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Real Legos, not actors

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
In a funny new take on Chevy's "Real People, Not Actors" ad campaign, a focus group of animated Lego minifigures is asked what kind of person would drive Chevy's all-new Lego Batmobile.
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Cue the 'Comedians in Cars' laugh track

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
Jerry Seinfield's weekly celebration of classic-car life, "Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee," shifts next month to Netflix from Sony's Crackle platform.
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2017 NADA convention events calendar

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
Here's a sample of the NADA convention social scene and affiliated events in New Orleans.
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Nissan, Hyundai-Kia join top fleet players

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
Nissan North America and Hyundai-Kia moved into the top tier of U.S. fleet players in 2016, joining the Detroit 3 in using bulk sales to boost marketplace presence.
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Carlson keeps affordability at top of priority list

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
Jeff Carlson, outgoing chairman of the National Automobile Dealers Association, doesn't think the industry has plateaued just yet. In this QandA, he comments on the outlook for 2017, what NADA accomplished last year, and what to watch for this year.
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Honda dealers want more trucks

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
U.S. Honda dealers are off to a good start for 2017, celebrating the launch of the redesigned Honda CR-V and coming off a third straight year of record sales for Honda Division.
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Retailer supports Ford's mobility push

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-01-23 01:01
Bill Jarrett, president of the Ford National Dealers Council, thinks Ford's foray into broad mobility business ideas is a good business strategy.
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Honda finds its sweet spot

AutoNews - Sun, 2017-01-22 01:01
Discipline wins: That's the message Honda sent in 2016 with its U.S. sales performance.
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More than 25 years later, strong defender of dealers' rights fondly remembered

AutoNews - Sun, 2017-01-22 01:01
He railed against automakers' use of retail rebates, mandatory ad associations and fees and customer satisfaction indexes. He charged factories with shoving unwanted inventory onto dealers and blamed them for dealers' dwindling profits.
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Nissan seeks sequel to 'Rogue One' campaign

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-01-21 01:01
After Nissan's Star Wars tie-in kicked Rogue sales into hyperdrive last month, its marketing team is tackling a new mission: spreading the compact crossover's success to other nameplates.
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Penske ends no-haggle pilot

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-01-21 01:01
Penske Automotive Group has backed off a no-haggle pricing experiment and returned to a traditional sales model and a commission-based pay plan at Toyota of Surprise (Ariz.).
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Schnippers tests real china and silverware

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 23:37

Schnippers Quality Kitchen, a five-unit limited-service chain in New York City, has done away with much of the paper and plastic in two of its restaurants.

Instead, Schnippers is serving its burgers, sandwiches, hot dogs and salads on china at the two locations, and is giving guests proper silverware with which to eat it.

“We sort of felt that disposable tableware for dining in just wasn’t doing our food justice,” said Jonathan Schnipper, who runs the restaurant with his brother Andrew.

The brothers also founded Hale and Hearty Soups, a fast-casual chain in New York City that has 29 units. They sold the chain in 2006, three years before opening Schnippers, which the founders see as a new generation of fast casual.

“Because of the food that we’re doing and the effort that we put into it, and the level of ingredients, we’re doing everything a full-service restaurant would do except have a waiter or waitress,” Andrew Schnipper said.

“Our burgers come from a local supplier called Pat LaFrieda, and we put every ounce of quality and love and attention into our burgers as fine-dining establishments do,” Jonathan Schnipper said. “And we just felt like taking a burger like that and putting it in a paper boat was just sort of downplaying the experience that we wanted our customers to get.”

Photo: Schnippers

Schnippers customers have always ordered and paid at the counter, and had food delivered at the table, using buzzers with radio frequency signals, similar to Panera Bread, to let the kitchen know where customers are sitting.

“It works very well with today’s customer,” Andrew Schnipper said, noting that it saves customers the cost of a tip, and that the food is casual enough that it doesn’t require a server. “We feel that by giving them the full-service experience without some of the downsides of full service, people will perceive us as an inexpensive restaurant as opposed to an expensive fast-food restaurant.”

The average check at Schnippers is $13 to $14, and the menu is fairly extensive. 

Jonathan (left) and Andrew (right) Schnipper. Photo: Schnippers

Although about half of the 800 or so meals sold in each restaurant per day includes a hamburger — the most popular is a simple cheeseburger with lettuce, pickle and onion — the chain also serves grilled and fried chicken sandwiches, fish and chips, grilled cheese, deli sandwiches, sloppy Joes, mac and cheese, hot dogs, milkshakes and cookies. 

About 60 percent of meals are sold at lunch, the brothers said.

They said the expense of the upgraded tableware is minimal so far, with the initial cost of buying china and silverware largely offset by not having to buy a continual supply of paper and plastic. They did install dishwashing machines, however, and their hired dishwashers are working longer hours.

Photo: Schnippers

Jonathan Schnipper said breakage was the largest issue, but the plates and bowls are sturdy enough that they’re not seeing much chipping.

So far, customer feedback has been good. 

“We got a lot of positive comments from customers, so it seems to be going over well,” Andrew Schnipper said.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

Starbucks expands benefits for new parents

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 23:20

Starbucks Corp. is expanding benefits for new parents, including paid leave for birth mothers and unpaid leave for fathers, spouses and foster or adoptive parents.

The new policy was announced Wednesday. It includes all non-birth parents, including same-sex spouses, foster, and adoptive parents.

The Seattle-based coffeehouse operator said that effective Oct. 1, store-employee birth mothers would be eligible for six weeks of 100-percent paid leave, compared with the current benefit of 67 percent of average pay and 12 weeks of unpaid leave. To be eligible, employees must work a minimum of 20 hours a week.

In addition, Starbucks will offer store-employee fathers, spouses, foster parents and adoptive parents the option of 12 weeks of unpaid leave, effective on the same date. 

District managers and others considered “non-store employees,” who are birth mothers, will be eligible for up to 18 weeks of 100-percent paid leave, an increase from six weeks at 67 percent pay, which currently eligible birth mothers receive now. Non-store employees who are not birth mothers, such as fathers, spouses or foster or adoptive parents, will be eligible to take 12 weeks of paid leave at 100-percent pay. Those 12 weeks are currently unpaid.

“While we have made substantial investments in our partners, we want to continue to do more,” said Kevin Johnson, Starbucks president and chief operating officer, on the company’s benefits website.

“This is one of many steps we are actively taking to evolve our benefits and create a partner experience that lives up to our aspirations,” said Johnson, who will become CEO in April, after Starbucks chairman Howard Schultz steps down from the CEO role.

In July 2016, Starbucks unveiled other investments in employee benefits that took effect last October. 

Starbucks workers and store managers at U.S. company units received a 5-percent pay increase last October. The company also modified its health insurance coverage benefits program to offer employees more options.

As of Oct. 2, 2016, Starbucks had 7,880 company-owned units in the United States.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Houlihan’s remodels emphasize individuality

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 22:56

HRI Inc. is updating its Houlihan’s brand with two recent remodels, and is eyeing growth for its J. Gilbert’s Wood-Fired Steakhouse concept, CEO Mike Archer said this week.

Archer, who partnered with private-equity firm York Capital Management to buy the 90-unit Kansas City, Mo.-based company in late 2015, said both brands occupy strong positions in their segments.

Houlihan's CEO Mike Archer. Photo: Houlihan's

“We really stopped to take a hard look at where we fit into the competitive environment and where our role was in casual dining,” Archer told Nation’s Restaurant News Wednesday. “My family and I have been customers of Houlihan’s for more than nine years. I appreciate how they’ve evolved to position themselves in the posh-casual segment.”

Archer, the former president of DineEquity’s Applebee’s division before it moved to California, said Houlihan’s “posh casual” positioning can compete with local independents. Recent renovations of restaurants in Dallas and Leawood, Kan., are aimed at solidifying that position.

“As we’ve taken a look at the business over the course of the past year, one of the things we’ve really focused in on is the idea that the consumer is really looking for an experience more than ever before,” he said. “At one time, restaurants were rewarded for being consistent and predictable and feeling the same.”

That worked when he led concepts like Morton’s, Archer said, but consumer demands have shifted.

“Today, I believe guests want unique and authentic experiences,” he said. “So our challenge is to make this less of a cookie-cutter brand and really have a local emphasis.”

The recent remodels of a 10-year-old Dallas unit and a 30-year-old restaurant in Leawood, Kan., reflect the individualized identities the company wants to spread throughout the 71-unit brand. Both remodeled units are in the company-owned portfolio of 32 restaurants. The remainder are franchised. 

“There will not be another restaurant to be remodeled to look like those,” Archer said. “Each restaurant will have its own personality and look and feel to it.”

Houlihan’s debuted in 1972, Archer said, so restaurant sites offer some unique locations as the company expanded over 45 years. The brand will play to location and architectural strengths as it renovates others.

Photo: Houlihan's

The menu remains the same across all Houlihan’s locations, with three to four seasonal versions each year, he said.

“We have the core menu and a specials card,” Archer said, with offerings that include items that appeal to diners looking for high-protein, low-calorie or low-sugar items. 

“We have a number of things that meet the customer’s view of ‘better for you,’ and not just one single definition,” he said.

Houlihan’s has also worked on the flavor profiles of dishes, Archer said, producing newer items like black bean dip with harissa chili pepper paste, and a recent addition of half a pan-roasted, skin-on chicken breast with spiralized sweet-potato linguini and a poblano cream sauce.

Staff has been retrained to help customers navigate the changes, he added.

“We’re focusing our culture on being more guest-centric,” Archer said. “We did an exercise with all of our general managers where we had them write — collectively, as a group — their definition of the perfect guest experience. We gave them certain writing prompts, such as, ‘When I drive into the parking lot,’ or, ‘When I walk up to the door.’” 

The exercise resulted in a new approach to how the team approaches customers.

“It was fascinating to watch this group of seasoned general managers struggle with the experience from a sensory perspective,” Archer said. “They got into the groove after they got less into the function and more into the purpose of why we do things. We are spending a lot of time in communicating why we do things.”

Archer said he sees Houlihan’s competition less as other polished-casual chains and more as local upper-scale independent restaurants.

“We’re working on retraining our staff so they can be more ‘guides through the journey’ of these new flavors,” he said. 

Photo: Houlihan's

Houlihan’s has also overhauled bar offerings by introducing new craft cocktails and local beers, as well as touches such as ice cubes infused with Aperol.

“It’s all starting to come together,” Archer said. “It’s been a year. Our menu is coming together with new flavors. We’ve done the two remodels and plan to continue that. We’re putting more control in the hands of our general managers.”

Archer added that he foresaw growth as slow and measured in existing markets. 

“Our expansion and growth plans are really focused around Houlihan’s and J. Gilbert’s,” he said.

HRI also owns the Bristol Seafood Grill and Devon Seafood Grill brands.

He said the five J. Gilbert’s units are doing “exceptionally well,” with an average check of $55 to $60. Houlihan’s check average is about $18, he said.

“J. Gilbert’s is a great experience of prime steaks at a lower price point,” Archer said, adding that expansion would be focused on medium-sized cities like Kansas City, Mo.; Columbus, Ohio; Pittsburgh and Indianapolis.

“We’re working on a couple of leases now, and I would expect the first to open late this year or early next year,” Archer said.

Contact Ron Ruggless at

Follow him on Twitter: @RonRuggless

Correction Jan. 23, 2017: This story has been edited to correct the name of Devon Seafood Grill.

Uncle Maddio’s redesign targets loyal customer base

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 21:57

Uncle Maddio’s Pizza has redesigned its menu boards, integrated its loyalty program and embraced a variety of third-party delivery options as the Atlanta-based fast-casual chain looks to expand beyond its current 42 units. 

The new menu boards have been changed from a text-heavy listing of Uncle Maddio’s crusts, sauces and 47 toppings to a more intuitive and visually appealing three-step process showing customers how to select those items in order, according to Jenelle Brown, the chain’s vice president of operations and training.

“Our goal was to adjust the ordering and decision-making process for the guest, knowing that fast casual is still an emerging concept and our brand is still emerging in a lot of markets,” said Brown, adding that the previous format “could be a bit overwhelming for the first-time guest.”

Uncle Maddio’s CEO Matt Andrew said the move was a preliminary step in introducing digital menu boards, a process he hopes to start with new locations in the second quarter of 2017, with moves to retrofit existing locations, all but one of which are franchised, in the third and fourth quarters of the year.

Uncle Maddio’s also revamped its Maddio’s Rewards loyalty program in October, integrating its typical buy 10, get one program with text and email marketing that program members can opt into.

Brown said generally text messages are offers such as a Maddio Meal, which is a small pizza, side salad and drink priced at $8.99.

“We’ll blast that out in a text message,” she said. “It’s a great lunch driver — a value driven, portion-right-sized lunch.”

Email blasts allow the operators to leverage food photography and promote timely specials such as holiday gift cards and Super Bowl specials.

Brown said Uncle Maddio’s loyalty program was a key to the chain’s success, noting that she reviewed a two-week trend report from one location and found that 67 percent of sales were from Maddio Rewards members.

“It makes a material difference, partly because you can continue to engage them, and so they’re reminded more frequently to come back,” Brown said, adding that loyalty program members visited more often and spent more per visit. “So we’ve gone out to actively find ways to make that program more robust and find ways to stay in the consideration set by utilizing those platforms.” 

That includes giving a free pizza to all members when they join. 

“It’s a pretty heavy incentive, but we find that it’s got great return,” she said.

Loyalty program members also get “surprise and delight” rewards such as free pizza on birthdays and anniversaries, and “pop-up” incentives such as a two-point Tuesday in which orders are worth double points.

Since the rollout of the new program in October, Uncle Maddio’s has seen about a 35-percent increase in number of enrollments, Brown said. Meanwhile, the email club has more than doubled.

Based on the personal information users provide when they enroll, “We also can see the demographics of people who respond well to different types of communication. … It allows us a level of business intelligence about who our consumer is that in return we can target in specific ways,” she said. 

The chain has also seen “tremendous success” with third-party delivery services, Brown said, including major players UberEats, DoorDash and Grubhub, as well as local ones such as Grub South in Huntsville, Ala.

Andrew said Uncle Maddio’s has an advantage over the wood-fired, Neapolitan-style pizza chains, such as Blaze Pizza, MOD Pizza and PizzaRev because that style of pizza doesn’t hold up as well when delivered, compared with Uncle Maddio’s New York style pies.

“Neapolitan pizza is not designed, nor will ever be designed, to be delivered. Everybody who’s been in that business for 200 years knows that,” CEO Andrew said. “It’s meant to be eaten right then and there. So, one of the key advantages we have about our brand is that we’re very favorable to delivery.”

Brown added that the chain’s ability to get a pizza out of the oven within eight minutes from the time it’s ordered allows them to deliver it within the 30 minutes that consumers expect, and that their individual-sized pizzas allow customers ordering for just one person to use Uncle Maddio’s. 

Third-party delivery makes it easier for franchisees, who don’t have to set up their own delivery system, “and they’re all incremental sales,” she said.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

With new ownership, waffle sandwich chain Bruxie gets ready to grow

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 18:22

The fast-casual Bruxie waffle sandwich chain is preparing for growth with a new prototype design and a new positioning as the home of the original fried chicken and waffle sandwich.

Bruxie was founded in 2010 and got an early boost in 2013 with a minority investment from private-equity firm L Catterton. In September 2016, however, L Catterton became the majority owner after a new round of financing. The chain now has seven locations, mostly in Southern California.

With the deal, co-founder Dean Simon stepped down as CEO and was replaced by Anthony Smith, the former president and partner in the casual-dining chain Paul Martin’s American Grill. Simon remains an investor. 

Co-founder Kelly Mullarney remains involved in day-to-day operations as chef. In a statement, Mullarney said, “The experience and wisdom that comes with our new management team are integral to taking this brand to the next level.” 

In addition, Scott Miller, the former vice president of finance for the bacon-infused burger concept Slater’s 50/50, was named Bruxie’s chief financial officer.

A 2013 Breakout Brand by Nation’s Restaurant News, Bruxie has also reworked the menu to focus the concept more specifically on what has been the top-selling sandwich: fried chicken and waffles.

The move is an attempt to solidify Bruxie’s position within the increasingly competitive world of chicken sandwiches.

Bruxie is unique with a wide-open canvas, said Smith.

“There were the burger wars and the pizza wars. Fried chicken is another staple that we all eat,” he said. “Most Americans don’t fry chicken at home anymore. You go out to eat fried chicken, and that’s where the opportunity lies. We serve it on a waffle. No one else is doing that out there.”

Bruxie's signature fried chicken and waffle sandwich. Photo: Bruxie

The concept’s tagline is now “The original fried chicken and waffle sandwich.” Previously, Bruxie used “Gourmet waffle sandwiches.”

Bruxie, which moved its corporate headquarters from Anaheim, Calif. to nearby Santa Ana, is also remodeling an existing unit in Irvine, Calif., which will serve as a new prototype for future locations.

The new design “screams chicken and waffles,” said Smith. “It’s a little more sophisticated. It’s comfortable and engaging for customers, and we’ve opened the kitchen up.” 

The chain is also scheduled to open its first international location in South Korea in April, the first in a 10-unit franchised deal over the next five years. The franchise partner is Bold 4 Ltd.

Franchising in the U.S. may come down the road, but not for two to three years, said Smith.

Corporate growth is planned, but the focus now is on getting the new prototype open, also scheduled for April. With that will also come the roll out of delivery service, online ordering and digital menu boards.

The Irvine restaurant will also serve craft beers and wine on tap, pending approvals. The first Bruxie location to serve alcohol opened last year in Las Vegas, and Smith said the addition of beer and wine could help broaden daypart appeal.

“We’ve predominantly been a lunch-driven business, but we think the new design will increase dinner business,” he said.

Contact Lisa Jennings at

Follow her on Twitter: @livetodineout

What is a quick and easy baked item that will still convey that homemade feel?

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-01-20 16:31

Sponsored by Dawn Foods.

The “scoop and bake” ease of a proprietary cookie dough batter works well in quick service operations where time is of the essence. Large batches of cookies can be baked up in the morning for the day’s service, or smaller batches can be baked in minutes throughout the day to offer that warm, fresh from the oven sensation. Traditional flavors such as chocolate chip or oatmeal are usually perceived as more healthful and an inexpensive indulgence. Cookies also travel well for drive-thru or to-go orders.

AutoNews Now: Trump takes aim at U.S. trade deals

AutoNews - Fri, 2017-01-20 16:30
Trump takes aim at U.S. trade deals; Ford's $3 billion pension loss; CEO: Volvo IPO an option; Feds pick driverless-car test sites; RAV4's odd-couple ads; VW embeds Alexa tech.
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Pizza Hut plans hiring surge as Super Bowl nears

SmartBrief - Fri, 2017-01-20 14:52
Pizza Hut is planning to add 11,000 employees at corporate and franchised locations in a wide range of positions.  -More
Categories: Latest News