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Archive for July, 2013

Fifth Group Restaurants Hires Executive Pastry Chef Eric Wolitzky

Monday, July 29th, 2013

Fifth Group Restaurants announced the hiring of Eric Wolitzky as the new executive pastry chef. Wolitzky is a nationally recognized pastry chef and baker who is known for his appearance on “Top Chef Just Desserts.” Most recently, Wolitzky led the bakery and pastry programs at Cakes & Ale and The Bakery at Cakes & Ale. While there, he received praise from Bon Appétit for his desserts, earned a spot on Food & Wine’s “The People’s Best New Pastry Chef” list and was named a “Rising-Star Pastry Chef to Watch” by Atlanta Magazine.

“In addition to being an extremely accomplished chef, Eric fits right in with our team and is committed to taking our dessert program to the next level,” says Fifth Group Restaurants partner, Robby Kukler. “We are confident that he will elevate our current signature items and create new favorites for our guests to enjoy,” he adds.

Raised in a family of bakers, the native New Yorker began working at bakeries in his teens and holds a culinary degree from the French Culinary Institute as well as a BFA in drama and MA in performance and cultural studies from NYU. Before moving to Atlanta, Wolitzky worked at Baked in Brooklyn, where he specialized in presenting a modern take on classic American desserts.


Atlanta Downtown Restaurant Week

Saturday, July 27th, 2013

July 27 – August 4, 2013. For more information, visit Atlanta Downtown Restaurant Week


Authenticity is the hallmark of Antico – an interview with owner Giovanni Di Palma

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

by Helen K. Kelley

Authenticity is the hallmark of Antico, as well as its inspiration. Owner Giovanni Di Palma has drawn on his rich family history and Italian heritage to create a menu that features imported ingredients and preparation methods that have been perfected over many generations.

A few years ago, Di Palma decided to travel to the Italian village just outside of Naples where his grandparents had lived. In addition to making family connections there, he spent time working in local pizzerias and learning how to make Pizza Napoletana in the Verace Artigianale method. It was time well spent, as the experience has figured largely in the philosophy and work ethic that fuel Antico’s success.

“Part of my heart is in Naples, which is a great source of pride and passion for me. I strongly feel it’s a major factor in our success and in the quality of what we do,” he says. “Verace Artigianale means ‘true artisan’ – if you are not one, you simply cannot fake it.”

Staying true to this artisanal method, Antico imports many of its ingredients from Naples and the surrounding Campania region.

“We import San Marzano D.O.P. tomatoes and San Felice Doppio Zero flour (milled in my grandfather’s town), and we fly in Mozzarella Di Bufala each week from Caserta, which is near Naples,” says Di Palma.

When asked about the expense of importing products to the U.S., Di Palma says that it is not exorbitant when you have a buying strategy.

“If you have good relationships with vendors, negotiate a fair price and buy in large quantity, then shipping adds only a few dollars per case,” he notes.

The equipment at Antico is also authentic – the restaurant’s Acunto wood fire ovens are hand-made from ancient brick, Sorrento refractory stone and volcanic rock, and shipped from Naples. The main benefit of these ovens is in the heating and recovery times, according to Di Palma.

“Unlike California ovens, the heat in Neopolitan ovens can reach 1000 degrees very efficiently, and the recovery time of the stone is brief,” he explains. “The ovens stay hot, so you actually use less wood to maintain the temperature if you’re proficient at managing the fire, which is an art all in itself.”

As for customer preferences and trends in the pizza market, Di Palma maintains that quality is winning over price.

“I can say that I’ve done many things at Antico that have not been done before in the U.S. with pizza, which has created a culture of its own,” he says. “Pizza had been a price-driven product for almost six decades. But I did it [started Antico] in the worst part of the worst economy in American history in a ‘bad’ neighborhood … and rendered price almost irrelevant.”

With a passion for quality and authenticity, Di Palma and his son, Gianluigi, take pride in making Pizza Napoletana available to all to experience. And that, Di Palma says, is the real bottom line for Antico’s success.

“You must love doing it for the pride of the product,” he says, “not the money.”


Earning More Green by Going Green – Environmentally Sustainable Restaurant Management

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

By Ellen Hartman

“Do well by doing good,” a quote often credited to Benjamin Franklin, is such a simple concept – but it’s one that can make or break your business, especially when it comes to the environment.

Restaurant sustainability has been a hot topic for a number of years. As both business and consumers alike, we’ve become more aware of how our continued unsustainable consumption and waste threaten the stability of our eco-systems. And as foodservice accounts for over 4% of the U.S. gross domestic product, it’s clear that reducing the restaurant industry’s ecological footprint can affect real and lasting change.

Sure, restaurant customers demand delicious food, great service and fair prices – that likely won’t change. But according to a 2011 study conducted by the National Restaurant Association, they also want to patron establishments that do good by the environment. The industry survey found that 69 percent of consumers would prefer to dine in a restaurant serving food “grown or raised in an organic or environmentally-friendly way.”

This emerging trend in restaurant dining proves that guests want more than just a good meal – they want to feel as if they’ve done something to support an important cause. And a brand that is shows it truly cares about its community and the environment can attract new customers and strengthen existing brand loyalty.

The economic advantages of a sustainable business model are far reaching, and there is proof of this cause and effect beyond general statistics. Sometimes doing “good” really does directly and positively impact your bottom line – and in a big way.

Sustainability pioneer Chipotle, whose “Food with Integrity” tagline has made headlines, has worked to build a brand that embodies sustainable and humane food practices. The Mexican chain has become one of the most successful and beloved quick service brands in the U.S. – founded on the “doing good” notion. Newer concepts such as Sweetgreen, a salad chain that serves healthy, sustainable, and affordable offerings, has grown to 15 units in only five years because of their commitment to a sustainable, farm-to-table business model.

But sustainability needn’t be the sole founding principal of your restaurant. It’s never too late to activate a new program. Atlanta-based Tin Drum Asiacafé, for example, employs small sustainable practices throughout their operations. Together, these simple efforts can have a bigger-than-expected impact. For example, reflective interior surfaces in all new Tin Drum units maximize lighting – resulting in a four-year lighting life span average that reduces waste and energy consumption by 25%.

Developing a strong, strategic sustainability program is truly a “win-win” for everyone involved. The environment is spared from waste, pollution and exploitation. Customers feel good about supporting a brand that gives back. And the restaurant, itself, is positioned as an environmentally responsible organization – that just so happens to attract a larger, more loyal customer-base leading to improved sales and greater growth.

How, might you ask, does restaurant apply this insight? Here are seven steps to developing a strong sustainability program that will enable your brand to do better business by making a concerted impact on larger scale.

  1. Think strategically. Pinpoint the causes most relevant to their target market. What specifically does this target care about regarding the environment, and why?
  2. Hire an expert. Why not seek the expertise of someone who can help you implement eco-friendly tactics in a time and cost-effective manner. At, for example, The Coca-Cola Company offers a variety of resources to help operators drive eco-minded efficiencies and thus save green.
  3. Revise your mission. Be sure to include your new sustainability goals – and make that new mission a part of the brand. Don’t forget to be specific in terms of tactics and the consumer-relevant motivation behind them.
  4. Spread your messages. Speak to your sustainable objectives in your advertising and PR initiatives, train your staff and put your money where your mouth is.
  5. Get certified. The Green Restaurant Association, a national non-profit organization that provides a convenient and cost-effective way for restaurants to become more environmentally responsible, offers green certifications in a number of environmental categories.
  6. Be patient. Reaping the financial benefit of your efforts may come later than you hoped or expected, but sticking with your new practices will eventually lead to a more successful brand. And in the meantime? Focus on the gains within your personal conscious.
  7. Measure your success. According to survey by Cone Communications, “86% of consumers want companies to tell them more about results of CSR efforts, while 55% do not understand the impact of buying products from companies that claimed to be socially responsible.” This means you should develop a measurement tool that illustrates your “return on business, brand, and society” – a dashboard of sorts. In other words, turn your efforts into a credible business strategy that will allow consumers, potential franchisees and partners to perceive the true value.


Ellen Hartman is president and CEO of Hartman Public Relations, LLC, a full- service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice industry. Hartman and her team have experience working for full service brands such as Chili’s, Huddle House and Olive Garden, fast casual brands such as Cosi, and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s, and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 20 years, Hartman is a frequent speaker at industry events, is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum and Les Dames d’Escoffier International and has served on the board of the Multi-Cultural Foodservice Hospitality Alliance.


Kien Sam Named Operating Partner of Aqua blue

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Longtime chef de cuisine Kien Sam is now officially an operating partner at Aqua Blue, along with restaurant founder John C. Metz.

After 20 years in the restaurant industry, Sam has been an integral part of the Aqua blue creative team for the last 12 years and instrumental in the creation of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, signature breads and sushi rolls. In addition to his continued role as chef, Sam is now in charge of day-to-day ownership of the restaurant.

Prior to working at Aqua blue, Sam trained and collaborated with John C. Metz, co-founder and executive chef of Aqua blue and Marlow’s Tavern. During Sam’s time at Aqua blue, the restaurant has won several awards, including the Wine Spectator Award of Excellence and the DiRōNA distinction, as well as recognitions from Zagat and Jezebel magazine.  He is a member of the Atlanta Convention and Visitor’s Bureau and is on the Special Olympics Committee.  Sam also gives back to the local Roswell community, including neighboring schools like Centennial High School, and works with the Roswell and North Fulton Chambers of Commerce.


Positive Sales, Customer Traffic Buoy RIP

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Buoyed by stronger same-store sales and customer traffic levels, the National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Performance Index (RPI) hit a 14-month high in May. The RPI stood at 101.8 in May, up 0.9 percent from April and the third consecutive monthly gain. May also represented the third straight month that the RPI topped the 100 level, which signifies expansion in the index of key industry indicators.

“The May increase in the Restaurant Performance Index was driven by broad-based gains in the current situation indicators, most notably positive same-store sales and customer traffic results,” said Hudson Riehle, senior vice president of the Research and Knowledge Group for the National Restaurant Association. “In addition, restaurant operators remain optimistic about continued sales growth and a majority plan to make a capital expenditure in the next six months.”

The RPI consists of two components – the Current Situation Index (measuring current trends) and the Expectations Index (measuring restaurant operators’ six-month outlook) – and tracks the health of and outlook for the U.S. restaurant industry.

The Current Situation stood at 101.6 in May – up 1.6 percent from a level of 100.1 in April. May represented the strongest Current Situation Index reading since March 2012. A majority of restaurant operators reported higher same-store sales in May, and the overall results were a solid improvement over the April performance. Restaurant operators also reported a net gain in customer traffic levels in May.

The Expectations Index stood at 102.0 in May – the strongest level in 12 months. Each of the four expectations indicators stood above 100 for the fifth consecutive month, which indicates broad-based optimism for business conditions in the coming months. Restaurant operators are increasingly optimistic about their sales prospects in the months ahead, however they are not quite as bullish about the direction of the overall economy.

Restaurant operators continue to plan for capital spending in the months ahead. Fifty-seven percent of restaurant operators plan to make a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling in the next six months, down slightly from 59 percent who reported similarly last month.

Restaurant operators are also generally positive on the staffing front in the coming months. Twenty-one percent of operators plan to increase staffing levels in six months (compared to the same period in the previous year), while just 8 percent said they plan to cut positions.

Along with the positive sales and traffic results, restaurant operators reported an increase in capital spending activity. Fifty-two percent of operators saying they made a capital expenditure for equipment, expansion or remodeling during the last three months, up from 47 percent who reported similarly last month.

More details are available at


Fifth Group Hires Beatty as Ecco’s Executive Chef

Monday, July 22nd, 2013

Robby Kukler, Steve Simon and Kris Reinhard, the three partners behind Fifth Group Restaurants, have hired Jonathan Beatty as executive chef of Ecco. Beatty was most recently the executive chef of Davanti Enoteca in Chicago, where he was awarded “2011 Best New Chef” and played an integral role in the restaurant earning the title of “Best New Restaurant” from Chicago Magazine.

Inspired by his mother, who he calls an “amazing cook,” and a year spent in Italy “eating real Italian food,” Beatty enrolled in the French Culinary Institute in Manhattan after college. After graduating, he completed several internships and stages at Le Bernardin, Daniel and Felidia. Beatty also worked at ESCA in New York under James Beard award-winner Dave Pasternack before moving to Chicago. Beatty worked at critically acclaimed restaurants, including The Purple Pig, which was named one of the 10 best new restaurants in America by Bon Appétit while he was there.


White Oak Pastures’ Harris Named Farmer of the Year

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

Over the years, fourth generation farmer Will Harris of Bluffton, Ga., has worked to develop White Oak Pastures into the largest organic farm in Georgia and the only farm in the country to have both beef and poultry abattoirs on the same property.

As a result of his success as an organic farm owner and diversified livestock producer, Harris has been selected as the Georgia state winner of the 2013 Swisher Sweets/Sunbelt Expo Southeastern Farmer of the Year award. Harris joins nine other state winners from the Southeast as finalists for the award. The overall winner will be announced on Tuesday, Oct. 15 at the Sunbelt Ag Expo farm show in Moultrie, Ga.

Harris was nominated for the award by Brian Cresswell, county extension coordinator in Early County, Ga.

Georgia has had three overall winners, James Lee Adams of Camilla in 2000, Armond Morris of Ocilla in 2002 and Robert Dasher of Glennville in 2010.

A  panel of judges will visit White Oak Pastures, along with the farms of the other nine state finalists, during the week of Aug. 12-16. The judges for this year include John McKissick, a longtime University of Georgia Extension agricultural economist from Athens, Ga.; farmer Brian Kirksey of Amity, Ark., the overall winner in 2008; and John Woodruff, retired University of Georgia Extension agronomist from Tifton, Ga., who specialized in soybeans for many years.


JCT. Kitchen Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

July 21, 2013, Atlanta. For more information, visit JCT. Kitchen Attack of the Killer Tomato Festival


American Culinary Federation National Convention

Sunday, July 21st, 2013

July 21-25, Las Vegas, NV. For more information, visit ACF National Convention

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