Excellent article by Jonathan Maze from Nation's Restaurant News on how consumers are making their restaurant choices today and opportunities for chains including a few thoughts our CEO Tim Hackbardt shared with him.  Click Here To Read Article >>

How To Turn Restaurants Around PART 1: "Exponential" Leaps Through New Revenue Channels

Part 1 of BrandTrip Partners Restaurant Chain Turnaround Series

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In this first article, we will explore examples of one of the most explosive ways to increase sales at your restaurant chain.  The ability to execute a successful strategy that adds additional revenue channels can drive the business far above almost any other program.

Are You Mathematically Wasting Your Time?

Often, when we are working on restaurant chain turnarounds, we run into brands stuck inside their own box.  They have tried various initiatives within the confines of their current business model with little or no success.  These programs are usually targeted at an already successful daypart with heavy transaction counts.  This strategy automatically creates a barrier to success due to challenges around the ability to serve more orders through the current service model and physical plant during that time frame.  Examples include:

A casual dining brand with lines out the door at dinner tweaking their top selling pizza.

A fast-casual brand packed at lunch adding a new cheese to the assembly line of their create your own burrito concept.

A quick service coffee brand that can hardly keep up with orders in the morning offering new single origin Hawaiian beans.

Yes, product quality and innovation are important.  In fact, at times they can actually be revolutionary which we will cover in a future installment of turnaround solutions.  However, will it get you a 10% or 20% leap in sales? 

If your brand is at capacity in the daypart you have targeted with product/menu initiatives, it will be mathematically challenging to make that large of a leap if not impossible.  If you are able to achieve increased consumer visits at that level, it could produce an opposite financial effect in the months to come unless you have also addressed your throughput issue with some sort of technology, equipment or service innovation.  Long waits for tables and food can easily turn guests away never to return.

Focus On Sustainable "Exponential" Value

Leadership at restaurant brands need to ask themselves if these kinds of time and resource consuming initiatives will really create exponential value for your brand?  Will they significantly increase sustainable transactions and sales?  Will they attract new investors/franchisees to help accelerate brand expansion?  Or, are these programs going to produce down, flat, single digit incrementality or short-term false positives through discounting and limited time offers.  The “Limited” in Limited Time Offers is generally self-defining from the start.  Should your team be focused on creating “limited” results, or sustainable exponential brand value?

One of the opportunities we look for when we receive an assignment to help craft restaurant chain turnarounds is revenue channel expansion.  We look outside their current business model to find new sales streams that will significantly improve the brand from a continuous sales, transaction share, brand awareness and unit growth perspective.  When you can successfully execute a disruption to your current structure that delivers all four, you are able to grow the value of the brand with exponentially accelerated results, significantly improving the overall valuation of your enterprise with long term sustainable growth.

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How Coopers Hawk broke the classic restaurant business model

One of our favorite industry examples of a brand that turned the model upside down is Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurants.  The traditional restaurants in their category like McCormick & Schmicks, Il Forniao, Del Frisco’s Grille and Brio Tuscan Grille all have their positives and unique menus, but all follow relatively the same model.  Dinner is where they make their volume, the bar is an important contributor to profit, happy hour gets in those who can’t regularly afford the main menu, and private events are critical to make their year.  With the right location, lunch can be a strong contributor and about half offer catering.  Strip away the style of cuisine, service, and ambience and you will find that the raw revenue streams inside their business models are very similar sans those who cater.

Cooper's Hawk broke this category mold, stepped on what was left, and then drove over the remaining shards with a truck.  Here's how their model differs:

Proprietary Wine – The only wine you can purchase at Cooper's Hawk locations is….Cooper's Hawk wine.  Think brewpub on upscale steroids with wine.  Over 300,000 cases of wine was projected to be produced in 2015 by Cooper's Hawk to support their 24 restaurants and other channels of distribution.  Every penny of wine sales in the restaurant goes to Cooper's Hawk.  Not to Gallo, Constellation, Trinchero or any other wine conglomerate.  Granted, running your own winery is not as easy, or inexpensive as it looks on a strategy deck.  However, they have figured it out giving them a proprietary beverage menu that makes the brand a destination.  The wine is also not subject to commoditization or pricing pressures often experienced by operators featuring popular branded retail wines.

Napa Style Tasting Room & Retail Outlet – A business inside a business, the Cooper's Hawk tasting rooms offers just that…a taste of Cooper's Hawk.  Each Cooper's Hawk has a separate tasting room available to anyone of legal drinking age at any time during business hours.  They have created a way for consumers to frequently sample a taste of what the brand has to offer in an affordable manner as opposed to limiting guest brand interaction to only the typical infrequent full sit down experience.  Starting at just $7 for eight pours, happy hour is basically all day long and it’s a unique experience you can’t find anywhere else in the category.  You can also purchase wine and wine supplies from the tasting room and take the experience/brand home.

Wine Club – Cooper's Hawk has one of the largest wine clubs in the country sending out monthly shipments of their proprietary vintages, varietals and blends to over 200,000 members.  Just think about this.  Cooper’s Hawk has guests paying them to send a reminder of the brand experience to their home every single month and drinking it!  The revenue flow is game changing and the brand awareness value is priceless.

Wine Gift Sets – Talk about exponential, they went beyond the stale gift card and created gift sets for both individuals and even a corporate gift section leveraging their massive wine club list.  Again, an exceptional way to create a non-traditional restaurant revenue stream from guests across the country.  Few other restaurant chains are lucky enough to have their consumer base pay to broaden the awareness of their core menu offering.

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Jimmy John's delivers higher average unit volumes through doing what others won't exceptionally well

Jimmy John's is another great example. Let’s just list them: Subway, Firehouse Subs, Quiznos, and Jersey Mike's. They are all Jimmy John's competitors and none of them have proprietary brand delivery let alone the “Freaky Fast” delivery that baffles the minds of most operations executives trying to figure out how they do it that fast. It is simply freakin' amazing.

Jimmy John's results are in the numbers.  According to Nation's Restaurant News 2016 Top 200 Report, the average volume for a Jimmy John's was $875,700 which is more than double the $425,000 average unit volume for the big national competitor Subway.  Even their strong, but not as geographically saturated, competitors Firehouse Subs and Jersey Mike's had over 20% less volume at $717,000 and $709,000 respectfully according to the same report.  Quiznos trailed all with only a $308,000 average unit volume and little to help it climb up to the others as it didn’t even have online ordering at all their locations let alone a slick mobile ordering app and delivery system like Jimmy John's.

The bottom line:  Jimmy John's additional revenue channel provided them with a superior business model that drove best-in-class revenue. 

Yes, these other brands have jumped on the third-party delivery bandwagon by now with services like Doordash, GrubHub, and Uber Eats.  However, none of those are Freaky Fast.  Even after adding those services to their business models, Jimmy Johns still is the sales volume leader not missing a step in increasing sales or losing market share.

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Rowster Coffee micro roasts a host of quality sales channels

On a smaller scale is a local coffee brand in Grand Rapids, Michigan that is showing big brands how it can be done.  Rowster is a one location brand on Wealthy Street.  Make no mistake, IT IS a brand.  When you enter Rowster, you have entered a serious coffee zen zone.  The roaster is right in front of you and there are sacks of beans by the back door.  It’s that fresh.  See previous BTP article on Rowster:  The Starbucks Killer?  Real Coffee Cred?

What Rowster has done to innovate beyond the average coffee house is to make their brand accessible through other channels, get paid for it, and reap the rewards from the expanded brand awareness through the consumer base of their partners. They have a thriving wholesale business to local restaurants, cafes, businesses, and yes…breweries.  Elk Brewing thought so much of Rowster Coffee, that they now brew barrels of Rowster Coffee Porter year-round.  How cool is that for a coffee brand?  Take note big bean guys.  Is there a Starbucks Ballast Point Stout in the future?  Tully’s Rogue Brown Ale? Deschutes Peet's Moss Porter?

Exponential Channeling

One of the reasons you don't see brands changing their business model is their view of risk.  Adding new revenue channels is not usually easy.  It takes hard work by a team of individuals that are not distracted by the day to day current business conditions.  It also generally takes financial investment to change a business model which raises the risk in the eyes of conservative ownership. 

The question brand leadership needs to ask is "What happens if we keep doing the same thing?"  If the answer is "nothing", and your brand is perishing, then in reality your risk has been lowered substantially.  Even if your brand is thriving, opening up new revenue channels has the opportunity to exponentially accelerate your success before a competitor steps in and takes what you have away from you.


Additional articles in the BrandTrip Partners "How To Turn Restaurants Around" series that you might enjoy can be found below:

Mobile Payments Today "5 Tidbits You Need To Know" At CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit Include Quote From BTP CEO Tim Hackbardt

Following the CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit, Mobile Payments Today published an article on the "5 Tidbits You Need To Know" from the conference.  #3 was contributed by our own BTP CEO, Tim Hackbardt while speaking while sharing vision and learnings from our work with restaurant chains developing new mobile Technology, big data and media strategies during the session titled "Personalized & Relevant:  Cracking The Code On Mobile Success."

In the Mobile Payments Today article, his counsel included the following quote from the session:  "Adoption works really well when [consumers] utilize an app and the staff knows what to do. That's the area where people are falling behind.  We see everything falling down right there [with untrained staff].  Adoption isn't going to happen unless that experience at the restaurant is good."

Here is a summary of all 5 tidbits from the article.

  1. Douglas Kwong, digital director, Cicis Pizza: "The mobile industry right now is like [search engine optimization] in the mid-2000s. We know it's important, we're trying to figure out how to prioritize its importance against the other channels." Kwong made the statement during a panel discussion about the mobile marketer's dilemma of how best to reach consumers on smartphones. Cicis launched its mobile app in December and saw 100,000 downloads in the first five weeks.
  2. Graham Gunst, associate partner of interactive experience and digital strategy, IBM Interactive Experience: "I'm going to get a better experience if I exchange it for some data. Obviously, I want my data protected. [But] it's the trade-off of a better experience for privacy." Gunst shared this view during a panel discussion about how different connected devices are becoming more prevalent in the shopping experience. And with that comes questions about whether consumers are willing to share private information in exchange for an incentive or service.
  3. Tim Hackbardt, CEO, BrandTrip Advisors:"Adoption works really well when [consumers] utilize an app and the staff knows what to do. That's the area where people are falling behind. We see everything falling down right there [with untrained staff]. Adoption isn't going to happen unless that experience at the restaurant is good.” Hackbardt brought up this longstanding issue during a panel about cracking the code on mobile success.
  4. Joe Scartz, managing director of digital commerce and integration, TPN: "[Mobile] is an extension of the consumer. If you want to create great user experiences, mobile is going to be a central part." Scartz reiterated a common theme at the summit during the mobile marketer's dilemma panel.
  5. Rick Ruskin, marketing and product of online commerce, General Motors:"The traditional buying model is dead. It's not there anymore. As we look at this customer journey changing, the buying process is done before you talk to the customer." Ruskin's view on the current shopping experience is probably one of the best you'll hear at a conference and he made this comment as he moderated the "Going Beyond the Phone" panel.

CEO Tim Hackbardt Presents At CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit In Chicago

On August 16th, BTP CEO Tim Hackbardt presented at CONNECT Mobile Innovation Summit to a room full of mobile technology, retail and restaurant professionals at the Sofitel Water Tower Hotel in Chicago.  Christopher Gumprecht from Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises and Prem Kiran from Fishbowl also joined him on the panel.

Covering the topic "Personalized & Relevant:  Cracking The Code On Mobile Success", Mr. Hackbardt shared vision and learnings from our work with restaurant chains developing new mobile technology, big data and media strategies.

BrandTrip CEO France Cycling Challenge Raises $4,260 For Challenged Athletes Foundation

BrandTrip Partners CEO Tim Hackbardt completed his challenge to climb 10 of the most famous mountains of the Tour de France in 8 days on August 3rd.  With the help of many generous friends, he was able to raise $4,260 for Challenged Athletes Foundation

This funding will be used to help people with physical challenges pursue an active lifestyle through physical fitness and athletics.  It will help them afford the cost of equipment such as sports wheelchairs, handcycles, mono skies and sports prosthetics, and resources for training and competition expenses.

For his daily re-cap of the challenge ride visit to read about the difficulties, photos, scenery and of course food he encountered along the way.

We would like to thank the following donors that will help so many have their dreams of competition in sports come true.

$1,000 Bob Cutler - C3

$1,000 Arthur Yelsey - MediaSpot

$250 Dev Ganson - Fishbowl

$100 John Svoboda - Svoboda Studios

$100 Linda Ferrara

$100 Rob Taylor - SplickIt

$100 Ivan Matkovic - SpendGo

$100 Eileen Murray

$100 Nancy Kruse - The Kruse Company

$100 Maggie Reyna - Taco Bell

$100 Mary Rosenberg - Global Media Group

$100 Peggy McCormick - MMM Marketing

$100 John Vitro - Vitro

$100 Jamie Carawan - Front Burner Restaurants

$100 Kevin Rice - Hathway

$100 Pete Bell - Fishbowl

$100 Doug Reifschneider - Firehouse Subs

$50 Karen Zaniker - KZ Marketing

$50 Sloane Perras - The Krystal Company

$50 Marina Segedy - Dextro & Sinistro

$50 Kim Zupfer - KM Food Consulting

$50 Christy Geiling - Rubio's

$50 Juan George - OLO

$50 Jamie Bucciarelli - Paytronix

$50 Barbara Johnson

$50 Chef Barb Colucci

$50 Rosemary Doody - Pieology

$50 Chad Bailey - Yogurtland

$25 Joan Hansen - Marie Callender's

$25 Amy Stoddard

$25 Darren Nutt

$25 Patrick Lenow - Dine Equity

$25 Marcella Hackbardt

BrandTrip CEO Completes France Cycling Challenge With Big Numbers Despite Weather Setback

BrandTrip Partners CEO Tim Hackbardt finished his goal to climb 10 of the most famous Tour de France mountains in eight days with a little improvisation. 

On July 31st, as he was beginning to ascend the final switchbacks on Col du Galibier, three consecutive thunder/lightening storms took him off the road scrambling for shelter as described in his blog entry Epic Turns Ugly & Sheep Attack.  Due to the dangerous weather conditions, he was not able to complete the climb.

However, to keep his promise of 10 big mountain ascents he dug deep and went big for a "make-up" climb.  On his last day, he attacked the famous 21 switchbacks of Alpe d'Huez and did a double for a total of 50 miles, 9,306 feet of climbing and 42 switchbacks on the iconic mountain.

Final totals for training and the challenge trip are as follows:


Today, Trek Travel began to share Tim Hackbardt's blog covering his journey to climb 10 of the most famous mountains of the Tour de France in 8 days by bicycle with a goal to raise awareness and $10,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation this summer.  

The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) raises money to help people with physical challenges pursue an active lifestyle through physical fitness and athletics. CAF’s mission is clear: give those with the desire to live active, competitive lifestyles every opportunity to compete in the sports they love.

To make a donation towards the $10,000 goal click here.  100% of donations go to CAF. 

Beginning on July 27th, at his own expense, he will begin a cycling sufferfest in the Pyranees and ending in the French Alps. Legendary cols will include Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, Galibier and the grueling ascent of Alpe d'Huez. By the end of the week, over 33,000 vertical feet of mountains will have been climbed beneath his tires.

To follow his training blog click here.

To follow his facebook training page click here.

It is certainly a tall challenge, but one that pales in comparison to the challenges many CAF athletes face in overcoming physical disabilities and being able to afford the cost of equipment such as sports wheelchairs, handcycles, mono skis and sports prosthetics, and resources for training and competition expenses.

By making a donation towards his fundraising goal you will provide individuals with physical challenges with the tools necessary to find success in sports — and in life.

Brandtrip CEO tim hackbardt Climbing 10 Tour de France Mountains To Raise FUNDS For Challenged Athletes Foundation

BrandTrip Partners CEO Tim Hackbardt will take on a challenge to climb 10 of the most famous mountains of the Tour de France in 8 days by bicycle with a goal to raise $10,000 for the Challenged Athletes Foundation this summer. To support the fundraising ride with a donation towards the $10,000 goal, please click here.  100% of donations go to CAF.

The Challenged Athletes Foundation (CAF) raises money to help people with physical challenges pursue an active lifestyle through physical fitness and athletics. CAF’s mission is clear: give those with the desire to live active, competitive lifestyles every opportunity to compete in the sports they love.

Beginning on July 27th, at his own expense, he will begin a cycling sufferfest in the Pyranees and ending in the French Alps. Legendary cols will include Col du Tourmalet, Mont Ventoux, Galibier and the grueling ascent of Alpe d'Huez. By the end of the week, over 33,000 vertical feet of mountains will have been climbed beneath his tires.

"It is certainly a tall challenge, but one that pales in comparison to the challenges many CAF athletes face in overcoming physical disabilities and being able to afford the cost of equipment such as sports wheelchairs, handcycles, mono skis and sports prosthetics, and resources for training and competition expenses," Hackbardt said.

"By making a donation towards my fundraising goal you will provide individuals with physical challenges with the tools necessary to find success in sports — and in life!" Hackbardt added.

To support the fundraising ride with a donation towards the $10,000 goal, please click here.  100% of donations go to CAF.

To follow his training blog, click here.

To follow his facebook training page click here.

Star Wars Fast Food Empire TV Ad Attack - Flashback Friday From 1999

Star Wars The Force Awakens opens in theaters throughout the galaxy today as most socially conscious Earthlings know.  Here is a fun 1999 Flashback Friday direct Death Star hit on Taco Bell attacking their strategy of using movie promotions (Godzilla and Star Wars Episode 1) to drive transactions rather than good food.  Our founder Tim was head of marketing for Taco Time back then and received Best Television Campaign of the year from Nation's Restaurant News for this series of compare and contrast "challenger" commercials.  Remember, this was 1999 people so please excuse the VHS footage!

White Castle Stuffing - What's The Wine Pairing?

They say "Content Is King".  Quality information will be appreciated by your readers, connections, friends and groups with likes, shares and follows as long as it is useful and topical.  As Thanksgiving approaches what could be more topical than a stuffing recipe that as they also might say..."Could Only Happen In America."  BrandTrip Partners is proud to share with you the recipe for White Castle Stuffing!

Yes, it's a Slider holiday!  Pick up a sack of 10 or a Craver Case of 30 and triple the recipe ingredients for larger family get-togethers!

If you are intimidated by such a recipe, have no fear.  White Castle even offers a White Castle Stuffing video tutorial on their website to make sure your holiday guests receive the highest quality dish.  

The only thing they don't suggest is the appropriate wine pairing.   Simi Landslide(r) Cabernet?  A boutique single lot Cabernet Franc from Turkey Point Vineyard in Maryland?  Or, for white wine lovers, make a special effort to import a Gwin Gwyn from the appropriately named Welsh winery White Castle Vineyards in Abergavenny?  Your suggestions are welcome and encouraged.


-The 3rd Blog Entry In Our Grand Rapids, Michigan Emerging Concept Tour Series

Move over BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, pack it in Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery and watch the wine club memberships deplete like the 1929 stock market Coopers Hawk Winery!  The Barstillery has arrived!  Let's all give a warm welcome to  Flatlanders micro-distillery restaurant.  The latest to join the micro-brewery, micro-winery, micro-roaster, micro-juicing restaurant trend.  

During our recent tour of emerging Michigan restaurant concepts, an old high school friend turned us on to this self proclaimed "Hillbilly Chic" hipster magnet.  Built in a former lumber yard, there is no lack of texture and symbolism to get you in the mood to toss back some fine hooch, shine, specialty cocktails, bourbon aged brews and even flights of spirits for the adventurous with a DD in tow we hope.

That all being said (Yes, we will get to the part about whether the shine was fine...), Flatlanders gets it mostly right with truly tasty vittles even hill folk with a partial set would tell their spouse/cousin about.  Lots of local, of course, including a selection of sausages from the micro-butcher next door, beer cheese poutine on hand punched fries, expected/welcomed Flatlanders BBQ Bourbon pulled pork and Sweet Potato Hobo Pie for dessert to name a few.  

A number of our picks are shown below.  A must have are the Devil's Eggs served over sriracha and garnished individually with a jalapeno slice.  Tasty, with a nice sharp heat balanced by the creamy egg yolk.  Next up, Sweet Potato & Apple Hush Pups.  Of course they are healthy, they have sweet potatoes in them right?  They are even extra heart friendly with the accompanying brown butter sage dip.  Continuing the hillbilly fusion menu flow was their apparently seasonal fall favorite Fried Chicken & Pumpkin Waffles with bourbon syrup.  Not sure if the chicken and waffles were the best, but you could pour that bourbon syrup on a carburetor your eyes would still roll back in your head from the savory, sweet, liquory (That's a word right?) wonderful coating of your taste buds.

Opportunities?  Possibly off track from the hillbilly fusion theme were Mahi-Mahi fish tacos?  What's up with that?  Buffalo shrimp?  Then there is the uninspiring salad section and glaring lack of theme appropriate sausages like Cajun, Andouille, wild boar, we could probably think a few more up if we took 10 seconds...I mean work with us here Flatlanders you have to nail this sausage thing.

How were the spirits?  It is a Barstillery after all.  They are locally distilled using Flatlander recipes, but not distilled on-site.  Who cares.  4 our of 5 were amazing!  Especially, the bourbon.  It is clearly their signature product being featured first on the menu in a non-alphabetical top to bottom list.  Gin is at the bottom of the list, as it should be, after tasting a flight and a few cocktails.  With the surging popularity in botanical gin, they may want to work on this one.  We were thinking of  continuing with the Michigan theme on the Gin with one called "Ole White Pine" (A nod to the great indigenous conifer that is also the state tree of the mitten shaped state and the pleasing pine needle aroma that some gins can bring to the party.) which has been a proven road driven by Rogue with their popular Oregon made Pink Spruce Gin.  The bourbon on the other hand, don't touch the recipe!  

As expected, a signature Flatlanders spirits cocktail selection rounds out the menu.  In particular, the Mayberry Manhattan, Mississippi Mule and the Oh Canada with maple syrup, cream liqueur, fresh cream and a maple sugar rim made for a comfortable fall evening experience.  

Additional revenue is driven through off-premise sales at local retailers where the liquor line-up can also be found helping prove the promise, drive trial, solidify fans and grow the higher level brand.

Finally, nice work on broadening the concept with a week of barrel aged beers during Whisky Fest.  The Saugatuck BA Bonfire Brown beer was exceptional after being aged in Flatlanders bourbon barrels for a limited run.  

So foodie friends, restaurant experts and stumblers upon this rambling blog does a Barstillery restaurant have more speed to market than a three legged hillbilly hound?  Can it play in Austin, Chicago, Kansas City, Los Angeles, San Francisco metros and still find room to play in the burbs for scale?  Should BJ's Restaurant & Brewhouse, Yardhouse, Old Chicago and others strike now with their own self-stilled shines before these micro-newbies like FlatlandersPark Distillery and Bardenay (Who now has three locations and claims to be the nations first restaurant distillery.) steal their mash and customer base?

Uncle Cheetah's Vs. The Melt - Industry Innovation Irony

-The 2nd Blog Entry In Our Grand Rapids, Michigan Emerging Concept Tour Series

As we coveted the last drops of our Guatamalan grounds pour over from the coffee gods at Rowster Coffee (See 1st series blog entry The Starbucks Killer? - Real Coffee Cred?”.) it became clearly apparent, through our front window view at the roastery of java dreams, we were in the middle of a street of revitalization.  Across this original brick paved street stood a repurposed gas station turned sit-down Mexican mash-up-aurant.  Next to our parking space the haute dog place that looked very wienerlicious.  Glancing further to the East the emerging foodieville seemed to continue with another chef driven, passion livin’, locally givin’ corner of cool cusine in every third or fourth building between long ago boarded up abandoned brick locales and businesses that somehow survived the last fifty years of tough times.  A street ironically called Wealthy Street.

Buzzed from the beans at Rowster, the metabolism had now reached the point where significant sustenance was needed.  The free wi-fi blazing through the brushed steel laptops confirmed via google maps that tough choices lie ahead of us down this street of mystery menus in our search for nourishment, and culinary enlightenment.  Too soon to blow our dinner calorie chits, we opted for a more lunch directed choice which will now go down in history as the Cheetah choice.  There were not just one, but two places with the name Cheetah in them only a block apart.  The Electric Cheetah and Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop.  We could only assume that one was so successful the other became a creative real estate expansion to handle the demand.  With this notion of Cheetah prowess, and our need to be of service to the ever expanding chain bakery café/grilled cheese/soup categories, we made our decision to visit the annex first and soup it up at the soup shop.

With limited time, and considerable caloric big game ahead of us already targeted for dinner (See 3rd series blog entry Welcome The Barstillery - Trend or Micro-Niche Fad?”.), we opted for a single sandwich and soup safari at Uncle Cheetah’s Soup Shop.  Like a big cat at a crowded Wildebeest watering hole, the choice was not easy.  Uncle Cheetah has some serious stew and sammie chops.  Listed daily, only on their facebook page, here were our October 19th choices.

The sandwiches weren’t any easier (see menu below).  In fact, upon closer observation, we had entered an evil grilled cheese vortex featuring eight melty wonders and a daily special called “Creole On A Roll” made with shaved Cajun turkey, pepper jack cheese, sautéed peppers & onions, & Cajun ranch on a fresh Nantucket Bakery challah slider bun. The menu (see below) continued with recipes including delectable melted dairy choices including smoked gouda, goat cheese cream, house boursin and fresh mozz just to name a few.  Spreads and toppings like corn cabbage slaw, jalapeno tomato jam and a raspberry chipotle sauce made our single sandwich selection even more confounding.

Our sammie of choice….The Pig Newton!  We always love a good sandwich on the border of trademark infringement.  So good, it must be worth the legal risk!  Thick cut smoked bacon slabs, a healthy layer of melted brie cheese and caramelized onions slathered with an orange-fig jam on grilled sourdough.  Our soup of choice….it was fall, so Pumpkin Chorizo called to us with a haunting tone that couldn’t be squashed. 

The Pig Newton (see below) was a definite shut the front door grilled sammie moment. Sweet, savory, smoky, crunchy, melty….mmmmm.  Hope you don’t need more of a review than that.  Pumpkin Chorizo soup?  Shut the garage door too people!  The need for the Uncle annex was obvious. Even more obvious was the need to visit the mother Cheetah to see where this one got it’s spots.  If this was the limited sampling of what was back at the den, we couldn't wait to see what was powering the larger Electric Cheetah.  

Additionally obvious was the irony of our industry obsession to talk about the topic of flavor innovation to capture those experimental Millennials back from local concepts like this.  These big flavors were not hard recipes to execute.  The menu was small enough for operations to pump out the significant volume to the throngs coming in and out of the door.  Yet, when you look at chain concepts in Bakery Cafe, and the smaller grilled cheese segment, the innovation seems to be lost back in the test kitchen somewhere along the way.  

As an example, a quick internet search showed the big buzz concept, Silicon Valley funded, The Melt now has only four very basic grilled cheese sandwiches.  They have virtually abandoned their category niche. Instead of innovating like a Cheetah, The Melt has instead taken a strategy of adding equally boring/expected burgers to ostensibly "pivot," as they would say in the tech world, and find a way to survive by offering a an even longer list of non-differentiating recipes.  

Alternatively, Shark Tank featured grilled cheesers Tom+Chee has stayed on point with unique flavors, breads and alternative cheeses making their menu a signature destination concept including Grilled Cheese Donuts that take the buzz up another level on the food chain.

With that long diatribe on the state of melted cheese menus, and marketing mumble, the question is now posed to the reader:  You are walking down the street seeking your noon nourishment and you have the choice of Uncle Cheetah's Soup Shop or The Melt.  Which grilled which-aurant steals your hard earned cheese?  BrandTrippin' peeps are curious as a cat on Wealthy Street.

The Starbucks Killer? - Real Coffee Cred?

-The 1st Blog Entry In Our Grand Rapids, Michigan Emerging Concept Tour Series

No, for a change, we weren't on a project researching coffee.  We weren't looking for inspiration or the next flavor trend.  All we wanted was a cup of coffee and some wi-fi just like any other day on the road.  We weren't trying, but they found us at Rowster Coffee in Grand Rapids, Michigan.  

It was another example of an accidental discovery thanks to our friend Google Maps.  Speak into the phone and say "Coffee Shop".  Look for something not a chain and not too far away.  Hit navigate and see what happens.  That's how we got to Rowster Coffee.

The hardest part about getting to this mecca for roasted bean purists was entering through the back door and having to walk over and around burlap sacks of beans.  No, these were not a few sacrificial sacks of product for show like the potatoes at Five Guys.  They were what you were going to drink.  It was the first sign that this place was far from your typical chain with the proverbial brand word wall mandated by the interior design team.  No baked goods or retail shelves trying to sell you everything but exceptional coffee either. 

The second sign was just as obvious as we quickly scanned the patrons.  Hipsters, millennials, Mac toting creatives and foodies like us savoring and appreciating the artistry that was magically produced the same day (in some cases a few minutes ago) from the roaster just a few feet from them on the other side of the counter.  Forget that half of the clientele clearly just woke up (it was 2:00 in the afternoon) and showering was obviously the second step of their daily rising routine; these were people in-the-know.  These were people who could appreciate a $5.00 cup of coffee and were happily walking out with a pound of Costa Rican sun dried beans for the low, low price of $20.00.  

Was the coffee exceptional?  Yes.  It should have been.  Freshly roasted in that little hyper-over designed and engineered Italian looking machine with the round duct work coming out of it.  Our coffee god took literally five minutes to make it as he did the pour-over-the-grounds-thing and sat there with a timer in his hand to make sure it steeped for the exact amount of time.  Not kidding, he stood there next to the coffee staring at it with his timer in hand.  His care was not altered by pesky customers wanting to place their order or waiting orders either.  One cup at a time at Rowster.  One perfect cup at a time.

Did we walk out with a pound of it?  Yes.  It was crazy good.  We also watched local restaurants show up for their 5 pound orders one after the other too.  This, of course, pulled the chain on the light bulbs in our heads connected to our restaurant concept revenue calculators.  There were more streams of beans to count than the ones waking up our unshaven friends in flip flops surfing the internet and likely taking up space at the counter for some time to come that afternoon.

Is this the wave of the future to differentiate against the coffee chains?  We have since found more of these purists beginning to brew some expansion past one or two locations.  Is it a trend?  Is it sustainable?  Can it scale?  We would love to know your caffeine induced thoughts.

Your Next Beer Tasting Trip - The Hops Highway

Located in San Diego, we are in the epicenter of the craft brewing explosion.  In fact, there are more craft breweries in San Diego than there are McDonald's locations.  Little did we know that now one of our main corridors has been named "The Hops Highway"!  For you, if you are a craft beer fan, this may seriously be on the bucket list for your next vacation.  For our clients, this makes it easy for us to experience the craft beer trends as they happen in real time and help them time strategic beverage decisions appropriately for their brand.

The Hops Higway has 39 breweries located next to the 78 highway corridor.  The selection of breweries has it all including the small guys with one roll up door like On The Tracks Brewery to the category killer Stone Brewing World Bistro & Gardens and local favorite Belching Beaver Brewery where you can find everything from sours to stouts.  We know, because we have.  We haven't hit all 39, but we are working on it pint by pint and taster by taster.  

Make sure you call us if you are headed out our way to our highway of suds and growlers.

Chaos Killing Project Management App - BTP Tech Tuesday

We are currently using this platform to design, and launch, a new restaurant concept for a multi-brand restaurant company.  We have also used it to help develop a new technology infrastructure for another of our clients.  Two very complex projects that involve every department in these respective organizations.  They are the type of projects that would normally create the need for caution tape around an office space of the lucky person who was chosen/volunteered to "own" them.  However, thanks to, our readiness continues to be held at a calming DEFCON 5.  

You have experienced the headaches.  Hunting through emails to find correspondence from multiple people, trying to find previous versions of files and attempting to understand where the organization is currently on the timeline are all issues when managing a complex project.  This creates a lot of project chaos, way too much for you to remember and the ole' spreadsheet tracking isn't cutting it anymore.  The result:  Loss of sleep, increased use of coffee/energy drinks and friends/family finding ways to avoid the cranky sleep deprived person mumbling to themselves.  

A number of years ago, we discovered a life-changing project management tool called Basecamp solving many of these same issues that made us less socially acceptable during daylight hours.  Primarily used at advertising agencies, this online portal was revolutionary in keeping the project, and all communications, in one place.  No more hunting for emails and files.  Simply log in, open the project and everything is there.  Plus, you can archive it.  However, what about that timeline?  How do you keep everyone on track? is our new friend.  It does all of what Basecamp does and more.  Set up automatic reminders for each individual participant to help them know their stage of the project is coming due (or overdue) without you having to remember.  Set up tasks and milestones.  Attribute them specifically to team members who own them.  And, our favorite, flow this all out into a Gantt chart showing how the project looks over time and where it is today.

Keg-O-Kalamata Olives Arrives

Kalamata olives must be trending hotter than we thought.  We were working in the test kitchen on some new products and a keg of them showed up!  This is a seriously large, and fairly indestructible, keg of olives folks.  If this is where the trend is going, we need to buy some Kalamata olive futures!

Your Next Wine Tasting Trip - 33 Wineries & No Driving

If you are looking for a great wine experience, and don't want to have to worry about transportation, look no further than the small California town of Los Olivos.  

On a recent wine exploration trip to the Central Coast, we stopped in Los Olivos for a bite to eat and a sip of some Sauvingon Blanc on a hot summer day.  We landed at Malibu Wines where we conveniently found a gourmet food truck outside who promptly delivered to us an amazing tri-tip steak salad with goat cheese and grilled romaine lettuce.  

This is the type of experience you can find throughout this small town packed full of wine tasting rooms.  In no less than two to three blocks in any direction, you will find 33 wineries represented!  Yes, 33 wineries!  If you can drink wine and walk, this is your town.  There is only one hotel, The Fess Parker Inn, but look on AirBNB for more options and a truly convenient walking wine tasting tour.

Meat-O-Clock In Austin

The year was 2013.  It was August in Texas.  We landed in Austin early with six hours before we had to meet with a potential client.  It was noon.  Which, for us, also means Meat-O-Clock!  We opened Google Maps and simply searched "Austin BBQ Brisket".  We blindly selected the first place that had 4 or more stars, launched the navigation and followed the directions of our female sounding digital guide to what we hoped would be smoky BBQ heaven.  

From the airport to a locale near downtown, next to an old neighborhood that is now probably taken over by Austin hipsters, we parked behind what appeared to be homemade trailers of sorts.  As we walked by them the picture became more clear.  They were literally a fleet of BBQ smoking trailers made from unidentifiable chassis and corrugated roofing panels on all five sides.  Next to each, were piles of wood.  It was almost too beautiful of a scene. Needless to say, our pace picked up on the way to what appeared to be a well deserved line.  

A line it was.  At 12:35 pm there was easily over 100 people in a serpentine through railings, down old concrete steps, out onto/down the sidewalk and back next to the upper level of the outdoor dining porch (It's a BBQ joint so it ain't no patio, it's a porch).  We took our place in what appeared to be a focused, but civil, crowd of expectant carnivores and began to wait our turn not knowing when we might get through this crude theme park style line to be able to experience the BBQ roller coaster.

Less than a minute after we cued up in the line a robust bearded man with smoke on his cheeks, and sauce on his apron, appeared directly above us on the porch.  The man spoke with 100% attention of the crowd.  "Here at Franklin (Yes, it is the Franklin Barbecue that was featured in American Express commercials and the movie Chef.), we smoke this meat out back for 18 hours.  That means when it's gone, it's gone.  We can't make anymore for today."  He then looked down upon our BrandTrip Partners founder Tim and began to hand him a piece of BBQ stained butcher paper with something written on it.  He continued, "This man is the Last Man Standin'.  That means he is guaranteed anything he wants.  Ribs, sausage, brisket, chicken...anything we smoke he can get it.  Anyone behind him might get somehtin', or might get nothin'.  But, the Last Man Standin' can get it all.  However, sir, it's about an hour and a half from where you are standin' right now before you get any meat."

Sure enough, the butcher paper said "Last Man Standin'" hand written with a Sharpie.  Upon closer inspection, it was clear that Franklin Barbecue is an equal opportunity meat provider as the other side had "Last Woman Standin'" inscribed on it.  And...sure enough it was an hour and a half to the minute that it took for that line to get the Last Man Standin' in the "On Deck" position.  Tim was greeted with cheers from the staff and congratulatory words from the management.  On top of that, he was informed that his entire meal was gratis and he could have anything he wanted.  Seeing that it was now 2:00 pm and there had been no nourishment since breakfast, he ordered "Some of each please, and a pint of that local pecan porter beer."  A large plastic tray with mountain of meat, some white bread, potato salad and a fine dark malted beverage was fastidiously bestowed in front of him.

Was it good?  Let's just say it was one of those days where you loved your job.  

ROI for Franklin's free tray of meat for the Last Man Standin' and a greasy butcher paper sign = Countless times we have told this story, blog posts read by thousands and a warm feeling for everything Franklin.  Do you have a Last Man Standin' moment you can create for your brand?

Everyone Has Mad Graphic Design Skills With Canva - BTP Tech Tuesday

Now that everyone has a facebook page(s), Twitter, LinkedIn, personal website(s), Instagram, Pinterest, tumblr, etc., etc., you need to have graphics as wicked cool as everyone else right?  However, you are not a Photoshop ninja and ninjas aren't cheap let alone easy to find (Because, you know, they're ninjas!).  How can you make slick facebook headers or those smart looking infographic things when you lack the mad skills of the latte drinking hipster graphic designers sporting Apple window stickers on their cars and Vespa scooters?  Canva is your answer.  Plus, if you can handle paying absolutely nothing, this platform will be your new attractive friend that makes you look better just because you are next to them.

Canva is stupid easy to use as the cool kids say.  Drag and drop.  Cut and paste.  Pre-designed templates, free images, free icons, free illustrations and an exceptional "How To" section called Design School with tons of examples easily categorized so you can find what you want and how to design it.  In no time, you will be posting infographics, amazing social media posts and publishing your new ebook cover for that sci-fi romantic comedy trilogy you always wanted to write.  Yes, soon you will be such a good graphic designer you will feel compelled to start walking around with your laptop in a $300 waxed canvas Union Street Messenger Bag while sipping your dark and sultry French roast.

All BrandTrip Partners social media banners, graphic posts and infographics are created with Canva and ample amounts of dark and sultry French roast when within reach.  No room for cream either.  Hard core.

Pizza Truth

While driving through rural Michigan we stopped by Country Dairy for some fresh, as fresh can be, steaks.  As we passed by their deli to get to the meat case, we saw this sign.  This sign says it all when it comes to pizza!