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O'Reilly dump gets customer feedback

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Just 10 days after advertisers -- led by prominent automakers -- began pulling advertising from Bill O'Reilly's TV show in the midst of a sexual harassment controversy, the Fox News host was ousted last week after more than 20 years on the network.
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Used-car demand going strong at dealer groups

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Our annual ranking of the top 100 dealership groups by used-vehicle sales shows solid gains in used unit sales and revenues for those retailers.
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Segment splits in wholesale prices

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Wholesale prices for full-size cars outperformed other car classes in March, gaining while auction prices for all other car segments fell.
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Toyota to take Mirai for a spin in China

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Toyota will test the waters in China for its hydrogen fuel cell Mirai.
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Acquisitions fuel 1st-quarter revenue gains for Lithia

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Lithia Motors' net income rose 26 percent in the first quarter, on acquisition-powered volume gains in all departments.
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Dealer uses her fashion sense to drive sales

AutoNews - Mon, 2017-04-24 01:01
Bowman Chevrolet is Michigan's second-fastest-growing Chevy dealership thanks in part to its owner's fashion-industry skills.
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BuildDirect offering shoppers virtual flooring experience

Store Front Talk Back - Sun, 2017-04-23 22:57
BuildDirect offering shoppers virtual flooring experience jacquelinerose55 Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:57

New technology offers data and analysis of U.S. body shapes

Store Front Talk Back - Sun, 2017-04-23 22:45
New technology offers data and analysis of U.S. body shapes jacquelinerose55 Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:45

Retail Roundup—A new healthy format at CVS, Sam's Club's in-house brand

Store Front Talk Back - Sun, 2017-04-23 22:15
Retail Roundup—A new healthy format at CVS, Sam's Club's in-house brand lbarley Sun, 04/23/2017 - 22:15

Carbiz goes toe to toe with CarMax

AutoNews - Sun, 2017-04-23 01:01
Some dealers shudder when they hear used-car giant CarMax is opening a store down the road. This used-only dealer deliberately placed his second store next to a CarMax. Here's his strategy.
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Waymo urges judge to bar Uber engineer from robocar project

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-04-22 08:20
Waymo says it uncovered new evidence that Uber copied its driverless vehicle secrets and wants a judge to take further action against its rival's autonomous car program.
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Millennials may be fertile market for CPO

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-04-22 01:01
Dealers have an opportunity to hook in millennial vehicle-buyers through certified pre-owned programs and make plenty of money doing so, data from Cox Automotive show.
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MG cars to be sold across Europe in 2019

AutoNews - Sat, 2017-04-22 01:01
China's SAIC will begin sales of MG cars in mainland Europe starting at the end of 2019. MG's rollout will include the majority of European markets and will focus on SUVs and hatchbacks.
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Working Lunch: Restaurant servers look to save tipping

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-04-21 21:09

On this week's episode of Working Lunch, the Align Public Strategies crew explains a twist in the wages debate. This time it is restaurant servers coming forward to lawmakers on their own to save their tipped wages. Plus, the White House is pushing Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act before President Trump's 100th day in office. Find out what this means for restaurant operators and how much should they count on this. Those stories and the legislative scorecard with all the top items affecting operators around the country.

Align Public Strategies is a full-service public affairs and creative firm that helps corporate brands, governments and nonprofits navigate the outside world and inform their internal decision-making.

This article does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or management of Nation’s Restaurant News.

Investors put their faith — and money — in McDonald’s

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-04-21 18:47

This post is part of the On the Margin blog. 

McDonald’s Corp. stock rose on Friday, at one point hitting an all-time high of $133.88 per share.

McDonald’s has quietly been on a roll all year. Its stock is up more than 11 percent so far in 2017, enabling the Oak Brook, Ill.-based burger giant to hit a string of all-time highs. By comparison, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is up 3.5 percent.

It appears that investors are putting their faith in McDonald's before it reports earnings next week.

Analysts are clearly on board. According to MarketBeat, there are 17 Buy ratings on McDonald's stock, compared with 12 Hold ratings and only 1 Sell. But the consensus price target is somewhat lower than where it’s currently trading. Analysts say the stock should trade at about $131 per share.

Why the enthusiasm for McDonald’s? Analysts seem to believe the company will report good sales next week. 

Instinet analyst Mark Kalinowski raised his same-store sales forecast for the U.S. to 0.8 percent — far above the 1.1-percent decline that analysts appear to be expecting.

“We believe that a focus on value and beverages, as well as the Big Mac line extension promotion, served McDonald’s well during a challenging time for the restaurant industry in general during Q1,” Kalinowski wrote. 

A 0.8-percent increase might not seem all that thrilling, but McDonald’s is lapping strong comparisons with the first quarter of 2016, when same-store sales increased 5.4 percent. After a decline late in 2016, an increase in the first quarter would be viewed as a strong positive.

Meanwhile, BMO Capital Markets in a note initiated coverage on McDonald’s with a Buy rating, and suggesting that the stock could hit $153 per share.

Bernstein Research analyst Sara Senatore noted that 71 percent of McDonald’s managers said in a survey that new sizes of Big Macs sold ahead of plan. Earlier in the week, Senatore upgraded the company’s rating to Outperform.

Some of the enthusiasm from investors appears to be over McDonald's performance in Japan, which has been strong, even as it laps strong same-store sales from a year ago, as well as other markets. And there’s confidence in some of the chain’s domestic ideas, along with its focus on value with $1 drinks.

McDonald’s is expanding delivery across the country. And it's upgrading its mobile app with mobile order and pay, and plans to start serving fresh Quarter Pounders next year. The company also plans to expand its kiosk-based “Experience of the Future” concept to more locations.

While there are reports of some franchisee discontent — operators surveyed in the Kalinowski report were frequently critical of Experience of the Future, for instance — some analysts say the company’s efforts could fuel stronger sales in the coming quarters.

The initiatives could help McDonald’s sustain positive same-store sales into 2018, Baird analyst David Tarantino wrote in a note earlier this month. 

Jonathan Maze, Nation’s Restaurant News senior financial editor, does not directly own stock or interest in a restaurant company.

Contact Jonathan Maze at

Follow him on Twitter: @jonathanmaze

Restaurants seek a distinctive chicken

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-04-21 17:41

If you want to impress customers with chicken these days, you’re going to have to do more than market it with a few clean-sounding phrases. 

In order to stand out from others in the now crowded space of food from animals not treated with antibiotics, independent restaurants and small chains are turning to heritage breeds and specialty producers. Non-commercial operations are exploring the possibilities of slow-growing chickens that supporters say are less illness-prone, live better lives and taste better. 

Crack Shack, celebrity chef Richard Blais’s fast-casual chicken restaurant in San Diego, uses Jidori chicken, a premium brand based in southern California of free-range chickens.

“Which is the same chicken used in Michelin star restaurants,” CEO Michael Rosen told NRN earlier this year. “We get it 24 hours from wandering in a pasture to putting it on a plate.

With KFC’s recent announcement that it would phase out chicken treated with human antibiotics by the end of 2018, such practices are now the undisputed norm within the industry. The Yum! Brands Inc. subsidiary’s announcement came shortly after many other industry commitments to source chicken that hasn’t been treated with antibiotics or at least hasn’t been treated with antibiotics used on humans.  Chick-fil-A made the first “never ever” promise for all of its chicken in 2014, followed by Carl’s Jr. and Hardee’s. McDonald’s, too, made a commitment, but for sourcing chicken raised without antibiotics used on humans.

It’s not a coincidence that chains are distancing themselves from animals treated with antibiotics.

A recent report from sustainability advocate Global Opportunity Network found that 86 percent of consumers want antibiotic free food and 60 percent are actually willing to pay for them.  Also, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration has restricted the use of many antibiotics in all livestock beginning in 2017 due to concerns that treating healthy livestock with antibiotics in order to promote growth would also cause antibiotic-resistant pathogens to emerge.

The cost of standout chicken

For restaurant operators, offering more distinctive birds can come with higher food costs, but unique offerings.

Andrew Gruel, founder of Slapfish, a fast-casual seafood chain based in Huntington Beach, Calif., is planning on using Jidori at Two Birds, a concept that will soon open in a food hall in Irvine, Calif.

Gruel projects the food cost at the new restaurant to be in the 28 percent to 30 percent range rather than a more typical 24 percent to 25 percent. He’s offering grilled or fried breasts of 4.5 ounces to 5 ounces each in sandwiches or salad for $9, or $12 for a double.

“I think it has a little bit of a creamier, gamier flavor,” Gruel said of the chicken. “Kind of like Slapfish, we’re letting the product come first, sacrificing a little on cost of goods.”

In Las Vegas, at Bardot Brasserie at Aria, executive chef Josh Smith gets heritage breed birds from BoBo Chickens, located in upstate New York.

“It’s a Chinese family farm and they’ve become sort of a cult bird among the fine dining chefs because of the flavor and quality of the meat.”

The chickens are sold “Buddhist style,” with the head and feat still on, which Smith likes because it allows him to remove the tendons from the thighs with a French hook developed for that purpose.

“You go behind the leg, and if you know where to go you can just twist and pull them all out,” he said, resulting in a more tender and somewhat faster cooking thigh.

He also uses the head, feet and giblets to make a rich sauce for the chicken.

The Cornish cross breed that he gets has a thicker skin and a bit more fat “and just more flavor” than other premium birds he has tried.

It’s not cheap though. With the high transportation costs of the refrigerated truck coming from New York to Las Vegas, Smith pays more than $4 per pound for the chicken, compared to around $2 for other chickens.

“But the concept of a brasserie has to have a great roast chicken,” he said, and with roast chicken available at every grocery store, he had to find something special. 

After removing the tendons, Smith separates the skin from the meat using a spatula and then brines the chicken for a quick five hours in a 5 percent salt solution. Then he blanches it twice for 30 seconds, chilling it before the second blanch, which removes some of the fat from the skin and lets it crisp faster.

Then he brushes it in tamari and hangs it to dry in the walk-in for at least 24 hours. 

Next he stuffs the cavity with garlic, lemon, shallots and rosemary, brushes it with chicken fat infused with herbes de Provence and roasts it over a mirepoix. Then he rests it upside down in a bowl over the mirepoix, allowing the juices to collect toward the breast to make it juicier.

Then he reheats it in a salamander set at the lowest setting for around 7 minutes to crisp the chicken. He serves it with green beans and jus gras — chicken broth reinforced with vin jaune and chicken fat.

He charges $33 for half a chicken. 

“A lot of people come in just for the chicken,” he said. 

Local protein

Another Las Vegas concept is going for birds as local as he can find. Chef Roy Ellamar of Harvest at Bellagio recently became the first chef in Las Vegas to serve chicken from Pasturebird, a rotational grazing operation from nearby Riverside County, Calif.

“The guests are interested in the story behind ingredients, and then we want to serve something that’s different than you can get anywhere else,” said Ellamar.

Pasturebird’s chicken coups are rotated over the land to new locations every day, giving the birds different worms, insects, grasses and seeds to eat while scratching at the dirt and replenishing nutrients on the pasture. 

“We compared it with another brand that we were using that was also organic, but I felt that the flavor in the dark meat and also the breast just had more depth,” Ellamar said. “It was closer to the flavor of a Guinea hen than conventional chicken.”

Ellamar brines the chicken in a local ale with sugar, salt, mustard seed, black pepper, Worcestershire sauce, soy sauce, onion, garlic, carrot and celery. Then he smokes it over hardwood before letting it dry overnight in the walk-in to let the skin dry so it crisps up nicely when he cooks it on the rotisserie, brushing it with duck fat.

Raising chicken more slowly

Rupert Blease, chef and co-owner of Lord Stanley in San Francisco, charged $100 for his chicken for two, using birds he got from Emmer & Co. Heritage Chickens. That California company raises dual-purpose breeds that lay consistent eggs and also have good meat, as well as thick bones for making good stock. Their primary breed is the Delaware, a slow-growing bird that is kept in open-sided hoop houses on the same pasture where cattle feed, foraging for seeds, insects and “everything else they can find,” said Emmer CEO and founder Jesse Solomon. 

It takes 112 days for them to reach market weight, four weeks longer than BoBo’s chickens and almost three times as long as commodity chickens. And even then they only way 3.5 pounds.

“Visually the chickens themselves are very different,” Blease said, with bigger, longer thighs and smaller breasts. “The flavor was very, very good.”

Recently offered as a two-course special, Blease confited the wings and then fried them and finished them with lemon oil. He crisped the skin from the neck, seasoned it with salt, pepper and lemon zest and served it with an anchovy dip. 

He roasted the breast with mushrooms, and confited the thigh and served it with escarole.

Though not currently on the menu, Blease plans to offer it again soon. At $50 per person for two courses, he said “It’s doable, as long as you get people to understand that they’re not eating any old chicken.” 

Old chicken is coming into favor, however. 

For years, the chicken industry worked to grow chicken as big and as quickly as possible, with enormous breasts that would allow processors to chop them into boneless “wings” and other popular items.

But reports of growing incidence of unsightly and unappetizing conditions such as deep pectoral myopathy (also called green muscle disease), white striping and woody breast have led some industry experts to think we might have pushed chickens to their genetic limits. 

And it’s not just fine-dining chefs and their suppliers of expensive, pasture-raised chickens. Last summer Perdue Farms Inc., the country’s fourth largest chicken supplier, said it was planning to experiment with birds that grew more slowly and more uniformly. 

Since then the company has set up a research farm to explore slow-growing birds, Perdue senior vice president for corporate communications Andrea Staub said in an email. 

“Right now, we are still gathering data and learning more as we continue to evaluate slower growth,” she said. “We are currently looking at various ways to achieve slower growth, through breed, diet or some combination. We need to find the appropriate growth rate that balances bird welfare, meat quality and affordability.”

According to Lucky Peach magazine, noncommercial foodservice companies Aramark, Sodexo USA, Delaware North and Centerplate have all expressed commitment to source only slow-growth chicken within the next eight years. 

“What I can tell you is we’re in the early stages of developing plans — in partnership with our suppliers, industry associations and animal welfare organizations — to switch to slow-growth birds,” Aramark spokesman David Freireich said in an email. 

Another type of older bird is also finding a place in professional chickens: Spent hens.

Paul Fehribach, chef of Big Jones in Chicago, buys hens that are too old to be productive egg layers and stews them to make chicken and dumplings. He boils the chicken, which cost about $5 apiece, with onion and bay leaf for about two hours, “until they’re falling apart.” 

He chills them and pulls the meat. Then at service he adds onions, carrot and a seasonal vegetable — ramps at the moment, cabbage later in the year, Brussels sprouts in the winter — to the stock, adds the chicken, brings it to a bowl and then adds doughy dumplings, like wet biscuit dough, which he simmers until the dumplings puff up finishes it with black pepper and sells large bowls of it for $12 at lunch and $14 at dinner.

“We sell a ton of it,” he said.

Contact Bret Thorn at

Follow him on Twitter: @foodwriterdiary

How restaurants compete with alternative meal sources

Nation's Restaurant News - Fri, 2017-04-21 17:12

Meals eaten away from home and those eaten at home have historically had a negative correlation. When meals eaten out are up, meals eaten at home are down, and vice versa.

But according to the latest research from The NPD Group, both have softened, in part due to consumers getting more meals from a growing bounty of sources, including meal kits, online grocers and food trucks.

“People are getting meals, food from other sources,” said NPD analyst Bonnie Riggs. “We didn’t have these options before. There’s likely to be more coming on the scene.”

In the fourth quarter of the year ended December 2016, restaurant traffic growth was flat, while in-home, or the 12-month average of retail grocery sales, was also flat.

Meanwhile, NPD is finding that alternative sources for in-home meals are gaining momentum.

“There’s a lot of places we can get food prepared food that’s not even measured that adds a layer of competition for share of stomach,” Riggs said.

These sources are currently underrepresented in retail measurement, so comprehensive data is not yet available, Riggs added, “[but] it’s is an indication of what’s happening.”

Part of the reason these alternative meal sources are attractive to consumers is that they are serving needs that not being met by many restaurants, Riggs said.

For example, meal kits and online groceries appeal to consumers’ desire for convenience. Ethnic grocers are providing the growing Hispanic population with a source of food they like to eat. Farmer’s markets, the number of which has surged in the last decade, fulfill consumers’ desire for fresh and healthful foods. And all those food trucks? They’re all about variety, portability and “something unique,” Riggs said.

For operators to get consumers out of the house and into restaurants again, Riggs said they’ll have to be more innovative and relevant, and do a better job of promoting the benefits of eating out.

“So many restaurant offerings are mediocre,” Riggs said. “Those who are really going above and beyond are thriving.”

Among the leaders are chef Mike Isabella of Mike Isabella Concepts, which includes 10 concepts in the Washington, D.C., area, and Micha Magid, co-founder of Mighty Quinn’s BBQ, a fast-casual chain with six locations in New York and New Jersey. They shared some tactics to successfully compete with alternative meal sources and more.

Mike Isabella Concepts

As is the case with Mike Isabella’s restaurants, which encompass a diverse range of cuisines, when it comes to competing with non-restaurant meal offerings, the chef and restaurateur likes to do a little bit of everything.

“Everyone has to eat everyday. You’re not always going to eat at home. You need restaurants out there,” Isabella said. “That’s why we offer what we offer. I like to do everything.”

It all started two years ago with offering take-out pizza kits at Graffiato, his Italian-inspired concept. Not long after, Isabella began making whole and half spit-roasted chickens available for take out. Most recently, he added delivery of a variety of menu items available through third-party services at all his restaurants.

Adding delivery has been the biggest and most successful effort to date to compete with the alternative meal options, he said. For example, at Yona, Isabella’s Asian concept in Arlington, Va., delivery began just six months ago. Today, delivery, catering and pickup account for 20 percent of sales. At G, Isabella’s sandwich spot in D.C., delivery accounts for about 10–15 percent of sales.

But Isabella isn’t done yet. Later this year, he will open Isabella Eatery, a 42,000-square-foot food emporium with 10 restaurant concepts featuring various cuisines and a gourmet market with prepared foods inside Tyson’s Galleria in Fairfax, Va.

“We’ve adapted to what’s going on in the restaurant industry,” Isabella said.  

Mighty Quinn’s BBQ

With increased competition coming from all directions, Mighty Quinn’s is banking on its unique and hard-to-make-at-home food to draw its largely urban customers into its growing number of restaurants. 

“When we started Mighty Quinn’s, our idea was that authentic, smoked barbecue is not available in urban areas, and it’s so universally loved,” said Micha Magid, one of the three founders of the fast-casual concept.

“Anyone can make a chicken salad or make a hamburger at home. But [if you live in an urban area], you can’t smoke a rack of ribs for six hours. It’s that uniqueness.”

But the brand isn’t counting on authenticity alone. To keep customers interested and coming back again and again, the chain recently began offering seasonal specials to its streamlined menu. Among the latest specials is a Smoked Veggie Burger, a patty made with smoked vegetables, brown rice and beans served on a brioche bun with shredded lettuce and housemade chili mayo.

The chain also offers food at price point consumers can feel good about. For example, the brisket sandwich, made of brisket that is smoked for 24 hours, is priced under $10.

“In today’s market, we are over-restauranted,” Magid said. “There’s just too many options. [We’re] over-saturated with too many choices, and that dilutes everybody. Not everyone will survive.”

Despite that, Mighty Quinn’s is opening a new location in Westchester, N.Y., and plans to open several more before the end of the year.