No test kitchen? No focus group? No problem, at least if you’re a customer or potential customer of the bread wholesaler opening a full-service restaurant where chains can test new menu items on actual customers. Will other manufacturers follow suit?
The new restaurant, D.C. Sarnies, is set to open on May 3 in Deerfield, IL. It’s going into a 4,500 sq. ft. space that once housed a Bennigan’s unit. D.C. Sarnies will be a full- service restaurant, with a menu that features plenty of sandwiches and burgers, the better to show off the wares of wholesale bread manufacturer Highland Baking Company, the restaurant’s owner and operator.
The place will be open seven days a week for lunch and dinner and have a full bar (30 craft beers on tap) plus a wine list and plenty of cocktail offerings. Ownership projects that 85 percent of revenue will come from food and 15 percent will be derived from liquor sales. The average lunch tab will be $12; dinner check averages should fall in the $16-$17 range.
In short, D.C. Sarnies will be a nice new casual restaurant in the suburbs. But that’s not all the restaurant’s owners are shooting for. “We are not opening D.C. Sarnies to go into the restaurant business,” says Stu Rosen, gm/vp of Highland Baking Company. “We are opening the restaurant to be better at the bakery business.
“Besides being a fantastic place to grab a bite with family and friends, D.C. Sarnies will also serve as a research and development kitchen for Highland Baking Company and its restaurant clients,” Rosen says. “Guest chefs will have the chance to try out new sandwich builds and other recipes in the space that diners will be able to taste and provide feedback on.” The client roster includes such names as Chili’s, Arby’s and Cheesecake Factory.
The Deerfield Planning Commission wanted to know a little more about how the test kitchen aspect would fit into the restaurant’s overall operation. Here’s what the Highland Baking folks told them.
“There will be a working chef for the restaurant who will act as a liaison to the guest chefs. The kitchen has an area where guest chefs can work independently of the restaurant chef. The presence of a guest chef will not interrupt restaurant operations or service. The menu will rotate seasonally and the specials will rotate around the guest chef.”
Approval granted. If you’re in Chicago for the upcoming NRA show, it might be worth your time to take a trip out to suburban Deerfield to see this test kitchen concept at work. On paper, it sounds like something that could level the menu development playing field. If it works, let’s hope a few other manufacturers think about offering something similar. In the meantime, expect Highland Baking to clean up when chains start handing out “Supplier of the Year” honors in 2011.