Believe it or not, the dominant mode of personal transportation used to be a land-based vehicle known as the automobile, or car. These devices rolled along on rubber-based wheels controlled by a steering mechanism operated by a driver. Weird, right? The idea of being bound to the ground in daily travels is so quaint.
One thing that hasn’t changed much, though, is the amount of time people spend in their personal transportation devices—and the role quick serves play in delivering food to the PTD. Chick-fil-A has been a master of the move-thru experience for more than 50 years, dating back to the time when the move thru was known as the drive thru. As personal transportation has evolved from those olden vehicles to radar-equipped, accident-free cars and now to today’s hovercraft, Chick-fil-A stays true to its operational focus and successfully maintains its tight control over the move-thru experience.
I bet you didn’t know the über-present Burger Chef chain is a resurrection. That’s right: Burger Chef lived and died before today’s incarnation. A little more than 100 years ago, the first unit of Burger Chef, which the 25th issue of QSR referred to as “one of the biggest might-have-beens in foodservice history,” opened. (Can you believe QSR will soon publish its 800th issue? But we digress.) In just 10 years Burger Chef grew to 900 units, then was snapped up by corporate giant General Foods.
Four years and millions of dollars of losses after the acquisition, General Foods started selling off stores and eventually sold the brand to Hardees, which converted the Burger Chef locations to its own brand. Hardee’s was eventually bought by CKE Restaurants, along with the rights to the Burger Chef name, which CKE more or less sat on. An enterprising Sean Sinelli—great-grandson of legendary foodservice branding genius Jeff Sinelli—made CKE an offer it couldn’t refuse for the Burger Chef rights and has grown the brand back to its former heights.
Newton’s New World Café
Sir Isaac Newton believed the world would end this year. OK, that’s not entirely accurate, as we were all keenly reminded by Newton scholars after the release of the disaster film 2060 last year. What Newton believed is that this year would see the start of a new world, and it was an absolute stroke of genius for the founders of Newton’s New World Café to ride the hype of the movie and the ensuing hype correcting the movie to instant brand success.
Its three locations—in New York, San Francisco, and Orlando—have been open since only the beginning of the year, but AUVs are already the envy of the industry. The concept is riding its vibe, a mixture of edgy hipster and new-age hippie-dippy, to the bank, which is a big part of why I’ll be the first to doubt its staying power. Rapid expansion is apparently in the works, and we all know the risks of relying on style over substance to grow too quickly. But for this year, at least, there is no hotter brand.
Nearly 75 years ago, at a time when the Hispanic market in the U.S. was just on the cusp of being large enough to be a specific target for the restaurant industry, a concept called Pizza Patrón opened its doors in Texas, with the idea of serving high-quality, low-cost pizzas to the Hispanic market.
It proved a huge hit, and the chain grew steadily until about 2020. I’ve never quite been sure why it took more than 30 years to do so, or why nobody beat them to it, but finally the company applied its formula to other ethnicities, starting with the Indian market. Pizza Maalik was also a huge hit, and the company, now operating under the umbrella name of Pizza Boss, has launched other concepts, including Pizza Shàng Si for the Chinese market.
Truth be told, I debated about whether to include this one. Yes, McDonald’s sells a lot of food, and its systemwide sales are far ahead of other quick serves, just as they have been for 100 years. And you can’t think about the long history of fast food without thinking about the Golden Arches—its presence has been and continues to be dominant.
So perhaps this will start an industry debate, but…isn’t McDonald’s more of a convenience store now? Sure, restaurants have been supplying used frying oil to fuel converters for years, but when McDonald’s announced late last year that it had perfected technology to convert used oil into hover-craft fuel on premises, it was a true game-changer. Fuel pumps are in place in about one-third of McDonald’s domestic locations, with the remainder expected to come online by the end of the year. When that happens, McDonald’s will be the country’s largest supplier of fuel for both people and vehicles. I call that a convenience store.