"Please, sir, I want some more,” said the girl playing Oliver Twist at a summer camp I attended long ago. We were practicing the Charles Dickens classic for a camp revue, mustering all of the emotion children who are not hungry can draw on playing a child who is. Luckily for us, our days were filled with three square meals and more than a few s’mores made over a campfire each evening before bedtime.
Unfortunately, not all children enjoy such plenty. About 16.2 million children lived in food-insecure households in 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Food insecurity means there are times during the year when insufficient money or other resources disrupt normal eating patterns. And while no one functions well with a growling stomach, in children hunger can inhibit physical development as well as the ability to focus and learn in school.
Enter Bill Shore, the founder of Share Our Strength, who has made it his group’s mission to end childhood hunger within the next five years.
In the Community section we profile Shore and the huge strides SOS has made toward that goal since it was founded in 1984. In 28 years SOS has raised more than $315 million to combat hunger, and the restaurant industry has played a central role in that accomplishment. Last year, some 5,500 restaurants raised more than $2.2 million specifically for Share Our Strength’s No Kid Hungry efforts. Shore predicts SOS can grow that figure to $20 million by 2017.
But even as restaurant companies come together to address societal problems, competition among them shows no signs of easing. In this issue’s special report we look at the intensifying race among fast feeders as they work to distance themselves from their segment peers and better contend with their more upscale challengers in the fast-casual segment.
One such contender is M Burger, among the newest entrants to the better-burger ranks from none other than Richard Melman’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises. Melman, it can be argued, fired an early shot in the battle of the upscale patties in 1971 with R.J. Grunts. But M Burger, which we profile in this issue’s Growth Chains feature, is a more contemporary take on the trend. Its four Chicago units are not too far from McDonald’s Oak Brook, Ill., headquarters, emphasizing the heat QSRs are feeling.
In this issue we also revisit another longtime titan of the industry, Tilman Fertitta. Fertitta, who won a Golden Chain Award from Nation’s Restaurant News in 1997, has been on a spree lately, purchasing restaurant brands hobbled by the seemingly interminable economic downturn. In late 2011 he added McCormick & Schmick’s and Morton’s to an expanding portfolio that is expected to generate $2.5 billion in revenues in 2012. Starting on page 1 and jumping to the Business Intel section, we look at Fertitta’s growing empire and his acquisition and assimilation strategies.
And in our continuing quest to offer you insights from industry leaders, we unveil a new column written by past NRN award winners, fittingly called Winning Ideas. Winning Ideas will appear monthly in the Business Intel section. The inaugural column is by Don Fox, chief executive of Firehouse of America LLC, the Jacksonville, Fla.-based parent company of the 475-unit Firehouse Subs chain. Fox received a Golden Chain Award in 2011 and was voted that year’s Operator of the Year by his industry peers.
Fox writes about the importance of developing a culture of optimism — in both companies and nations — even in the face of adversity. And, truly, that is a point that cannot be repeated often enough, no matter the environment.
Dickens himself touched on a similar thought in the beginning of another of his classics, “A Tale of Two Cities.” “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” he wrote, and while he was talking about Europe at the close of the 18th century, he almost could have been writing about any time and any place. Heartache and triumph, he knew, co-exist at any given moment; it’s how you handle both — and help the less fortunate along the way — that matters.