazards in food production areas.

Table 1 – Relationship of Altitude to Boiling Point of Pure Water

Feet Above Sea Level

Boiling Point

Feet Above Sea Level

Boiling Point


212° F


203° F


211° F


203° F


210° F


201° F


209° F


199° F


208° F


197° F


207° F


194° F


206° F


190° F


205° F


187° F


204° F





McDonald’s works on turnaround

McDonald’s has been a huge topic in the industry this year with their dismal financial performance, commitments to changing their food supply and raising the minimum wage at the corporate owned stores. Nation’s Restaurant News posted an article online following McDonald’s earnings call. Here are some of the highlights from the article:

  • New CEO Easterbrook was quoted as saying “We can’t afford to carry legacy attitudes or legacy thinking” in regards to the changes that will be announced in a special meeting on May 4th.
  • This did not come up in the meeting, but McDonald’s has filed for a trademark for the term “McDelivery”
  • They did discuss developing a mobile app to help them connect more with their customers vs the current transactional relationship that they currently have with them
  • “This is going to be a growth-led turnaround.”
  • Simplification of it’s operations was a big topic, not just menu cuts

It will be interesting to see what comes out of the special meeting in early May. It’s a big ship to turn around, but I think they can pull it off. They have the money to do it, but it’ll depend heavily on whether or not they can turn customers in their favor. They have a tough stigma of junk food to shake which will be difficult.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this is the beginning of the end of an industry legend? Or can they pull it off and stay on top? Let’s face it even though they are struggling now they are still a giant in the industry.

I have posted the full article below:

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McDonald’s Corp. executives avoided discussing details of the company’s turnaround plan during an earnings call Wednesday, following a difficult quarter in which net income fell 33 percent and global same-store sales declined 2.3 percent.

McDonald’s CEO Steve Easterbrook hinted that the company’s changes, to be revealed at a special meeting on May 4, could be significant. He indicated that the company must avoid “legacy thinking” as it plots a turnaround.

“We can’t afford to carry legacy attitudes or legacy thinking,” Easterbrook said during the call, his first as McDonald’s CEO. He was named to the top job in January, and took over on March 1 for Don Thompson, who retired.

A potential change that executives did not discuss was delivery. Last week, McDonald’s filed a trademark for the term “McDelivery.” The patent was first reported by CNBC.

Delivery has been a growing part of quick-service restaurants’ arsenal. Burger King has tried delivery in some markets. And Taco Bell plans to test delivery this year.

Beyond McDonald’s trademark application, there are no other indications that it is working on a delivery program. Trademarks are often filed before concrete plans are revealed. The company has not yet responded to a request for comment.

Executives did suggest that McDonald’s is developing a smartphone app that should be ready in the second half of the year. Easterbrook indicated that the app would focus on improving customer experience, but later iterations of the app could focus on customer engagement.

“We do see it as a business driver as we look out ahead,” Easterbrook said. He added that an app would help the company “personalize” its relationship with customers and “shift from a transactional to a more purposeful relationship with customers.”

Easterbrook added that this “personalization” could extend to the menu, which could be done through the company’s customization test, Create Your Taste, which will be expanded to a couple markets in the U.S. this year, he said.

Executives said the company closed 350 restaurants in the first quarter in the U.S., Japan and China, in addition to 350 previously planned closures, but also said that few additional closures will come.

The company will reveal more details in May, and investors seem to be expecting big news. McDonald’s stock jumped more than 3 percent by mid-afternoon trading Wednesday.

Investors have been pushing McDonald’s to take more drastic financial steps to improve shareholder value in the short term, particularly selling units to franchisees and spinning off real estate. McDonald’s controls its franchisees’ real estate. Investors want the company to spin off that real estate out of a belief that the company’s stock doesn’t get credit for those assets.

But Mark Kalinowski, analyst with Janney Capital Markets, suggested there are a few easy levers for McDonald’s to pull for a short-term gain.

“Folks hoping for a near-term rise in the stock may be hanging their hat on hopes that McDonald’s can spark some pizzazz in investors that day,” Kalinowski wrote. “With meaningful capex cuts having been announced a few months ago and no non-core brands to sell off, doing so successfully will be a more difficult challenge than the similar challenge McDonald’s faced when it had a relatively new CEO meet with investors in New York City back in spring 2003.”

Easterbrook noted that the turnaround would be mostly about finding ways to lift sales and keep them there.

“We want to sell more hamburgers to more customers more often,” he said. “This is going to be a growth-led turnaround.”

Still, Easterbrook strongly hinted that the company is thinking differently this time, which isn’t easy for a brand that’s been around for 60 years, and which has been enormously successful for most of that time.

“We have been phenomenally successful for 60 years, and there are so many good reasons for that,” Easterbrook said. “Much of that I’d never, ever wish to change. That’s very precious to us. But there is a certain conservatism and incrementalism that builds into that. As a company that has not necessarily been a bad thing, but when you need to make a step change, our organization doesn’t naturally go there. It has to be led there.”

“We’re challenging some conventional thinking on a number of fronts,” he added.

Easterbrook said the company could work on innovation, both through new products and limited-time offers, and still simplify its operations. Simplification doesn’t just mean menu cuts, he said, though he called the cuts announced in January an “initial phase.”

“It’s not just simplification,” Easterbrook said. “It’s what else can we take off the workload of the teams and management in the restaurants. There are other things we can take out of the restaurants to simplify the job of management and crew.”

Easterbrook offered some views on how McDonald’s got into its current state, with 18 months of sales weakness and problems at many of its key markets around the world, notably its two biggest, the U.S. and Japan.

He suggested that the company should have worked on potential future growth pipelines during its successful run from 2003 through 2010.

“We had four or five growth initiatives working together from 2003 through 2010,” he said. “There were a number of different growth platforms that worked and worked around the world. That included delivering great quality coffee, which lifted the breakfast business, extended hours and the reimaging program, to name three. But perhaps what we didn’t see is the need to create that future pipeline of growth platforms.

“Sometimes the consumer will guide you there, but sometimes you have to take things into your own hands.”

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