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August 18

Friday, August 18th, 2017

2017 Can Can Ball


August 16

Wednesday, August 16th, 2017

PAC The Rooftop


Atlanta Back 2 School Food Festival

Saturday, August 5th, 2017

August 5


Georgia Restaurant Week

Monday, July 17th, 2017

July 17-23


National Restaurant Assoc Show

Saturday, May 20th, 2017

May 20-23


Food that Rocks

Saturday, May 6th, 2017

May 6


Taste of Marietta

Sunday, April 30th, 2017

April 30


Bonjour, y’all

Tuesday, March 7th, 2017

New Savannah Road is typical of Augusta: two lanes of asphalt flanked by ponds and kudzu-dotted forest. On this ordinary road, FPL Food is doing something exceptional.

FPL Foods steak“I moved to Augusta in 2004, after travelling all over the world for work,” François Léger, founder and president of FPL Food, explains. Genial and high-energy, Léger’s lively accent cuts a wide swath through the din of southern drawls.

“In France, we would raise the cattle, feed them and harvest them all in the same area. Looking around, the environment in Georgia is similar to many successful cattle feeding regions I’ve seen around the world. I started to think ‘why are we not doing this here?’ So that’s what we did.”

Carrying this passion of provincial farming to Georgia, Léger has established FPL Food as Georgia’s best-kept secret: a distinctly local product of—and for—the Southeast.

As the number-one privately owned processor of fresh beef in the region, FPL Food delivers products from Georgia-born, bred, fed and processed cattle direct to regional retail and foodservice operations. And frankly, the simplicity seemed a bit crazy at the inception.

“Here in the states, industrialization has led to the beef industry being very segmented,” Léger said. “Transportation is the big thing. You raise cattle one place, then for grain, you transport them to the Midwest to be finished and processed. After all that work, you finally have product sent back.

“It’s exhausting, for the cattle and for the business. I saw the opportunity to acquire our facility in Augusta and take a more comprehensive approach. It just made sense.”

While FPL Food was making a name among retailers as a ground beef operation, Léger and his team of globally-recruited experts began perfecting the art of raising cattle in the Southeast. A constant student of best practices, he worked on developing local forage and grain-growing operations. “At its heart, it’s about the breed, the feed and the care.”

Now in its 13th year, FPL Food spans three locations and boasts a variety of Georgia-grown beef products. As the only source for cattle processing in the region, Léger has a deep commitment to continue fueling the local economy for cattlemen and the more than 700 employees at FPL Food.

“It’s really great to do so much with the tools and talent we have. I am lucky enough to have found a situation, found a place, where I can realize a dream of mine and help be part of something bigger.”


An International Flair

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016

By Candice Dyer

Lisa and Fuyuhiko Ito Photo Credit: Sarah Newman

Forget that banal California roll, along with the other fishy items with gimmicky menu names like “sexy girl” or “rock ’n’ roll.”

If you are dining at Umi, trust the award-winning chef Fuyuhiko Ito to guide your chopsticks to something more exquisitely minimalist and Japanese, such as uni, a sea-urchin dish that tastes like a briny custard.

“Just as most Mexican food on this side of the border is more Tex-Mex, sushi has been widely Americanized to cater to American tastes,” says Umi co-owner Farshid Arshid, referring to the rolls that are heavy on mayonnaise and tempura-fried ingredients. “But now there is a real demand for authenticity among diners who want the real thing; they’re ordering more sashimi instead. The true test of a sushi chef is how he prepares something seemingly simple like nigiri, with just the right balance of fish and rice. That level of authenticity and high-quality ingredients are our priorities.”

Atlanta has long offered raw fare, but the dining experiences are becoming more “onakase,” or chef-driven. “Umi” means “sea” in Japanese, and the Buckhead sushi bar – named Atlanta’s best by USA Today – is riding the wave of popularity of cuisines that stay painstakingly true to their origins.

Smaller World, More Exposure

As technology and social media continue to make the world a smaller place, today’s diners are becoming more knowledgeable about foods, and they have a much greater exposure to different cultures.

According to research by the National Restaurant Association, 88 percent of American consumers eat at least one “ethnic” item per month, while 17 percent eat seven or more. Nearly one-third of consumers tried a new cuisine in the past year.

And, in a survey of 1,600 professional chefs in the American Culinary Federation, international influences are also making a strong showing at the top of the list of trends in 2016, including ethnic condiments and spices, authentic ethnic cuisine, ethnic-inspired breakfast items and street food.

Moreover, today’s consumers are generally more willing to try new foods and challenge their taste buds than previous generations. Research shows that two-thirds of consumers say they eat a wider variety of cuisines now compared to five years ago, and three in 10 tried a new cuisine within the last year. A full quarter of consumers say they like trying foods that are unconventional by American standards.

“I think a major reason for this trend is all the cooking shows on television, the Food Network, and shows such as Chopped’” says Arshid, who was born in Iran. “Diners are becoming much more educated, experimental and globalized in their thinking.”

Demographic shifts also have spiced up Georgia menus. Some trace it back to the 1996 Olympics, which thrust Atlanta onto the global stage. Since then, Georgia has continued to see a huge influx of new people moving to the state.

In fact, for the sixth year in a row, Atlanta was ranked in a Penske Truck Rental survey as the No. 1 place to move in the U.S. And along with new residents coming from different parts of the country and the world to the state, there comes a higher demand for more restaurants and more variety.

Serving Up Authenticity

The past 10 years have seen an explosion in restaurant diversity across Georgia, says Jay Bandy, a principal of Goliath Consulting, an Atlanta-based restaurant consulting firm that assists with menu development, training, supply chain management and more. “There used to be just the Imperial Fez and a few other old standards,” he says, “but look at Atlanta today. There are several corridors of fantastic international restaurants where most of the world is represented one way or another.”

The community of Clarkston, in particular, has become a lively, heterogeneous hub of refugee resettlement, so naturally businesses and restaurants have sprung up to provide a taste of home. Then there is Buford Highway, the seven-mile stretch of road in Atlanta lined with a United Nations of restaurants comprising Vietnamese pho, Chinese dim sum, and Korean barbecue and bibimbap, along with Bangladeshi halal meats, Indonesian salty fish and authentic Mexican tacos, among other delectables.

“People are not afraid to try new things,” says Sucheta Rawal, director of Go Eat Give, a nonprofit organization that promotes cross-cultural connection and understanding through service, education and travel. Once a month, the group organizes a Destination Dinner at a local Atlanta restaurant to highlight a country’s culture. “Once [people] gain an understanding of the cuisine, they’re more likely to travel and open themselves up to new cultural experiences.”

Chai Pani is one restaurant in Decatur that is reflecting the broader nature of Indian food.

“We serve street food and the kind of food that Indian families eat on a daily basis,” says general manager Isaac Clay. “The richer food from northern India, which is what most westerners are familiar with, is more of a celebratory cuisine, served at weddings and special occasions.”

Chai Pani, which originally launched in Asheville, N.C., in 2009 before opening a second location in Decatur, was started by James Beard Award-nominated Meherwan Irani, who grew up near Bombay. (Irani also opened the Indian-inspired street grill restaurant Botiwalla in Atlanta’s Ponce City Market earlier this year.)

Chai Pani means “tea and water” and is slang in India for going out for a cup of tea, a tasty bite or a snack. Its menu reflects that notion with sandwiches and chaat, or street snacks, that is crunchy, spicy, sweet, tangy and brightly flavored. For those looking for a more substantial meal, the menu also includes thalis, or more traditional family dishes of various meats and vegetables served with basmati rice, daal, raita, roti, kachumber and papadum.

The Decatur restaurant attracts a mix of Indian and American diners. “What we’ve seen over the past 15 years is that more Americans are willing to try new things,” Clay says. “It’s become a badge of honor that you’ve taken a risk to try something different, or something with an unfamiliar spice.”

Restaurants also have become more specialized, he notes. “Whereas you used to just get hibachi or sushi at a Japanese restaurant, now you can get something like Japanese bar food or ramen.”

Atlanta has seen a number of izakayas, or informal Japanese gastropubs, open over the past few years, including Miso Izakaya and Craft Izakaya (in Krog Street Market), and Brush Sushi Izakaya in Decatur. And more raman shops have indeed come to town, including Raku in Duluth and the recently announced Raman Station opening in the Memorial Drive corridor of Atlanta. The LA-based Jinya Ramen Bar chain also recently opened an outpost in Sandy Springs.

Then there’s restaurants that showcase multiple cuisines, such as The Flying Monk Noodle Bar in Savannah, which serves up fresh-cut noodle dishes from Vietnam, Malaysia, China, Thailand, Korea and Laos.

LottaFrutta, which has locations in the Old Fourth Ward neighborhood of Atlanta, Alpharetta and at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport, serves up Ecuadorian soups and ice creams, Mexican fruit cups and pallets and Cuban coffee and sandwiches.

Adrian Villarreal, chef and owner of Rreal Tacos in Atlanta, was born and raised in Monterrey, Mexico, and spent two years in Paris kitchens before moving to Atlanta in 2002. Before opening Rreal Taco in late 2015, he most recently served as chef de cuisine at the Richard Blais-helmed The Spence.

For the menu, Villarreal draws from his own experiences in Mexico along with culinary knowledge from his family. For example, the cilantro and mustard dressings are both family recipes, one from his grandmother and one from his mother. And his mother-in-law gave him tips on which candies to use in some of the dishes.

“The way we achieve our authenticity is getting as close as possible to the true techniques or heart of the food,” he says. “We brought the right equipment, like the 20-gallon copper pot from Michoacán to cook our pork carnitas. We use the right peppers, the right oil, etc. while balancing the use of more regional items in key places.”

And how have diners responded to these efforts at authenticity?

“My guests, who are pretty awesome, for the most part fall in one of three categories:  they are excited to get into a level that is now more authentic-tasting tacos than what was their norm, and there are guests that are familiar with true Mexican flavor and are ready to just try anything in front of them. Then there are some that are familiar with authentic tacos, and they just want my food to taste the way they remember,” he says. “I do believe that the common thread to join all groups is finding a delicious balance where the food and the flavor are still somewhat familiar and comforting but are prepared or presented in a more raw or straightforward composition.”

Staying True to Your Roots


Andre Gomez Photo Credit: Gregg and Caroline Willet

For many chefs and restaurant owners, the challenge is staying true to a cuisine’s culinary roots while also putting their own personal spin on the dishes.

Andre Gomez, a native of Puerto Rico who trained under steak guru Kevin Rathbun, opened Porch Light Latin Kitchen, which emphasizes Caribbean flavors, 10 months ago in Smyrna. He sees his role as “bridging a gap” for diners who may not be accustomed to Latin cooking, and he uses locavore flourishes to achieve that goal.

“I’m a classically trained chef, but I try to stay authentic to the Caribbean with its African, Spanish and native Indian ingredients,” he says. “That said, I also realize that I’m in Smyrna, Georgia, so while I use a guava-based barbecue sauce on my ribs, I brine my Springer Mountain chicken in SweetWater beer.”

“It can be challenging to introduce a new flavor, so we started out emphasizing burritos. Our diners, though, have proved to be very open and receptive to new things, so we also have conch fritters and empanadas made from green plantains and pork cheeks instead of the usual ground meats – those are really popular,” Gomez says.

The name of his restaurant, too, was inspired by regional hospitality. “In the South, when you leave your porch light on, that signals that you are welcoming guests,” he says. “I liked that concept, and I try to stay very involved in the guest experience at my restaurant. Latin food culture is very warm and friendly, like Southern culture, so we want to provide an atmosphere where diners can discover and enjoy comfort foods.”

Todd Ginsberg, chef/owner of Yalla! in Atlanta’s Krog Street Market (and The General Muir in Decatur), spent some time in Israel researching the cuisine of his Jewish heritage. “I wasn’t so much looking for recipes as I was for techniques,” he says. “I went into the kitchen of Abuhassan in Tel Aviv and watched how they made hummus from chickpeas taken from warm water – it was never chilled, but made to order. I studied shawarma at Haifa and ate falafel in Jerusalem. Until you sit down with families who have eaten this way for centuries, you don’t get it.”

The Larger Trend

Diners who are more open-minded and willing to try new foods? It’s a chef’s dream customer, but it’s not just happening in big cities like Atlanta.

“It’s a universal thing that is going on now all over the world,” notes Bret Love, owner of Green Global Travel, an ecotourism and cultural preservation organization that encourages people to travel more adventurously. “But it’s amplified in Atlanta because we’ve got the busiest airport in the world and therefore an increasingly international population.”

The capital isn’t the only part of the state that is diversifying its gastronomy. Thai, sushi and Indian restaurants recently have popped up in the smallest towns of northeast Georgia. Athens has two Peruvian restaurants – Cali N Tito’s and Polleria Pablo – that bring in crowds for fried cassava or ceviche, and Cumming now boasts a Peruvian café, too.

Six months ago, tiny Cleveland got its first sushi bar: Yoshi Express. It does not serve uni – yet. Nor is it licensed to pour sake. And many of the menu options can be “deep-fried” for an extra charge of a couple of bucks.

“We are in the South, you know, so you have to offer fried stuff,” says chef Ty Kinnaragh, as he delicately slices a piece of eel. “Still, I have a lot of people who will let me free-style with no restrictions, and I love that.” So far this entrepreneurial experiment is proving so popular that proprietor Misa Thatsana, who is of Laotian descent, is planning to launch another sushi bar in nearby Cornelia.

In fact, international flavors have become so mainstream and up for grabs in every quarter that many object to the isolationism implicit in the word “ethnic.”

“It’s worth considering that all of the food we label ‘American’ came from somewhere else, and that includes pizza, hot dogs and even apple pie,” Chai Pani’s Clay says. “So there’s always been a continual impact of international influences since our country was founded.”

“My perspective is that the word ‘ethnic’ needs to be dropped and changed,” says Ciera Tavana, whose father is from Iran and who runs a super club called SOFIA XIV. “Lots of what folks are just experiencing has been here for years, and it’s a commercial version of it to appeal to new palates.

“These ‘new’ foods are not new to the people who make them,” she says. “I think the most important thing is for people to have respect and understanding for what they are eating. It’s more than a pleasure – it’s a presence.”

“There is no defining Indian food or defining Thai food because every family from that culture cooks a little differently – your dining experience depends on the founding family and their roots,” Chai Pani’s Clay says. “So what counts is whether you enjoy it and it tastes good.”


6 Steps to Creating Influence on Social Media

Friday, October 14th, 2016

By Ellen Hartman

Restaurants of all sizes – whether popular independents or large franchise systems – have long known the benefit of influencer marketing. In previous generations, this style of marketing was known as a celebrity endorsement and was either carefully crafted and paid for, or happenstance – a local or national celebrity frequented a restaurant and instantly increased the spot’s cool factor. Think Frank Sinatra at Patsy’s or, more recently, President Obama at Five Guys.

Today a celebrity can create buzz without ever setting foot in a restaurant. Through the power of social media, a tweet can have the same effect as an actual visit. Moreover, that tweeter might not be a household name. While celebrities of the past were politicians, entertainers or supermodels familiar to the masses through traditional media, today’s influencers appear on the stages of YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram, and those with the most followers reign supreme.

Though the two approaches are as different as the generation gap, they do share a common goal – adding credibility and cachet. And in today’s message-flooded world, influencer marketing goes a long way to breaking through the clutter with messages that potential customers immediately trust.

So how do restaurateurs attract celebrities of the virtual kind and their followers?

  1. Know who you are. The first step is easy. Know your product and your core customer. Any good restaurateur understands their unique offering and core customer, but who is most likely to influence them?
  1. Decide on a social media platform. To find the most likely influencers, simply apply this understanding to social media platforms. For example:
  • Instagram: Is your offering picture-worthy, and are your customers younger? Instagram is all about visually appealing content, and the platform caters to non-whites and young adults. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 study on mobile messaging and social media, 55 percent of online adults ages 18 to 29 use Instagram, as do 47 percent of African Americans and 38 percent of Hispanics.
  • Snapchat: Have a very youthful customer base and a fun, video-friendly story? More than 80 percent of Snapchat users are under 45 and more than 60 percent are between the ages of 13 and 34.
  • Twitter: Is your restaurant located in the city center, and does it attract a younger set of customers? Twitter is a good bet, as 30 percent of online adults under 50 use Twitter, and users are more likely to live in urban areas than suburban or rural locales.
  • YouTube: Does your restaurant feature an entertaining chef, boast an interesting location and have an older customer? YouTube has its share of vloggers that capture large followings and has a broad demographic reach, reaching millions well past 65 according to an April 2015 study by DigiDay.
  • Blogs: Blogger demographics are as unique as their blogs, but they offer multiple opportunities and advantages, including a dedicated website, loyal followers and, more than likely, a strong social media presence.
  1. Pinpoint influencers. After prioritizing the social media platform most likely used by your customer base, it’s time to start identifying thought leaders that have influence over these customers. Apps and software can help pinpoint influencers within your niche, including FollowerWonk or Klout.

Alternatively, go back to step one and start with what you already know. A simple Twitter, Google or hashtag search using your restaurant’s name may uncover online or social media influencers who already love your brand. Or, if you are frequently in your restaurant and it’s appropriate, ask your customers about their social media habits. Are there certain social media platforms they use? Influencers they follow?

Most importantly, according to CODA Concept’s Angela Stringfellow, influencers:

  • Are actively engaged through blogging, social media or other online channels
  • Have a large following of your target audience members
  • Identify with a topic that’s relevant to your brand
  • Consistently generate engagement around related posts
  • Have engaged with other companies and/or similar content
  1. Start the conversation. With a list of influencers to target, it is time to start the conversation. Remember that this isn’t just a pitch, it’s the start of a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. So start slowly. Familiarize yourself with the person’s interests by reading their content over a reasonable span of time. Then show interest by liking, sharing and commenting on their posts.
  1. Introduce yourself. Finally, when you are familiar with the influencer’s overall approach, reach out with information about your brand, yourself and your vision of a working relationship. Remember, the influencer can offer a great service to your brand, so approach the introduction with humility and, if possible, what you might offer the influencer as part of the give and take of the relationship. Do you envision a full brand ambassador program? Can you offer free meals or other incentives?

Not all the influencers may want to engage with your brand. That’s fine. Some may be too busy or may not see it as the perfect fit you envisioned. Don’t worry, when it comes to a good influencer campaign, quality is better than quantity.

  1. Launch your campaign. With that, your influencer marketing program is ready for the final step: launch! As you move forward, it’s important to remember that this isn’t about a single tweet or post. A good influencer campaign is the result of strong relationships between your brand and your partners, and, just like all good relationships, will flourish with ongoing cultivation and care.

Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Tropical Smoothie, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s Pizza and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.

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