All posts by Roy Rumaner

About Roy Rumaner

IBM/Lotus Notes & XPages Consultant for over 20 years. More recently I have been exploring the world of web accessibility and how to assist companies in meeting the compliance requirements under the ADA, Section 508 and WCAG 2.0

Applebee’s, TGI Fridays, and Chili’s are trying to claw their way out of a restaurant death trap

(Business Insider)
The casual dining industry is in hot water.

2016 was the worst year for the restaurant industry since the recession, according to data from industry tracker TDn2K. The year saw a 2.4% drop in same-store sales — the biggest decline in more than five years.

The weakest link in the industry was casual dining, which was the bottom performer in all but two months of the year. And, some of the biggest names in the casual dining business are feeling the negative effects.

Ruby Tuesday is in search of a new CEO and in the process of selling 95 restaurants amidst falling sales. Bloomin’ Brands, the parent company of casual dining chains including Outback Steakhouse and Carrabba’s Grill, announced plans in February to close 43 locations after a “challenging” 2016. Buffalo Wild Wings — where same-store sales fell 2.4% in 2016 — is engaged in a power struggle with activist investor Marcato Capital. Stocks of Chili’s parent company, Brinker International, reached their lowest price in almost four years in late January after the company missed analysts’ predictions and cut full-year guidance.

“It’s tough to find one [chain] that’s doing alright,” Wedbush analyst Colin Radke told Business Insider.

Casual dining’s pit of despair

applebee's casual dining

The casual dining industry’s slump is rooted in new competitors better suited to meet customers’ changing tastes.

“In terms of casual dining, a lot of it kind of comes down to the brands that are just kind of dated,” Radke said.

Increasingly, customers — especially younger customers — are craving convenience, coming in the form of trendy and inexpensive fast-casual chains like Chipotle and Shake Shack.

The fast-casual industry grew by 550% from 1999 to 2014, The Washington Post reported. By 2020, the fast-casual market in the US is expected to reach $66.9 billion, according to the market-research company Technavio.

“They have more of a healthy perception, there are quicker service times,” Radke said. “The healthiness and the speed of service — that’s been taking market share from casual dining.”

The decline of the shopping mall has also hurt casual dining chains, many of which have a large proportion of locations in or near suburban malls and depend on traffic from hungry shoppers. TGI Fridays CEO John Antioco, for example, told Business Insider that the chain’s decision to open more locations in the suburbs seven to eight years ago contributed to the brand’s current struggles and sales slump.

Lower grocery prices are convincing more customers to eat at home instead of spending more to eat at casual dining chains. Going out to eat, diners’ options seem almost limitless, with CEOs worrying that the country is “over-retailed,” creating too much competition in the restaurant industry for chains to succeed. Plus, when customers are willing to spend a little more to sit down for a meal, they’re gravitating towards independent restaurants.

“When you think about the options people have today for food — prepared food whether it’s a restaurant or the high-end supermarket that’s ever increasing its selection, or it’s meals being shipped to your door from online services — our goal has to be to create an experience in the restaurants that makes Fridays being worth going to,” Antioco said.

The search for an escape route

EndlessApps

Advertisements

9ers Grill

After waiting for over a year for them to open, I was able to go on their first day of business.  Walking in you are greeted by a staff member who explains the process, “it is like Portillo’s where you order at the counter but we bring the food out to you” and the menu. From there you proceed down the steps to the counter to order. The menu is huge and is posted on the wall behind the registers and on the menu you are handed as you enter.

I order the “Big Burger”, 9 ozs of meat on a huge bun with fries. I also opted for some bacon but no cheese. Drinks are filled behind the counter. Once you find a seat and place your number on the stand, you sit and wait. It didn;t seem to take too long to get my food so that was good. Make sure you pick up ketchup and silverware before you go sit down because you are going to need to cut the burger in half (at least).

The burger was tasty but huge. 9 ozs of meat squashed into a 5-6 inch disc on a bun that is just as big. Lettuce was fresh but the tomatoes were poorly sliced and inedible. The fries are steakhouse style, large pieces of sliced potato that, to me, were undercooked and tasteless.

Total  cost for the burger, fries and a cup of water was around $10.

About ten days later I decided to go back and try them again. I ordered the same burger but with tater tots this time. Unfortunately, this time the burger was over cooked and almost tasteless. There was no seasoning on it and I couldn’t eat more than a few bites. It just didn’t taste good. The tater tots were good, though. They serve enough for a family of four however so be aware of that. It seems everything is “Texas-sized” which might go over well in Texas but in Montgomery, I think it is just too much food. Compared to other restaurants in the area, they are seriously over-compensating there.

I will be going back to try some of their other options like the steaks or cajun poboy or their catfish and shrimp platter.  I just won’t be doing their burger again anytime soon.

 

 

River View Cafe

Take a ride down to the river in Montgomery, along Route 25 and you will find a replacement for the long closed Omega Restaurant that was on Rt 59. With a menu that spans more than ten pages of items from breakfast (served all day), lunch and dinner, you will find something for everyone at any time of the day.

If you like eggs, there are two pages of omelettes and skillets that are sure to satisfy your appetite. Pancakes, crepes and french toast? You can choose from over a half dozen of each. There are pages of different sandwiches, salads, burgers which make it hard to choose what to eat for lunch or dinner. And that still doesn’t include the Italian, Chinese, seafood, Mexican, Greek dishes that are also available.

Also, don’t miss the desserts. Their cream pies (chocolate, coconut, lemon, blueberry, butterscotch and more are amazing and they are only $2.75 a slice.

This place is the go to place when you don’t know what you want to eat because with so many options will easily find something to satisfy your appetite at very reasonable prices.

 

Sushi+ Rotary Sushi

I have to say I love this place. Located in a little strip mall on Rt 59, just north of entrance #1 (the McDonald’s entrance) to the mall between Jamba Juice and Naf Naf is a little piece of sushi heaven.

I used to drive up to Mt Prospect to go to Kampai all the time, a distance of almost 40 miles round trip, to get sushi like this. Well, not really like this. At Kampai, theirs was made earlier in the day or the day before and put into a cooler and brought out when only when needed. That meant it could have been in there for a day or two before you ate it.

Rotary Sushi has designed the ultimate conveyor belt delivery system that brings you an endless variety of nigiri, rolls, deserts, salads, etc all in a temperature controlled environment. In addition, there is a complete menu featuring tempura, bento boxes, yakitori and other cooked items for the sushi-phobic in your party.

Is Rotary Sushi a new concept? No, it is in use all over Japan. It is also used at some of it’s competitors. It is just done much better here. A lot of people in the area rave and make claims that Sushi Station is better but after trying both many many times, I have to figure that those that make those claims have absolutely no idea what real good sushi is. The sushi is kept at the proper temperature within this system. It is made just before it is placed on the belt and does not remain on there more than an hour, not that it last that long.

Sit at the “bar” or at a table adjacent to the conveyor belt and watch as all the different items pass by you. Open the panel to access the plate(s) you want and enjoy. Plates are color coded with prices being lower than any other place of this type. Plates range from $1.50 to $6.50 depending on what is on them.

What I have found after eating sushi at almost every other sushi restaurant in the area is that the pieces of fish here are larger and there is less rice. Usually it is the other way around which causes you to fill up on rice instead of fish, a typical method to save money for the restaurant. The rolls are beautiful and the variety is amazing. You will always find something new and interesting.

Service is exceptional. The servers are always available and ready to take any special order. The moment you arrive you are greeted and when you are seated a warm hand towel is put in front of you. Order a drink from the Saki menu and start selecting what you want to eat from the belt. If you want something from the menu, simply let your server know and they will quickly have it made for you.

If you are in the Fox Valley area, this is the place to go for sushi. Lunch or dinner, you will not be disappointed. There is also a variety of special meal deals. Five blue ($3.50) plates and a glass of wine for $20. A sushi set for 2 which is made up of multiple pairs of items for $39.95. For lunch only, there is also a bento box special for $6.95

Linebackers Grill

EDIT: 12/1/2015

Looks like I was correct in my opinion that this place would not last a year. I recently drove by and remembered that I hadn’t updated this post to reflect that they closed within six months of opening.

———————–

I really wanted to like this place but I just cannot lie to you. It was not worth the time and money.

They Sho-Me’s location on Ogden Avenue in Napperville and it appears that they made no changes to the interior. Okay, maybe they spent the money on a decent chef and upgraded the food. Nope, that wasn’t it.

We were seated and looking over the menu as the waitress asked for our drink order. I asked for a Coke and Karen ordered a Boddingtons. I have to admit that their beer list was impressive. To bad the rest of the menu wasn’t.

Got my Coke and it was completely flat, no bubbles anywhere. I asked the Manager as she stopped by our table a few minutes later. She brought me another one and said that it had carbonation. Not even close. Flat as the first one. Okay, forget that, drink water. I also mentioned that it would be nice to have closed captioning turned on on those TVs that had talking heads and nothing else on them. She said that people didn’t like that so they didn’t turn it on. I guess I am not people.

Anyway, we ordered dinner after asking the waitress what the favorites were. She said the Linebacker Burger was the best and that the Salmon was good too. Okay, we ordered one of each. Oh yeah, we also ordered a bowl of their Beer Cheese Soup. To say it was salty was an understatement. I am not sure what cheese they used, but it mus have been packed in salt because the soup was inedible. They did take it off the bill when we told them that.

At this point I was not having much hope for dinner based on the soda and soup and I was right. The burger, while it was a nice 1/2 pound burger tasted burnt and really had no flavor at all. The french fries were soggy and limp, like they were barely fried and then thrown in the oven. Karen’s salmon was just as bad and most of it went home for the dogs who have less discriminating taste than we do.

With so many restaurants to chose from in the Naperville area, the Linebacker Grill is immediately forgettable. Do not bother going there. I bet they will be gone in less than a year.

Naf Naf

My mother was in town one weekend and we decided to go to Naf Naf. I have to say that I really enjoy this restaurant. I have eaten here (Freedom Commons,  the new Fox Valley location and the original location in the old Taco Bell on Ogden Ave.) many times. If you are looking for something new – Middle Eastern – to eat, this is the place to go to. They do it right.

My wife, who happens to be part Assyrian, says the Kifta is almost exactly like her nana (grandmother) used to make when she was a child. I am really jealous that she got to eat this type of food when she was growing up. I only learned about it by going to the better known and not as good, Pita Inn. Now that I know what real Middle Eastern food is supposed to taste like, this is the only place I will go to get it.

Anyway, the three of us went last night and ordered a large hummus plate ($4.99) which comes with two of their signature pitas. If you get nothing else here, get the pitas. They are made, born, according to the saying on one of the employee shirts,  fresh and hot every 15 minutes. They look like a pillow when they are served. You may think you know what a pita is supposed to be and taste like, but you have never had a real one until you have a Naf Naf pita.

We also split the Beef Kifta Kabab plate ($11.99) between the three of us. Usually, Karen and I will split this between ourselves and take half of it home. Tonight we only took enough for a light lunch home. The sides are basmati rice, fresh salad or home-made fries (you get to choose two). The fries are actually they are more like freshly made potato chips than fries. With the Kifta Kababs (think of five 4 oz patties of perfectly seasoned Angus ground beef) on the plate, that is a lot of food.

If you don’t want Beef Kababs, they also have Chicken Breast or Thigh Kababs, Chicken Shawarma, Schnitzel and Falafel. Each of these dishes can be ordered as a plate with the above additions or on a pita (yes that same incredible pita) – think heaven in a sandwich. They also have Baba Ghanoush, which for those unfamiliar with this cuisine is a cold dip made from grilled eggplant.

There is enough food for the price, which is a little higher than you would expect, but the quality and taste more than makes up for it.

Heaven on Seven

Located on Main Street in downtown Naperville, Heaven On Seven, is a little slice of New Orleans complete with everything cajun and spicy. From the decor to the food you are transported to ‘nawlins when you walk in the door.

The things that we like the most are their gumbo which is talked about everywhere including on the back of the servers shirts. You have to get a cup or bowl or you are just doing yourself a disservice.  They also have an appetizer called Bayou Jalapeno Corn Blasters with Honey Jalapeno Dressing that are worth getting and sharing. They are addictive just like the gumbo

Try their po boy sandwiches, catfish is our favorite but they also have shrimp or friend chicken or crawfish and more.  Their Red Beans and Rice is a ‘nawlins staple and they do it right here.

Did I mention their crab cakes? If not, I am sorry, but you have to get these at least once. Served with the same Honey Jalapeno Dressing as the Bayou Jalapeno Corn Blasters they are to die for. No one makes a better crab cake in the area.

And if you like hot sauces, make sure to check out the wall of them. At last count, I think there were 1,800 or more unique bottles. They even put 8 to 10 bottles on your table for you to use. If you want something hot, order their Hot as a Mutha Habanero Chile Stuffed with Jalapeno Chihuahua Cheese, Peach

If you want something hot, order their Hot as a Mutha Habanero Chile Stuffed with Jalapeno Chihuahua Cheese, Peach Puree and Peach Salsa.

If however, you like your food really hot and I do mean REALLY HOT, ask them about the next Hot as a Mutha! dinner. Seven courses that get progressively hotter for $50. Featuring seven tonsil-searing courses plus one cocktail, this dinner is not for wimps, sissies or cry-babies!

To give you an idea of what you might be in for, the menu for the last Hot as a Mutha! was:

  • Thai Peanut Chicken Wings with Caramelized Pineapple Sauce
  • Pozole Rojo with Crunchy Garnishes
  • Chicken Tinga Tostada with Refried Black Beans
  • Nashville Hot Fried Chicken Sliders with Housemade Pickles
    Hot as a Mutha Sausage Wild Boar, Peach Scorpion and Grilled Peaches
    Sichuan Braised Pork Cheeks over Cilantro Rice
  • Chocolate Banana Icebox Cake if you dare!

If you are in the area, you owe it to yourself to stop in for brunch, lunch or dinner and make sure you don’t forget to pick up your beads on the way out.

Ted’s Montana Grill

EDIT: 6/1/2015

I have to say I am not sure what caused such a major change to this place, but we tried it three times to make sure it wasn’t just a bad night.

We ordered the same meals we usually did in the past but for some reason, nothing tasted the same anymore. I am not sure what it was overall, but something was off.

Also, they no longer serve Thousand Island dressing? I mean, who doesn’t serve the number one salad dressing in the country. That means I will no longer be able to order a salad or a wedge as that is the only dressing other than Cesar, that I like on my salad.  I also like Thousand Island dressing on my burger so without that my options were completely changed.

We haven’t been back since.

———————–

Karen and I decided to eat at Ted’s last night and got there early enough to sit at the bar. I recommend that if you are alone or a couple that you do this at a lot of the places we eat at. Service is faster, conversation is just as easy if not more so than having to talk across a table and you get a show at the same time.

Our bartender, Mike, was as usual very friendly and attentive even with a dozen other people to wait on. He remembered what Karen and I like to drink and just asked if we wanted the usual. Stella and a shot of Tequila for Karen and a coke for me (again, I was doing the driving so no alcohol).

I ordered the Bacon Cheeseburger and fries along with a wedge of lettuce with 1000 Island instead of their blue cheese. I really like the combination of 1000 Island dressing and bacon. The burger, as always, was perfectly cooked to medium, the bacon just under crispy and the cheddar cheese was melted perfectly. The buns are fresh and the fries are crispy.

After eating here so often we have gotten to know the guy on the grill and he knows how I like my food done. Mike made sure to let him know it was for me as they cook their mushrooms on the same grill as the meat and being that I am allergic to mushrooms, they make sure to clean (and I mean scrubbed and washed) off a separate area just to cook my one burger. That is impressive in itself but when they have two or three dozen other orders going at the same time, to remember not use the same utensils or anything that might have come into contact with the mushrooms from the other orders is amazing. These guys know their job and they are good at it.

Anyway, I love bison, or buffalo if you prefer, and this the is one place that I can get it in the area for a reasonable price. I have also had the bison pot roast which is delicious.

Karen had the mini beef sliders and a sweet potato, her usual when we come here.

Special hint: Every Sunday, Ted’s does a Turkey dinner with gravy, stuffing, mashed potatoes, green beans and did I mention, stuffing.  I love stuffing and always ask for extra. This is the place to go if you have a craving for Thanksgiving and cannot wait until late November.

Other nights are different specials too. Friday night is New England Clam Chowder. I forget which night is there Bison Chili, but if you go on the right night, try it, you won’t be disappointed.

McCormicks & Schmicks

We went to McCormick & Schmicks at One East Wacker in the city on Saturday night for dinner. I have to say I am really glad we chose this place because everyone loved their meals. It was one of the best dinners we have had in a long time. The service was excellent, the staff knowledgeable, the food was prepared perfectly and the atmosphere was comfortable.

I have to say I am now a fan of Barramundi which was described as sweet, buttery, delicate and moist. It can be compared to red snapper, Dover sole, sea bass and other premium white fish. They prepared this delicate fish covered with a Miso Glaze on a bed of Udon Noodles with a Spicy Black Pepper Sauce and a Miso Broth. I ate the entire dish and wanted more, it was that good. I also ordered the lobster mashed potatoes. It is true, lobster makes everything taste better and these potatoes were no exception. Everyone at the table tried and loved them.

Karen had the cedar plank salmon which was big enough for two people. She asked that it be served with their Asian blank pepper sauce which made the dish melt in your mouth.  Along with the salmon, she had the Roasted Potato Medley. There was enough left over from her dishes, along with the lobster mashed potatoes to take home, which we did.

Alice had the Kobe burger and as far as Kobe goes, it was fine. Marc had the Chicken, again okay, but nothing to write home about. Mom had the Chefs Special.  Coho Salmon stuffed with shrimp, crab and a few other things that I cannot remember at this moment. She enjoyed it very much and said it was an excellent meal.

Deserts were the usual cakes and creme brule. We ordered one slice of their peanut butter pie and one of their chocolate cake. The peanut butter pie was the winner here. Karen had the creme brule and it was delicious.

If you are in Oak Brook, Rosemont, Skokie or the city, I would recommend McCormick & Schmicks for a special occasion.

 

Limestone Brewery

Unfortunately Limestone Grill closed earlier this year. They say they are reopening in the Fox Valley Mall area this summer. I certainly hope they do, I really liked the old place.