Friday, January 27, 2012

Don't look now but...

Because of Twitter, you can get a heads-up on restaurant developments long before they’re covered in the traditional sources of industry news. But the story behind the news story is a different matter. Consider, for instance, these little-noticed wrinkles in two heavily covered recent events.

Danny Meyer is selling splinters of his empire. The famed restaurateur drew tremendous coverage (including here) when he disclosed in a cookbook that he had agreed to sell his Eleven Madison Park to the starched outpost’s manager and executive chef. Less noticed was the bombshell that he’d served up another piece of his business, this time to the company led by the owner of the Miami Dolphins, Stephen Ross.

Ross’ Related Cos., perhaps best known as the developer of New York’s chi-chi Time Warner Center, acquired an undisclosed stake in Meyer’s Union Square Events catering and restaurant-management operation for an amount that wasn’t revealed. The purpose is to pair the two companies’ expertise in developing real estate complexes worldwide, but the process is starting with the partners’ backyard.

They’ve announced that they’ll be part of the 26-acre Hudson Yards project in New York, a venture that aims to turn the old train tracks and industrial space on Manhattan’s Far West Side into a new hub of consumer activity. Few details have been revealed about the foodservice aspect, but Meyer isn’t known for peddling the same ol’ same-old.

Taco Bell redefines who’s a competitor. No, this has nothing to do with the much-covered Cantina Bell menu, which has been identified in virtually every news story as the Mexican giant’s response to Chipotle’s success. I’m talking about the new breakfast menu, a.k.a. the First Meal bill of fare, which is studded with names that vie with Taco Bell for share of stomach and franchisees.

The roster includes a pastry item from Cinnabon, Focus Group’s bakery chain, and coffee from Starbucks branded as Seattle’s Best (curiously, a former sister of Cinnabon). You can find those brand names in a number of locations beyond their namesake stores. Seattle’s Best, for instance, is also available in Burger Kings, Subways and plenty of other foodservice outlets.

There’s even a Seattle’s Best coffee flavored with Cinnabon-brand cinnamon. Clearly licensing has become a big business for each.

But each still has a sizeable network of its own retail outlets. At one time, the industry would’ve clutched its chest at such brand-name mixing. Certainly franchisees would have. Then they would’ve dialed their lawyers.

It’s part of a new wave of cross-branding—led at least in part by franchisees. A Burger King franchisee, for instance, is serving as the test partner for a new collaboration with Friendly’s. The ice cream chain hopes to open at least 10 downsized Friendly’s Scoop fast-casual-style outlets this year. The first is co-branded with a Burger King store run by New Jersey franchisee.

Bet you might’ve missed that angle in all the coverage of Friendly's comeback efforts.

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