Now that the Food Network is moving hot and heavy into the restaurant business, courtesy of its new alliance with giant hospitality and food service provider Delaware North Companies, how will restaurant operators react? The basic cable powerhouse once created viewer interest in food and restaurants just like yours. Now it wants its audience to eat in operations that carry its proprietary brand. We smell trouble ahead.
Annual revenues at privately held Delaware North Companies exceed $2 billion and it serves more than half a billion customers each year. Its range of venues includes parks, sports stadiums, resorts and airports, many of them iconic in nature. The company’s corporate executive chef, Roland Henin, coached the U.S. Culinary Olympic team on several occasions and has most recently helped select and train the American participant in the prestigious Bocuse d’Or. None other than superchef Thomas Keller cites Henin as his mentor.
But despite having this kind of culinary talent available in-house, Delaware North decided to seek outside help.
“Food Network has the depth of culinary expertise to help us develop new and unique food and beverage concepts and experiences for the millions who dine at the special places where Delaware North operates,” says Dennis Szefel, Delaware North’s chief administrative officer. He may be right. But to our knowledge, the Food Network’s expertise primarily lies in creating and producing cable TV shows about food and cooking. As for the scope of its culinary expertise, or the ability of its staffers—as opposed to the stars of its shows—to create real-world food and beverage concepts and experiences…that’s what we’re going to find out as this partnership develops.
The Food Network can’t wait to get started. “At Food Network, we are all about feeding people’s passions in fun and interesting places,” says Sergei Kuharsky, general manager of new business enterprises at Scripps Network, the Food Network’s parent company. “This partnership with Delaware North Companies allows us to spread our table wider, and deepen Food Network’s relationship with viewers who have always wanted to taste what they see us serve up on TV, online and in the magazine.”
The two partners have plans to develop a number of different ventures. As the PR release announcing the formation of the venture notes, “Delaware North will build and operate the concepts, while the Food Network will provide training, brand standards and marketing support. All food, beverage and retail concepts developed as a result of the partnership will carry the Food Network brand.”
The first inkling of how the partnership might work can be seen in Los Angeles. Delaware North wants to get a big share of the lucrative retail and restaurant concession contracts now up for bid at Los Angeles International Airport. So do 42 other companies that have put in competing bids. But only the Delaware North bid includes “Skewers,” a yakitori-style restaurant that will carry the name of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto. The Food Network’s role would be to develop the menu—which Morimoto says he will handle for them—and train employees how to cook all the recipes.
“The restaurant will provide travelers with a unique Asian dining experience and connect them with Morimoto’s fabulous interpretation of Japanese cuisine,” says Matt King, president of Delaware North’s Travel Hospitality Services.
Delaware North want to open other restaurants at LAX, too. We don’t know that it will win this particular bidding war, but this partnership sounds like it’s going to be a strong competitor in many parts of the foodservice industry. If you’re wondering whether it’s possible to leverage a non-restaurant brand into the restaurant marketplace, keep an eye on this new venture. And keep your fingers crossed that Delaware North and the Food Network don’t open a place across the street from you.