Thursday, October 29, 2009

A candy dish of info treats

Panera Bread Co. is having a bang-up October, according to CEO Ron Shaich. He told investors yesterday that comp sales for company stores were running 6.9% above last year’s tally for the first 27 days of the month, and franchisees’ sales were tracking at a 6.3% rise.

Meanwhile, the bakery-café chain is busy plotting some significant menu changes. First on the list is the introduction of salmon, both as a sandwich ingredient and a salad component, said Shaich. That will be followed by the revamp of the concept’s panini sandwiches, which are currently pre-made, he said. New presses to be added around the middle of next year will enable units to make the grilled sandwiches to order because of their speed.

Nearer term, units will start merchandising holiday baked goods, from gingerbread men to Panatone to “holly cake,” at their registers.

Three days, three restaurant-chain bankrutpcy filings. Max & Erma’s efforts to secure Ch. 11 protection from creditors has been well-publicized. The bankruptcy of sister operation Damon’s International has been far less so. And largely unnoticed has been the Ch. 11 filing of Ham’s, operator-franchisor of a 20-unit namesake chain in North Carolina and Virginia.

More evidence that the Japanese fast-food market is whack-o: Authorities have reportedly concluded that the manager of a McDonald’s there worked herself to death by logging 20 hours a week of overtime. News reports say she’s one of about 150 people who work to the point of demise in Japan every year.

That news of course follows the introduction of a new Burger King Whopper that features seven beef patties, a tie-in with Microsoft’s new Windows 7 operating system. There are so many reasons for head-shaking over that one that it doesn’t pay to start.

Kerrii Anderson, the CEO of Wendy’s International during the chain’s final meltdown and subsequent sale, is being paid $175,000 a year to serve on the board of P.F. Chang’s. Anderson also serves on the board of Chiquita Brands International, the banana importer, where she’s paid at least $160,000 a year. And she was expected to make about $4.6 million from the company’s 2008 sale to Triarc, the parent of the once-rival Arby’s fast-food chain. In short, if you’re scheduled to have lunch with her in the near future, there’s no question of who’s paying.

Hotel unions have voted to strike at a handful of properties in both San Francisco and Chicago. It’s not clear whether its coincidental harrumphing or a concerted effort to prove that the union’s strength isn’t being undercut by the economy, as conventional wisdom holds.

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