Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Concept mini-roundup

Betting the bank on coffee
Did I miss the start-up of a restaurant chain by what may be the deepest-pocketed company ever to try foodservice?

I stumbled upon the proof Monday in midtown Manhattan, a newcomer as fresh-looking as a first grader on Day One of class: The ING Direct Café, a coffee shop with a bank and classroom inside.

It’s one of seven locations that ING Direct, the Delaware-based virtual bank, has opened as an unusual way of marketing its financial services.

“We believe saving money should be as simple as having a cup of coffee,” the bank explains on its website for the cafes. “So we invite you to come in and experience just how refreshing it is to sip a latte, surf the Internet for free and talk to us about how we can help you Save Your Money.”

The launch of the chain is part of ING’s strategy of serving customers without having traditional brick-and-mortar banks. Much of its business is conducted via the phone and internet.

In addition to serving as cafes and ersatz banks, the cafes do triple duty as classrooms. ING offers free seminars on various money-management issues.

Other locations of the cafes include Chicago, Philadelphia, St. Cloud, Minn., and Honolulu.

Sit. Eat. Use a napkin.
Restaurants, it seems, are going to the dogs.

As a dog owner, I knew it was just a matter of time. With the couch, recliner, bed and SUV back seat already surrendered to pooches, could restaurants be far behind?

The breach in human resistance has come in Rio de Janeiro, where Pet Delicia lets Rottweilers and Yorkies slurp up casserole-style dishes. The mini-tables are located on a “carpet” of artificial grass, just in case the clientele forget their manners.

Unlike the growing number of restaurants in the States that now permit dogs in their outdoor dining areas, Pet Delicia is for canines only; there’s nothing on the menu for humans.

Meanwhile, trend-conscious dogs will be relieved to hear they don’t have to sit out the restaurant-truck craze. Now feeding the poodles and Labradors of Los Angeles is Phydough, a truck featuring organic, ultra-high quality dog cookies and dog ice cream.

That’s right: Not just doggie delectables, but ones that are all-natural as well.

How did pets survive without them? I suspect there’s been considerable four-legged traffic at Pinkberry.

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