On Sunday, May 17, professionals from the foodservice and hospitality industry will gather at Chicago’s Navy Pier for the 18th annual Championship BBQ to benefit Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry campaign. More than 1,000 people are expected to attend the fundraiser, where they will sample tasty bites and beverages and watch chefs in action during the BBQ competition. This year’s chef lineup includes Missy Corey from Publican Quality Meats in Chicago, Stephen “Smokey” Schwartz from Burnt End BBQ in Kansas City, Mo., and judge Stepahanie Izard from Girl and the Goat.

SmartBrief interviewed Share Our Strength co-founder Debbie Shore and Championship BBQ creator and former publisher of Food Arts magazine Barbara Mathias about how the event helps combat child hunger and what attendees can expect this year.

How did you come up with the idea for the Championship BBQ fundraiser?

Mathias: I wanted to host an event during the NRA Show that would be fun and different from what everyone else did. (read more…)

I recently fell down a retail reading rabbit hole. A biography on Amazon.com entitled “The Everything Store” led me to “Sam Walton: Made in America,” the autobiography of the legendary Wal-Mart Stores founder, one of Amazon founder and CEO Jeff Bezos’ inspirations, perhaps not surprisingly. Walton explained the rise of shopping centers in small towns all across America and how these enabled Wal-Mart to compete against the big city department stores.

So when I sat in the audience of the “Fast casual strengths, weaknesses, threats and opportunities: Is there still time to get in on the game?” panel at the most recent Restaurant Finance and Development Conference and heard Darren Tristano, Frank Paci, Jim Mizes and Philip Friedman talk about their real estate woes, I better understood the origins of their predicament: a fight for end-caps, as Einstein-Noah Restaurant Group CEO Frank Paci explained. In these shopping centers, a restaurant can either take space in-line or on an end-cap (versus standalone real estate not connected to other stores in a center). (read more…)

In the basement of The Plant, a 94,000-square-foot former meat-processing facility in Chicago’s Back of the Yards neighborhood, a company called Greens & Gills is raising fish and microgreens in the same “aquaponic” ecosystem. Those greens, including basil, kale and arugula, end up on the shelves at local supermarkets, and on the plates of some of the city’s hottest Michelin-starred restaurants, like Everest and El Ideas.

Greens & Gills is just one of a growing number of innovative food startups that are taking advantage of food/culinary incubators like The Plant, a self-sustaining, zero-waste vertical farm with a business incubator program designed to propel startup food businesses like Greens & Gills into viable ventures.

Meanwhile, every month in California, Kitchener Oakland invites locals to a free pop-up market featuring the latest food innovations from its roster of start-up businesses such as The Living Apothecary’s cold-pressed juices or Wooden Spoon’s jarred rillettes. (read more…)

Every restaurant, supermarket, convenience store, food truck, hospital cafeteria, manufacturer, distributor — every food business — generates a huge amount of data. Data on average checks, typical wait times, cooler temperature, product inventory levels, loyalty card usage rates, social media engagement — the list goes on. And that list grows every day, as new technologies and services enter the market.

But, until recently, the food industry made use of only a very limited amount of this data. Managers would check sales at the end of the night, a process made easier with computerized point-of-sale systems. But as technology infiltrates every aspect of the food industry, and with innovative startup companies looking for ways to improve food operations (see the huge variety of meal delivery startups that have popped up in recent years), suddenly everyone is looking to harness this “big data” and make crunching the numbers automated, immediate, and actionable. (read more…)

Late last March, Panera Chairman Ron Shaich announced the company’s five-year, $42M investment in “Panera 2.0,” a digital ordering platform to enable guests to order and pay through new digital channels for a faster experience. Like many of its fast casual brethren, Panera had identified speed of service as a cause of customer dissatisfaction and a barrier to its continued sales growth. As Panera’s Executive Vice President and Chief Transformation and Growth Officer Blaine Hurst put it: “Nobody likes to wait in line, even for their favorite meal.”

Today, 47% of fast casual operators have embraced the digital ordering shift to become just as fast as their fast food competitors. As fast casual operators have made the digital ordering shift, they have seen the following additional benefits: larger average order size (guests no longer feel rushed and are given suggestive selling recommendations through the digital ordering channel 100% of the time); higher visit frequency (loyal guests return more frequently when given the convenience of getting to “skip the line” at pickup); reduced food waste (some operators mandate that guests must pay in advance at the time of their order, eliminating the risk of no-show guests); and improved order accuracy (removing the human element and potential for misheard/misunderstood orders or misentered orders, because the order is going from the guests’ PC or mobile phone straight to the prep line printer). (read more…)