Mediterranean flavors, freshness driving new restaurant concepts

by Keith Nunes
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CHICAGO – New and emerging restaurant concepts are focusing on Mediterranean flavors and freshness as drivers for growth, said Darren Tristano, executive vice-president of Technomic, Inc. He was speaking June 19 at Technomic’s Restaurants 2013: Trends and Directions conference in Chicago.

“To meet the definition of a ‘hot concept’ it must have demonstrated growth, broad consumer appeal, strong unit economics, and be a contemporary experience as well as have a differentiated approach,” Mr. Tristano said.

Three of the concepts reviewed by Mr. Tristano focused on Mediterranean flavors. Two fast-casual examples included 100 Montaditos, which is a concept owned by the Restalia Group in Spain, and the Little Greek Restaurant chain, which is owned by Happy Greek Foods, Inc. 100 Montaditos’ menu features Spanish mini-sandwiches, imported bread baked to order, and menu prices range between $1 for an “original Montadito” to $5 for tapas.

“100 Montaditos excels at authenticity,” Mr. Tristano said. “When you walk into one of their restaurants you feel like you are in Spain.”

The Little Greek Restaurant chain is a fast-casual Mediterranean concept that serves American-influenced, neighborhood Greek food, said Mr. Tristano. Items on the restaurant’s menu include a gyro platter, lamb skewers, dolmades, which are grape leaves stuffed with ground beef, rice, tomato and herbs, and baked mousaka, which is an oven-baked eggplant with potatoes, ground beef and covered with a béchamel sauce.

“They focus on fresh produce and authentic ingredients,” Mr. Tristano said.

In the full-service concept category, Mr. Tristano highlighted the Carmel Café & Wine Bar, which features a modern Mediterranean cuisine. Menu items include grilled lamb and veal sliders, ceviche, and lamb lollipops.
Emerging chains focusing on the perceived freshness of their menu items also were identified as hot concepts by Mr. Tristano. One concept highlighted was P.D.Q., which is an acronym for People Dedicated to Quality, is operated by MVP Restaurant Partners L.L.C., Tampa, Fla. With the tagline “fresh served fast,” the P.D.Q. menu features hand-breaded chicken, hand-tossed salads and hand-cut fries. The chain’s market positioning focuses on premium products with a healthy halo.

“They are trying to bring freshness to the forefront,” Mr. Tristano said. “But it is freshness with the convenience of a drive-thru.”

Noting that pizza chains are not a new concept, Mr. Tristano focused on the Rotolo’s Pizzeria chain in Baton Rouge, La. Rotolo’s features approximately 20 outlets in Louisiana and differentiates itself from the competition by promoting the freshness of its ingredients, homemade sauces and its made daily pizza crust dough.

“This chain is hitting on a lot of the elements people want and continuing to do well,” Mr. Tristano said.

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