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America’s Next Great Restaurant: What Restaurateurs Can Learn.

March 13, 2011

Sarah Schier - What's Good

Last week, NBC aired its first episode of America’s Next Great Restaurant. This midseason show puts restaurateur-hopefuls up against one another in a contest for the grand prize of launching their concept in three major markets: Hollywood, Minneapolis, and New York City. The only thing the contestants needed to do to make it to the top 10 was make a signature dish and promote their concept. The judges/investors are Steve Ells, Bobby Flay, Lorena Garcia, and Curtis Stone.

The first competitor, Sarah Schier, a Hollywood chef with A-list clients, pitched the idea of “What’s Good,” a healthy, organic café that utilizes local produce. She presents cupcake-esque Mac & Cheese with cauliflower and butternut squash. The judges hate it. “Unfortunately,” Bobby says, “it has the same texture as a cupcake.” Being a high-caliber chef, she should have known how to make this tasty, but that’s not what killed her chances — she was all over the place. Her menu was unmanageable. This is something very important that a restaurateur must learn.

Lesson No. 1: Develop a manageable, themed menu — one that tastes great, is easy to reproduce, and that has not only your budget in mind, but your brand.

Furthermore, Sarah immediately discussed branching the menu off into retail items. Many restaurants offer more than they should and include menu items that have nothing to do with their concept. One local restaurant comes to mind; I’ll save their name and details for their sake. This restaurant is locally known for gameday fare and has beat out Buffalo Wild Wings and other competition in their core menu item. But for some reason, probably because they have all of the necessary appliances, they open on Saturday mornings for breakfast. This breakfast might be killer — the cook is a real chef, but what does that have to do with Buffalo Wings? New restaurateurs must keep it simple. They can’t afford to do anything else. Even McDonald’s started off with just burgers, fries, and shakes.

Fran Harris - The Sports WrapFor the next noteworthy contender, imagine the ’80s synth-rock song, “The Final Countdown,” playing in background and Michael Buffer saying, “She drove her high school team to a 40-0 season and State Championship. She continued by leading The University of Texas to its first NCAA Championship title in 1986 with the first perfect season in women’s NCAA history. And to complete her athletic career, she led the Houston Comets to be the first ever WNBA Champions. Hailing from South Oak Cliff where ‘only the strong survive,’ Fraaaaaaan Harris!” Yep, she came out that confident. She even showed the ring. “Bam!” Fran exclaimed, driving her fist toward the judges.

Fran’s concept is “The Sports Wrap.” She presented the judges with “Championship Chicken,” a multi-grain wrap containing marinated chicken, romaine lettuce, tomatoes, carrots, onions, red cabbage, sprouts, with Hella honey mustard dressing. The judges loved her food, but questioned the uniqueness her idea. This is where her second-nature business skills appeared to ‘Wow!’ the judges. In this sports-themed quick-serve restaurant, healthy wraps with fresh ingredients and homemade sauces will be made right in front of the customers’ faces. Customers even get a round of applause as they approach the counter. Harris has ever tested her concept at a basketball tournament in January and sold out in 13 minutes.

Lesson No. 2: Be confident with what you do. If you aren’t, customers will notice and won’t be regulars.

Lesson No. 3: If your main offering is something that many others offer, put your own unique twist on it. There aren’t too many sports-themed sandwich shops around and for sure none that cheer you on upon ordering.

Lesson No. 4: Go to your core audience and test your idea on people that are not your friends. Most restaurants aren’t for everyone so you’ll have to go to those you imagine will frequent your location and have them critique what you do. Furthermore, going to people that you don’t know will result in the truth. Friends and family tend to be non-abrasive. They may actually tell you what they think you want to hear — not what you need to hear.

With all of these lessons from one contestant, one would think that this might just be a winner, but unfortunately, this concept was cut in the second episode. When asked if she would continue to pursue her restaurant concept, Fran said, “Hells yes. The Sports Wrap — executed properly — is a billion dollar concept, and I am destined for greatness. It’s in my DNA. So ‘The Sports Wrap’ or whatever it ends up being called will prevail.” Since Fran is already a winner — she said so, look for “whatever she calls it” soon in a neighborhood near you.

One Comment leave one →
  1. March 23, 2011 11:59 AM

    Great article Albert. I just wrote a similar one about what tech entrepreneurs can learn from this show. I think it’s a fascinating study in what it takes to develop a formula and get it right, no matter what the industry!

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