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QSR Interview | By Sherri Daye Scott

‘Fine Dining Between Two Buns’

Who is your target audience? You know you can never do something for everyone so that’s the first lesson that we all learn. But we feel like we have a pretty broad range. We’ve seen the business lunches. Coca-Cola is right down the street. We want Turner in here, all the big offices that are around here. We’ve seen blue-collar guys making deliveries come in here and cozy up to the bar and have a couple of burgers. The blue-collar workforce, business executives for lunch, between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m. we’re seeing the Georgia Tech college kids. (Quite honestly, they’re the only ones that don’t have anything to do between 3 and 5 o’clock.) And then, of course, early in the evening, by 5 p.m. to 7 p.m., families, which I love.

I have a family, and I think this supplies exactly what my family wants. It’s hip enough, it’s cool, and you are not at a fast-food restaurant. We’re also not someplace where we’re shattered if the baby makes a noise. Kids like milk shakes, they like fries and burgers.

Now, 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. we’re seeing the date crowd, which is awesome. That’s exactly what Barry probably wants. You know, I walk in the place and I see L.A. I see L.A. without fail. So we want that Ashton Kutchner date crowd from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.

And then what we’re seeing from 9 p.m. to 12 p.m. is a big bar scene so that covers a lot of clientele.

I like to see all of it. I like to concentrate on all of those. Not one of those is more important to me than the other. The hipster crowd, they come and go with the next opening. The people who are going to be here three times a week are going to be the business lunches, the young families, the older couples on dates.

OK, chef, time for trend predictions. What’s going to be the next hot flavor in foodservice? You know what I think the new flavor is? Not having a signature flavor. Not relying on one thing. I’m also the chef that’s so totally anti-signature dish. I just think to be successful you have to be something that’s really organic and kind of breeds and grows. Personally, as a chef, when I see something like a chipotle burgers I say “Wow, 10 years ago, that’s old news”, not so exciting.

Will we see more kitchens using nitrogen? I’m shocked that’s it not used more in quick-service because it’s built for that. It helps with texture and temperature control. At its core, it’s built for efficiency and consistency. I think its use will keep growing and keep growing.

There is a Web site, 1,001 Things to Do with Liquid Nitrogen, you want to check out. We even came up with eight or nine of the things personally.

Quite honestly frying oil is a lot more dangerous than liquid nitrogen. The use of a lot of these ingredients that are used in the research test kitchens, these ingredients you see on the back of soup cans and stuff—xanthan, nitrocellulose, and sodium alginate—is scary to people until they have someone explain it to them. If you have Richard Blais come on a television show and say, “Hey, xanthan sounds really scary. Here’s what it is: It’s a natural product that comes from a tree,” that eases people up. They’re like, “It’s a natural product that comes from a tree? I didn’t know that.”

Liquid nitrogen. Did you know that 98 percent of the atmosphere is made up of liquid nitrogen? That’s what my role is as I continue my television work. I want to be the guy who, says, “You can use this stuff in your home kitchen. It can be used at the corner restaurant. It can be used in a fast-food restaurant. And these are natural ingredients.”

Have to ask: Other than Flip, where do you find the best burgers in America? It’s tough. The Father’s Office in L.A. is a good burger.

What makes it a “good burger?” It’s the exact opposite of what we’re doing. It’s a pub burger, the burger you want to eat when you drink a pint of beer.

Any favorites among quick-service? I like the Wolfgang Puck Express burger. It’s not about the meat. It’s more about the fact that the condiments are really fresh and it’s kind of got that California kind of thing going on. I like a Whopper, too. I think that’s a pretty good burger.

I like Five Guys. You know what I like about Five Guys is that it’s just a messy burger so there’s no pretentiousness about it. I don’t really care for their fries very much. I would say that within Atlanta we’re going to have to deal with them a lot. “Oh, Five Guys, that’s my spot!” We’re a little different, though.

Very different, but it’s the same price. Yeah, I hope people say, “Wow, wait, I can sit down here. I can get service here. There are no peanuts on the floor.”

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Sherri Daye Scott is QSR’s editor.