Why the Food Scene in “Forgotten Cities” Is As Important As Those in New York, Chicago, and L.A.

On this episode of Chef AF, our host Chef Jim Berman sits down with Chef Derek Stevens— a Steel City “burning star,” as he calls him, for shining bright in the local food scene. Stevens is the co-owner and executive chef of Pittsburgh’s Union Standard. Both gentlemen are Pittsburgh-natives and they focus their conversation around those cites that seem “forgotten” in the food world.

The two agree that as chefs they are always on the hunt for honest food. Chef Stevens is candid about his favorite Pittsburgh food spots, highlighting establishments like LeoGretta located in the Carnegie neighborhood and ran by Chef Greg Alauzen; as well as, DiAnoia’s Eatery in the Strip District and ran by Chef Dave DiAnoia.

“When I talk about those chefs… when I eat their food, I think ‘Damn, I wish I could cook like this guy’ you know?,” says Chef Stevens. “It’s really heartwarming in a way, you know? They really got it figured out. And sometimes they’re thinking the same thing [about other chefs].”

Listen to the podcast above to hear the full conversation, Chef Steven’s thoughts on the resurgence of downtown areas in cities like Detroit and Milwaukee, and how to cultivate interest for a local food scene in a “forgotten city.”


Show Notes:

  • 1:55 - Chef Derek Stevens’ Background

  • 4:07 - Favorite Pittsburgh food spots

  • 7:37 - Comfort Food vs. Fine-Dining

  • 12:47 - Cultivating Interest for local food scene

  • 17:19 - Incubators and the food scene

  • 23:13 - Labor Shortage

Hosted by:

Jim Berman

JIM BERMAN

Expert Columnist / Show Host


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Big Food is Fostering Innovation

Large corporations have been noticing how consumers have been favoring products made by independent startup food companies, since a good chunk of those provide craft, high-quality, niche, and, a lot of times, healthier products.

Needless to say, big food wants in. Especially, since this specialty food segment has a tremendous growth potential.

So, how is big food seeking innovation?

Companies like Campbell Soup, Chobani, Kellogg, Kraft Heinz, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Tyson Foods are creating innovation centers and/or partnering with existing incubators to help niche brands grow and flourish.

PepsiCo

Pepsico’s new center for innovation is called “The Hive.”

According to Food Dive, “this incubator will be a separate entrepreneurial group outside of the core headquarters that will help nurture niche products already in the portfolio,” like for example Stubborn Soda.

As Foodable has reported in the past, PepsiCo also partnered with a Chicago-based, food and beverage incubator, The Hatchery, in order to look at other startup brands that have the potential of becoming a possible venture for the beverage giant.

Tyson Foods

Earlier this year, Tyson Foods announced that it will be working with two incubators—Plug and Play and 1871—linking the food giant to innovation hailing from Silicon Valley and Chicago.

That’s not the first time Tyson showed it’s commitment for innovation. In fact, the company launched a venture capital fund in late 2016 “to invest in companies developing breakthrough technologies, business models and products to sustainably feed the growing world population,” according to the company website.

Since then, Tyson has invested in brands like for example Beyond Meat, that promote sustainability and others that promote the internet of food, like FoodLogiq.

Tyson is spearheading innovation through its own brand, ¡Yappah!, which aims to fight food waste by utilizing “forgotten” ingredients like rescued vegetable puree and spent grain to make protein crisps, and investments in companies like Future Meat Technologies, an Israel-based “biotechnology company aiming to transform global meat production through distributive manufacturing of fat and muscle cells, increasing food safety and reducing ecological impact worldwide,” as stated in the company’s website.

Chobani

Chobani is another company looking to foster innovation through its Food Tech Residency. The company set out specific challenges in the food and agriculture value chain they would like to tackle (like food waste, food safety, water conservation, logistics, etc.) and invites like-minded, early-stage tech and agriculture startups to apply for funding.

Currently, the brand is hosting it’s fourth incubator class, since it launched the program in 2016, with companies developing products like tea, hummus and allergen-free baking ingredients. Alongside the food startups, two tech companies will be participating in Chobani’s inaugural Tech Residency Program—CinderBio and Skyven Technologies.

Watch the video above to learn more and stay tuned to other Industry Pulse episodes to keep up with all the innovation happening around your business! To learn about other consumer trends involving sustainability like plant-based meals, watch the video below:

The Restaurant Industry Downturn Looms

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Today's restaurant market is so saturated that it gives guests so many options to choose from. But from an operator standpoint, it's wildly competitive.

Even Emerging Brands, like honeygrow, are struggling in certain markets. The fast casual salad chain will be closing three locations in Chicago next week.

Honeygrow entered the Chi-town market less than a year ago but has already determined that it's not the right time to keep some of the stores in the city open.

According to the fast casual's founder Justin Rosenberg, the Chicago stores “didn’t see the sales take off.” Honey is closing three locations, one in the Fulton Market neighborhood and downtown and then a Minigrow concept in the Loop.

One location in Schaumburg, a northwestern suburb of Chicago will remain open.

But the chain is going to try to expand in the city in the future.

“It’s a total bummer,” said Rosenberg on Thursday. “Like any market, it’s very competitive and we need to come back with our A-game.”

Back in 2017, we visited the tech-focused concept to see what sets this restaurant apart from the others in the market. Watch the episode of Fast Casual Nation below to learn more about honeygrow’s growth plan.

The fast casual segment continues to appeal to operators looking to cater to today's consumers which are looking for affordable yet high-quality food options.

However, not every concept is able to survive in a market with a lot of competition.

“The fast-casual segment attracts a huge number of startup brands that try to capitalize on the next big trend by attracting a lot of investment and saturating markets early,” said Mike Kostyo of Datassential. “It's inevitable that some brands are going to survive and others won't.”

Taco Bueno, a Southern taco fast-food chain, just filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy but isn't giving up just yet.

"We are implementing this plan through a court-supervised financial restructuring, and I want to emphasize that during this process, your local Taco Bueno restaurants are open and eager to serve you," said Omar Junjua, Taco Bueno CEO.

The chain was also acquired by Taco Supremo. Learn more about the taco chain's announcement at "Business Insider."

Naf Naf Grill CEO, Paul Damico's Biggest Advice: Get to Know Your Leadership Team Personally

“I was bit by the entrepreneurial bug and decided to start a restaurant company in Southern California...grew that through about 100 restaurants,” says CEO of Naf Naf Grill, Paul Damico.

Damico started his career in the restaurant industry working in his dad’s catering business for four years. He then attended Johnson & Wales University where he earned degrees in Culinary Arts and Hotel Restaurant Management.

Over the past 13 years, Damico has had an extensive background in leadership positions for companies such as Host Marriott Corporation, SSP America, Moe’s Southwest Grill and six FOCUS Brands, including Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, Carvel Ice Cream and Cinnabon World Famous Cinnamon Rolls.

His biggest advice for someone leading a company is to foster relationships with the leadership team, which he says is something that is often missed and difficult to do when you have a large team.

“You really have to get to know your leadership team that you are responsible for at a very granular level," says Damico. "You’ve gotta get to know them and their families personally, so you can help them and help guide them through their career.”

Damico speaks passionately on this topic. When he was President of Moe’s, Damico was featured on an episode of the CBS TV series, “Undercover Boss” where he went undercover to work in the restaurants and helped changed the lives of five Moe’s employees. 
 

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Boleo's Chef Morris Lives By the 'Take the Stairs, Not the Elevator' Motto

Video produced by Vanessa Rodriguez

Chef de cuisine, Cory Morris, is making Boleo brighter, bolder, and more flavorful by blending his cooking style with the unique characteristics and sultry beats of South America. Boleo, located on the 15th floor of the Kimpton Gray Hotel in downtown Chicago, focuses on Peruvian and Argentinian cuisine which have distinct flavor profiles. Together, these flavors balance each other out and create a well-balanced menu.

"In Peru, you have your ceviches which are really bright and acidic dishes, and you can balance that out with some of the Argentinian wood-fire cooking like grilled skewers or roasted mushrooms," says Chef Morris.

Boleo takes the dining experience a step further by focusing on three central concepts: music, food, and drinks. The restaurant changes up its bar and food menus every few months. In addition, they mix up their music selection to create the perfect dining atmosphere regardless of the season.

Chef Morris has a very humble leadership style where he focuses on his team first. At Boleo, his team focuses on being hospitable towards each other so that they can be more generous and considerate towards their guests. He also believes that starting at the bottom and working through the ranks will enhance your overall skill set.

"A chef told me years ago, 'take the stairs, not the elevator.' You have to start at the bottom and work your way up. It'll really round out your skill set," ends Chef Morris.

Be sure to check out the chef innovator video above to gain more insight about Chef Cory Morris’ journey and Boleo in downtown Chicago.