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The Journal Gazette

Wednesday, August 16, 2017 1:00 am

National chains see drop in sales, traffic

Kimberly Dupps Truesdell | For The Journal Gazette

On the heels of the news that Applebee's could close up to 135 restaurants, the industry was dealt another blow last week.

Data from TDn2K through The Restaurant Industry Snapshot showed that same-store sales and traffic were down for national chains in July.

According to the trade magazine Nation's Restaurant News, “Calculated on a two-year basis, sales in July fell 4.2 percent, compared with July 2015. Same-store traffic dropped 8.7 percent during the same period. Those were the weakest two-year growth rates in over three years, additional evidence that the industry has not reversed the downward trend that began in early 2015.”

Though it might seem like this kind of news, with lots of numbers, belongs in the business section and not in this column, there were some interesting takeaways.

• Fast-casual stores, which seemed to be the driving force in restaurant growth over the past few years, are seeing a slowdown. The headwind, as it was called, in this area of the industry seems to have more to do with the increase in locations and not same-store sales. It's interesting as Fort Wayne has seen many of these chains enter our market over the past year or so, including Potbelly Sandwich Co.

A tidbit on growth: According to data from TDn2K, chain restaurants are growing at a rate twice that of the population.

• A bright spot was served up by fine dining and upscale casual restaurants. Fine dining was the only category to show growth, according to the data compiled, and there was only a minimal decrease in sales for upscale casual spots.

• A loyal workforce continues to be an issue. While data reflect a national trend, “Now Hiring” signs are an almost permanent fixture at area restaurants and social media posts by area spots are often seeking employees. In a previous column, I spoke to local owners who cited trouble finding good people who are willing to stay with a company. It's just too easy to jump ship when so many other spots are hiring, I was told. According to TDn2K's People Report Workforce Index, 63 percent of companies surveyed struggled with retention. To increase the challenge, 47 percent of restaurants expect to increase the number of hourly positions.

The good news might be that while restaurant turnover is at an all-time high, it has plateaued.

The report was based on weekly sales from more than 28,500 restaurant units and 55 brands representing more than $68 billion in annual revenue.

Special tasting menu

For the culinary adventurous, the indecisive and those just wanting to have fun, The Golden is now offering a Friday night tasting menu.

Each menu, which will be offered in addition to the downtown restaurant's regular offerings, includes six courses that highlight ingredients being cultivated in Indiana. For the first night, James Beard-nominated chefs Aaron Butts and Sean Richardson served pear and ricotta agnolotti with leeks and blue cheese; pork jowl with green coriander, golden beets, pearl onions and honey; and veal sweet breads.

According to a Facebook post, “Aaron and Sean believe tasting menus are the best way to enjoy the food and culture of not only a restaurant, but an entire place. They are very excited to offer their food, in this form, to Fort Wayne.”

Reservations are required to partake in the special menu. The cost is $80, which includes tax and gratuity, and an optional beverage pairing costs $50. Reservations must be placed at least 24 hours in advance and payment must be made at the time of calling.

Reservations are being accepted for Fridays in August; call 710-8368.

Blaze set to open

Get ready pizza lovers. Blaze Pizza will be opening its first Fort Wayne restaurant to the public at 10:30 a.m. Monday.

If you are not familiar, Blaze Pizza is a fast-casual pizza concept that specializes in build-your-own pizzas. At Blaze Pizza, you go down a line, picking your toppings from a variety of meats, cheeses, vegetables and sauces, and then “pizzasmiths” cook your 11-inch personal pizza in under three minutes.

On Tuesday, Blaze Pizza, 401 Coliseum Blvd. E., will host a Free Pizza Day from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Anyone who likes Blaze Pizza on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat will be able to get a free 11-inch pizza with any toppings that day.

The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email kdupps@jg.net or call 461-8304.