Metrotainment Cafes, Inc. announced the recruitment of Todd Semrau as Managing Partner of Einsteinâ€™s, its flagship restaurant in midtown Atlanta.
A graduate of Georgia State University, Semrau opened Heaping Bowl and Brew, Eureka and The Automatic.Â Semrau also co-founded Six Feet Under Pub & Fish House, which is now under separate management.Â Semrau has championed the revitalization of in-town neighborhoods through the development of community-focused restaurant concepts since 1995.Â His restaurants contributed to the smart growth of East Atlanta Village, Cabbage Town, Grant Park and Oakhurst.
â€œToddâ€™s passion for local, homegrown, neighborhood restaurants makes him a natural fit to lead Einsteinâ€™s into its next 20 years,â€ says Jeff Landau, owner and CEO of Metrotainment Cafes.Â â€œWe have a lot of respect for what Todd has accomplished in the hospitality industry in Atlanta and look forward to working with him in his new capacity at Einsteinâ€™s.â€
Marble Slab Creamery is repositioning its global brand image to better reflect its gourmet ice cream experience. The rebranding initiative will include a new store design, new product packaging, Web site design and a new look to all in-store point-of-purchase materials. Marble Slab Creamery is managed by Atlanta based NexCen Franchise Management, Inc., a subsidiary of NexCen Brands, Inc.
“Our customers are enamored with the quality and freshness of Marble Slab Creamery’s ice cream and ingredients,” said Chris Dull, president, NexCen Franchise Management, Inc. “Research has indicated that customers would prefer more emphasis on the gourmet experience, while maintaining the approachability that is inherent to the brand.”
This spring, the brand will unveil new packaging and point-of-purchase designs for all of its ice cream cups, shake cups, cake boxes and in-store materials. Marble Slab Creamery will be moving away from plastic and all new containers will be made of paper — a more environmentally favorable option. All packaging will display the phrase, “Find Happiness Within,” a sentiment that embodies the culture of the brand.
This fall, Marble Slab Creamery locations will receive a revamped store design. Customers can expect a new color palette of rich chocolate and vibrant pink shades, as well as new furniture, flooring and lighting fixtures. A remodel program will be rolled-out for existing franchisees in order to update their stores.
“The rebranding initiative is inspired by the brand’s commitment to homemade-gourmet ice cream,” said Jenn Johnston, senior vice-president of NexCen Franchise Management, Inc.
Go to the local farmer’s market and meet the farmers. Ask them about their farming practices and philosophy. Usually, the produce will speak for itself about the product’s quality, the way it’s grown and whether it’s organic. (For a list of state, city and county farmer’s markets near you, visit the Marketing Division section of http://agr.georgia.gov.)
Find local farmers by contacting Georgia Organics. Its annually updated Local Food Guide, available online at www.georgiaorganics.org, lists farms by region, contact info and what they grow. The Department of Agriculture also has a Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Directory at http://agr.georgia.gov.
Talk with your distributors and ask them if they can find organic produce, whether it’s fruit, meat or a specific vegetable, for you.
Grow your own. Many restaurants are growing their own food on auxiliary farms in urban areas, but you can start small with growing herbs on the rooftop or micro greens near the kitchen. A side benefit to growing your own is you can get the wait staff involved. They become really knowledgeable and passionate about the food they’re serving if they are involved in growing it.
Contract with local farmers and ask them to grow the foods you want to use in your restaurant. Let them know the types of produce you’re interested in using and how much you go through. Farmers will often sign contracts with a restaurant before they get into growing a particular crop. Some farmers form a co-op (one such example is Athens Locally Grown, http://athens.locallygrown.net) to ensure there is enough of a certain product for restaurant use.
To learn more about Farmer D Organics, which supplies seeds, organic plants, tools and advice, visit www.farmerd.com.
By Debby Cannon, Ph.D., CHE, School of Hospitality, Robinson College of Business, Georgia State University
Georgia is leading the way for a greener foodservice industry. Two major initiatives will be benchmarks for the industry nationwide in the area of sustainable foodservice operations. In February of this year, the Zero Waste Zone was announced for downtown Atlanta. Also, in the first quarter of this year, the Green Foodservice Certification was announced by the Green Foodservice Alliance. The Green Foodservice Alliance is a collaboration of the Georgia Restaurant Association, the American Culinary Federation Chapter, Georgia Organics and the Georgia Grown program of the Department of Agriculture.
The Zero Waste Zone is a partnership between downtown foodservice operators including restaurants, hotels, entertainment venues and the Georgia World Congress Center. With their combined efforts, tons of garbage, food scraps and cooking oil will be diverted from landfills, including a significant amount that will be transformed into compost. The Zero Waste Zone was created by the Green Foodservice Alliance and Atlanta Recycles. Plans are for the zone to expand to other businesses throughout the downtown area and then to other parts of Atlanta. The zone will eventually expand to other cities in a multiphase expansion plan. The Zero Waste Zone is the first such zone in the Southeast and one of the first in the nation.
The formula for creating the Zero Waste Zone is also reflected in the criteria for the Green Foodservice Certification. To be launched in the second quarter of 2009, the first phase of certification is based on key fundamentals that will establish a strong foundation from which businesses can continually become greener.
The criteria for certification through the Green Foodservice Alliance will include the following:
Recycling of common recyclable goods including aluminum and steel, cardboard and corrugated boxes, glass, paper and plastic;
The use of spent grease for the local production of biofuel, with “local” defined as a one-way distance of 250 miles or less from the source;
Preference for no polystyrene but, if used, a recyclable or compostable alternative clearly and easily available to the end user – whether an employee or customer;
A written plan for the donation of nonsellable food to a charitable organization in accordance with all applicable local, state and national regulations; and
A written plan for energy conservation, including gas, electricity and water
The certification process will involve an online application followed by an on-site visit by a trained evaluator or evaluators. A commission will then review applications and site reports with certification status for one year granted to those establishments successfully meeting the criteria.
According to Holly Elmore, founder and Executive Director of the Green Foodservice Alliance, this level of certification will allow many Georgia-based foodservice operations to participate. It establishes a strong foundation from which additional sustainable practices can be implemented in the future, leading to higher levels of certification. For example, Elmore predicts that in future years, environmentally safe chemicals, as in cleaning supplies, will be added to the criteria list.
While it is recognized that all businesses are looking for ways to cut costs and overhead in the current economy, the reality is that many of the certification requirements are directly linked to more efficient and less costly business operations. Certified foodservice operations will also have the opportunity to display their certification seal and market their green status to customers and employees.
As explained by Elmore, the potential impact of such initiatives is significant:
“The foodservice industry is the largest employer behind government in the nation. The amount of product hauled to landfills by our industry is tremendous. At the Green Foodservice Alliance, we are committed to the diversion of product, especially food residuals and organic matter that contribute to greenhouse gases from landfills. Now is the time to make a difference, and the industry enthusiasm is inspiring.”
As belts tighten across the country and the green movement explodes, the local food movement is gaining ground as a way to both save money and eat better. Consumers are turning toward this trend, and many chefs who have long espoused the philosophy of using fresh, seasonal and local ingredients have found their restaurants attracting a wider audience. But in the wake of the current economic downturn, it can be a delicate balancing act to keep both the customers and the bottom line healthy and well fed. Chef/owner Hector Santiago of the tapas restaurant Pura Vida is one of a collection of Atlanta chefs who are embracing this challenge, channeling a passion to change the way we eat into a thriving culinary concern.
Chef Santiago does use special ingredients imported from places like Peru and Argentina to support his diverse Latin American menu, but he is highly invested in using local goods for much of his work. “It’s really important to me to get local products,” he says, “because of the quality and the freshness of those products.”
While Georgia is a rich agricultural basket, Santiago does encounter some challenges in sourcing organic, locally grown product. “The biggest setback,” he says, “is that the network is not developed really well yet. It’s better now than a few years ago, of course. But that is the biggest problem, the jump from having the product in the farm and bringing it directly to the restaurant, to the chef.” However, Chef Santiago says the way to deal with it is to be on top of it. “I go to the farmer’s market, meet them, see what they grow, work out what they can maybe grow for me that fits my concept. You have to develop a relationship, with you helping the farmers, them helping you.”
Joe Truex, chef/owner of Repast in Atlanta, has fully embraced this challenge, channeling his driving passion to change the way we eat into making his three-yearold business thrive, even in a recession.
“This is definitely a lifestyle choice,” says Chef Truex of his 89-seat fine dining establishment, situated in the heart of Midtown Atlanta, which he owns with his wife, Chef Mihoko Obunai. “This is a way for us to enjoy our lives and contribute to the well- being of others. We sell experiences here – food, wine, ambience, service. Sure, I could open up a 500-seat restaurant next to the Georgia Dome, and make a lot of money. But I want to make money on my own terms, doing what I care about, not just chasing the dollar.”
What Chef Truex cares about most is promoting a mindfulness about what we put into our bodies. Eating seasonally from what is grown locally, he maintains, is the way we are supposed to eat. “Visit Japan, Italy, rural France. Eating locally is a way of life; it’s what they know. It’s what your body understands and what everyone is trying to get back to.” Chef Truex thinks that in this country, “the way we eat is killing us,” and that the costs involved in transforming our diets would be more than made up with a reduction in health care costs.
Working with small-scale farms and growers presents some challenges for Repast’s owner. “One of the biggest difficulties is availability,” says Chef Truex. “Sometimes, small operations, they are just like small business, subject to more fluctuations than larger business. Also, you get your produce right out of the ground as it comes, trimmed or not, in varying sizes. Small farms are limited in their resources to prepare the meats with the cuts you want, too. You might get more uniformity when dealing with a larger processor.” However, the personal relationships he says he develops go a long way toward solving any problems. “What’s great about it is working with growers directly to give me my produce the way I want it, learning more about the product, about the people who grow it, the stories. I couldn’t do that with a large company. I wouldn’t even know who to call.”
Even once the product is in hand, Chef Santiago must still be vigilant about making the most of it. Buying local organic and seasonal goods can be more costly than the more traditional methods of procurement, and in the current economy, every penny counts. Chef Santiago keeps a careful eye on his produce and the bottom line at the same time. “Maintaining the fresh ingredients is all about taking care of them. Like our local tomatoes, for example. We buy local, we place them in a ripening area and check them daily to see which ones are going to get used today.” Chef Santiago also cleverly manages his food costs by employing some very old-fashioned thinking to his modern kitchen. “The way I work is, I cut my costs by making sure I am using everything, every possible part of my ingredients. I get, say, a whole trout; I don’t throw anything away but the guts. If it comes with roe, we use the roe for caviar. The bones we make into stock. We get the most out of the product by making sure nothing goes to waste.” Chef Santiago says he can save between 5% and 8% on his food costs just by conserving.
Despite the added costs of sourcing high quality meat and produce from small local farms, a move that Chef Truex estimates adds approximately 20% to his food budget over more traditional mass-produced goods, he resists the drastic lowering of prices that some restaurant owners have resorted to in this economy to keep customers coming back. “I can’t start just saying everything is 20% off. It dilutes my operating integrity. If I got this hangar steak on the menu for $18, and suddenly I am charging $14 for it, customers are thinking, â€˜Well, you must have been overcharging me for it before.’” Chef Truex keeps his fan base loyal, he says, by concentrating on adding value. “I’m running a small plates promotion right now: five different small-plates for $5 each; also, a wine promotion, selling a list of good wines apart from the regular list. I might sell a $50 bottle of wine for $40. I’m going to take a little less money, but [my customer] gets to eat great and drink great. And I am going to sell more that way.”
“It’s tough on the pocket, that’s for sure. It’s more work, it’s more expensive, it’s more everything. But it’s all about social conscience,” says Chef Santiago. “You’re able to serve produce you’re proud of, that is not full of preservatives and hormones. After all, it’s what I eat every day, too.”