Week of June 21, 2010


Massive MLSE Sports Bar Opens at Maple Leaf Square in Toronto
Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment has scored a winning goal with Toronto’s Real Sports Bar & Grill. Located adjacent to Air Canada Centre and part of Maple Leaf Square, the city’s newest sports and entertainment development is now open, showcasing 25,000 square feet of bar and restaurant space on three levels. Real Sports is home to the largest indoor HD TV in a North American restaurant or bar, and its 39-foot screen is only one of 199 TVs set up to meet the needs of the nearly 1,000 guests the venue can hold. Live audio and video will also stream from the Air Canada Centre as Leafs and Raptors games take place.

Real Sports offers many other special features, such as the Coach’s Corner area, set under a unique chandelier made from 500 hockey sticks, where restaurant guests can stay connected with state-of-the-art technology like 26-inch flat-screen TVs, BlackBerry charging units, and wireless Internet and iPod docking stations that allow them to download and watch their own music, movies or videos. Guests can also review game stats under the giant basketball net in the Tip-Off Bar or play alongside the pros in the TaylorMade golf simulator. And, for those looking for more privacy, second-floor suites, featuring 42-inch TVs, comfortable seating and individual volume and channel controls are available.  

The eatery/bar will offer the nation’s beverage of choice, beer, from a selection of 112 varieties on tap, including a few of the restaurant’s own creative blends, such as Maple Leaves — a combination of Molson Canadian and Rickard’s Dark. On the menu, Real Sports will showcase fresh alternatives to traditional pub fare, with items like cheeseburger spring rolls and seared tuna Napolean salad. “Real Sports is about creating the most authentic sports experience, which formed the foundation for our vision to reinvent the sports bar experience, taking it to a whole new level,” said Michael Doyle, vice-president of Food and Beverage at MLSE. “We believe we’ve designed a restaurant that will impress sports fans from every standpoint — menu, technology, functionality and design — and keep them coming back.” The mixed-use development in which Real Sports is located also includes a condo/hotel operated by Le Germain Group, two residential towers, a mammoth Longo’s grocery store and a retail sports apparel outlet.

Starbucks Offers Free Wi-Fi in U.S. — Canada to Follow
Some 6,700 company-owned Starbucks stores in the U.S. will be offering unlimited free wireless Internet access starting July 1, to be followed in the fall by a new Starbucks Digital Network that will feature free access to typically fee-based online content. The WiFi, provided through AT&T and available on laptops, tablets and smartphones, replaces the present two-hour limit of free access for Starbucks cardholders only. The Digital Network, developed in partnership with Yahoo, will give Starbucks customers free access to paid news sites such as the The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, Patch and USA Today as well as free downloads from other organizations such as iTunes and Zagat. More entertainment features are expected to be added to the network. The announcement follows the six-month-old decision made at McDonald’s Corp. to offer free WiFi at 11,500 U.S. locations.

A Starbucks Canada spokesperson confirmed to the Toronto Star that, “we are working with Bell, our WiFi provider in Canada, to explore plans for extending free WiFi to company-operated stores across the country.”

U.S. Marines Welcome Extreme Pita on Base
Canadian franchisor Extreme Pita, based in Mississauga, Ont., recently opened the first of two restaurants slated for the Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center in Twentynine Palms, Calif., home to one of the U.S. military branch’s largest regiments. With approximately 30,000 residents on base, Extreme Pita’s first unit is located at the Combat Center’s Desert Winds Golf Course, and will be followed by the opening of a second at the base’s Home Store Building in early August. “As we continue to grow our brand in various markets across the United States, Canada and internationally, we are thrilled to open our very first military concept,” said Alex Rechichi, co-founder and CEO of Extreme Pita. “We look forward to providing our healthy options to the men and women serving in the United States Armed Forces.” The brand continues to seek other single- and multi-unit franchisees, as well as area developers, to build on the local Extreme Pita network in the U.S. The average cost to open an Extreme Pita is between $200,000 and $270,000, with a franchise fee of $20,000.

Toronto Restaurateurs Cry Foul Over G20 Summit
The last weekend of June is not shaping up to be a good one for Toronto restaurant owners. From June 25 to 27, even as the World Cup kicks into the knock-out stage and Pride week celebrations begin, there’s a strong possibility that Toronto restaurateurs in the downtown core will see a big drop in sales at a time when they’re usually enjoying some of their best days of the year, and it’s all thanks to the security state that’s being strictly enforced for the G20 Summit. “The government is literally putting up barriers between restaurants and their customers,” said Garth Whyte, president and CEO of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association. “Last summer the stink of a garbage strike kept patio customers away, this year it’s a security fence.” Maybe the worst thing about the lockdown is that unless there are “losses related to extraordinary security measures,” business owners are not going to be reimbursed for lost sales and, worse, if their properties are damaged by protestors, they won’t be compensated either. “If the government can spend close to $2 million on a fake lake, then it has the money to fully compensate restaurants for their loss of business,” Whyte added. Tourists and locals are being urged to stay out of the core during the weekend, at Mayor David Miller’s behest, a weekend Blue Jays’ series — which was supposed to feature the return of former Jays’ ace Roy Halladay to Toronto — has been moved to Philadelphia, and theatre shows have been cancelled.  “The government has created a club with winners and losers,” says Whyte. “For those who weren’t invited to the party, this is going to be very costly.”

U.S. Family Style Restaurants Well Positioned — Technomic
“Family style restaurants are well-positioned in this [U.S.] economy, offering reasonable prices, diverse menus served across all dayparts, including late-night dining, and a family friendly atmosphere,” reports new Family Dining segment research from Chicago-based foodservice industry consultant, Technomic Inc. Highlights of the report on Family Dining include stats like: “more than two-thirds of consumers (68 per cent) say they would be highly likely to visit a family style restaurant when they want an affordable sit-down meal or are with their children; 73 per cent of consumers said they visit family style restaurants at least once a month; 38 per cent do so once a week or more; and 52 per cent reported that the availability of healthy food at family style restaurants is very important.” Technomic vice-president Joe Pawlak stated, “Keys for success in this segment will be emphasizing affordable prices, service and ambiance, targeting selective promotions at certain consumer groups and relaying a strong perception of value.”

Compass Chef Masters Honoured at Chefs’ House
On June 16, Compass Group Canada’s past Chef Masters Green Jacket winners were on hand at The Chefs’ House at George Brown College in Toronto, to oversee the “Rising Stars” dinner series. Mississauga, Ont.-based Compass — which played an important role in the expansion of the college’s hospitality school — secured the entire 60-seat restaurant for a dinner to showcase the exceptional skills of 2008 Chef Masters’ winner Michael McKinnon from Acadia University (Chartwells division), and 2009 winner Ramanaa Murugadas from Procter and Gamble (Eurest division). Proceeds from the event will go to the George Brown bursary program. Chaired by Compass’s corporate executive chef, Wayne Nichols, the event also recognized the contribution of chefs Oliver Li and Heather Dyer of The Chefs’ House in preparing the dinner, as well as the work of culinary students at the college.

Metropolitan’s Habitat Restaurant Opens in Canmore, Alta.
The Habitat Restaurant & Bar opened last week at Metropolitan Hotels’ Grande Rockies Resort in Canmore, Alta. The design of the new space, which borrows from the lauded Senses restaurant brand, focuses on natural tones inspired by the Canadian Rockies. “I have used finishes and millwork that will complement the mountains in full view for our guests,” explained Paul Waddell, the interior designer. Head chef Vincent Leung — who began his career at Hemispheres Restaurant and Bistro at the Metropolitan Hotel Toronto — has created a menu inspired by China, Indonesia, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam. Leung shows a strong focus on fresh, local products in dishes like beef tenderloin and sablefish with an herb-mustard crust, along with wasabi mashed potatoes for sharing. Henry Wu, president of Metropolitan Hotels, commented, “The culinary scene in Canmore is the best in the Rockies, so we knew a special restaurant and menu would be needed to stand out.”

Convenience Boosts Prepared-Food Sales at Supermarkets — NPD Group
Deli-prepared food sales at U.S. supermarkets are driven by convenience, reports The NDP Group, with nearly half of prepared-food purchases being in-store decisions. “U.S. consumers are increasingly turning to prepared foods purchased at the supermarket deli for in-home suppers,” says NPD’s DeliTrack, which regularly monitors prepared-food purchases. According to NPD, approximately one-in-five adults now purchase prepared-food meals from retail outlets in a typical week. “We are a convenience-driven society. Picking up a prepared meal in the supermarket deli along with other staples we might need for home represents one-stop shopping,” says Ann Hanson, executive director, Product Development, in NPD’s food and beverage unit. “There are more prepared-food options available at supermarkets today, providing consumers with both variety and the convenience of buying a prepared meal along with their other groceries.” Consumers’ top picks in prepared foods are chicken or turkey items; sandwiches; deli salads such as potato salad; and leaf salads. These four types of foods account for just over half of all deli-prepared-food purchases.   

Indian Restaurant Group in Toronto Launches Retail Line of Products
With two upscale Indian restaurants, five express takeout locations and plans to open three more takeout units, Toronto-based Amaya The Indian Room has launched a line of bottled sauces, which are now being offered in some 125 stores in six provinces, from B.C. to Quebec. The chain was established in 2007 by former sommeliers Hemant Bhagwani and Derek Valleau. “We started promoting our prepared meals and sauces [at Amaya Express locations],” Bhagwani told the Report on Business. “We were selling them in plastic containers and seeing what the response was, and we got feedback that helped us launch this line.” The four sauces — butter chicken, coconut curry, spicy Indian ketchup and mango and mint chutney — are being distributed in Ontario and Quebec by Neal Brothers Foods, based in Concord, Ont., and in British Columbia and Manitoba by Left Coast Naturals, based in Burnaby, B.C. The suggested retail price is $5 to $5.99.

Eric Malcolmson Joins HLT Advisory as Director
Eric Malcolmson, an 18-year hotel industry veteran, has joined HLT Advisory Inc. in Toronto, as a director. Malcolmson most recently held the position of principal at G7 Hospitality Group Inc., a Toronto-based boutique hotel asset management and advisory firm. His previous experience includes stints at Fairmont Raffles Hotels International, PricewaterhouseCoopers and Colliers International Hotel Realty.

LCBO Releases Prince Edward Distillery’s Potato Vodka
The Liquor Control Board of Ontario has introduced Prince Edward Distillery Potato Vodka at its Vintages locations. It is produced by Arla Johnson and Julie Shore at their Hermanville, P.E.I. location, described on the company’s website as Canada’s only potato distillery. “Since we’re located in Prince Edward Island, we’ve got access to some of the finest potatoes in the world,” the duo explains. “The proof is in the taste and texture. Vodka made from potatoes is noted for its lightly creamy texture. Its taste is silky and smooth. Prince Edward Vodka uses world famous, locally grown P.E.I. potatoes exclusively to craft vodka we think you’ll find exceptional.”

U.S. Consumer Satisfaction Up for Hotels and Restaurant Chains — ACSI
U.S. customer satisfaction for many travel and restaurant companies has risen, according to a report by the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI). Strong improvements were reported for Burger King, KFC, Papa John’s, Hyatt and United Airlines. The ACSI report, produced by ACSI LLC, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., analyzes satisfaction with the quality of products and services provided in five sectors — airlines, hotels, restaurants, fast food and express delivery services.

In reference to the hotel sector, ACSI commented, “Low rates, lots of promotions and free perks are keeping customer satisfaction steady at 75 for a third-straight year. Most of the big hotel chains made strong gains compared with their smaller competitors.” Hilton leads the category at 80, an increase of one per cent, tied by Marriott, which rose four per cent. Hyatt stands at 79, after a seven-per-cent gain. InterContinental Hotels Group, led by its Holiday Inn brand, and Starwood Hotels and Resorts also improved to 78 and 77, respectively. Two companies that operate mostly budget chains came in below the industry average. Choice Hotels fell three per cent to 74, while Wyndham Worldwide (Ramada, Super 8, Days Inn) were at the bottom of the category, unchanged at 70.

While most of the large fast-food and restaurant chains improved in customer satisfaction, the category saw one major surprise: McDonald’s dropped four per cent to an industry low of 67. “This may seem somewhat paradoxical in view of McDonald’s sales growth over the past year, particularly compared to the competition,” said Claes Fornell, founder of ACSI and author of The Satisfied Customer: Winners and Losers in the Battle for Buyer Preference. “But as increasingly frugal consumers have made price more salient, McDonald’s has acquired more customers. These newcomers seem less satisfied, and were it not for the economy, some of them would probably rather eat somewhere else.”

Pizza makers led the way in fast food with Papa John’s jumping seven per cent to 80, followed by Pizza Hut at 78, up five per cent. KFC and Burger King were also big gainers, up nine per cent to 75 and seven per cent to 74, respectively. In the restaurant category, Olive Garden led the way, up four per cent to 84, followed by Red Lobster, up four per cent to 83. Outback improved by four per cent, to 80, while Chili’s is at the bottom, rising five per cent to 78.

CAFP Plans National Professional Development Program
The Canadian Association of Foodservice Professionals (CAFP) has awarded the development of its 2010-2011 National Professional Development Program (NPDP) to Richmond Hill, Ont.-based Above the Line Solutions. With the theme “Diversity in Food Service,” NPDP sessions will be held at branches across the country, focusing on the wide range of challenges and developments in the foodservice and hospitality industry. For information, contact Donna MacInnis, VP of Professional Development, at [email protected]; tel. (902) 437-6366.   

TIAO Gold Tournament, Aug. 27, at Woodbridge, Ont. Country Club
The Tourism Industry Association of Ontario has announced that its 1st Annual Golf Tournament will be held Aug. 27 at The Country Club in Woodbridge, Ont. For information, contact Emily Harper-Hawkins at (416) 483-1691.


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