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Where are you allocating additional resources in 2013 and 2014 and why?

We have definitely stepped up our efforts in regard to culinary strategy. Consumers are much more sophisticated as it relates to ingredients, flavor profiles and their expectations surrounding food. Prior to 2010, we had not made any significant additions to our menu. Recently, we launched a LTO strategy that has increased customer frequency, increased margins, and improved value and variety perceptions while making us more relevant.

A great example of that was our Quinoa Power Bowl that we introduced earlier this year. We were one of the first large-scale concepts to feature quinoa as an entrée, but we weren’t sure if we were too early or how our customers would react. Thankfully, they immediately embraced it, and it became our best-selling individual lunch item. It will be a permanent fixture on our menu beginning next month.

What is the future of your daytime-only segment, and what will separate the competitors?

Breakfast and brunch have been elevated to an occasion that begs for culinary exploration in a more modern, yet comfortable, environment. The days of the cliché ‘egg-y’ theme restaurants heavy in rooster, lace and lattice décor are over. You are starting to see local concepts emerge that are focused on utilizing quality ingredients with a thoughtful approach to sourcing and menu items that are interesting, unique and craveable.

It is an authentic experience, and that is who we are competing with. The last thing we want to do is act like a chain, which is why we do some things that a company of our size typically wouldn’t, such as roast all of our vegetables in-house, make our own granola and salsa, and source as much produce locally as possible and as seasons allow. Constant evolution is key and exactly why we continue to invest in the aspects of our concept that will ensure ongoing relevance.

What other chain do you think does a great job, and why?

I’m drawn to restaurant concepts that focus on delivering great food first, supported by a clearly defined, defendable brand positioning. I’m even more intrigued when that concept also succeeds in introducing a new cuisine, new vernacular or a new way to consume. For me, Piada Italian Street Food fits that description.

They have created a segment within a segment, fast-casual Italian, that while very early in its development is attracting a lot of attention. Although their service model is not unique, they deftly created a menu replete with new, exciting and fun-to-eat items that work well in the build-as-you-go method popularized by Chipotle, while at the same time introducing another culture’s street food to Americans. It will be interesting to see how that segment shakes out.

What marketing trends, within the restaurant industry or without, excite you?

I am excited about the evolving role that technology plays in marketing. The relationship between CMO and CIO continues to become one of mutual dependency. There is still a lot of white space in our industry in regard to aggregating consumer intelligence and using it to deliver more personalized, customized messaging. Overall, I think our industry does a fine job, but in my opinion we lag behind retail as it relates to harvesting and leveraging customer intelligence to craft meaningful messaging that is tailored to individuals based on profiles that have been built on purchase history and other interactions.