The 2017 forecast from NPD Group, a global research group, wasn’t sunny for the restaurant industry.
Traffic in restaurants is expected to remain stagnant this year with only limited-service chains seeing a 1 percent growth.
"Restaurant operators are in a position to alter the current forecast, but will need to differentiate themselves from the competition," NPD Group’s restaurant industry analyst, Bonnie Riggs, said in a news release. "In the year ahead, it will be critical for them to stay relevant in consumers’ minds, focusing on innovative products, unique promotions, competitive pricing, stating the benefits of eating at restaurants vs. home, and delivering an enjoyable experience."
And that’s just what Justin Rowe is hoping to do.
Rowe, who has been a restaurant manager in the fast-food industry for more than 10 years, is poised to enter the business as an operating owner and franchisee for Potbelly Sandwich Shop. The shop will be opening on Coliseum Boulevard near Half Price Books in mid-April.
Unlike other sandwich shops, this fast-casual concept sets itself apart with the quality of ingredients, rustic-yet-urban décor and laid-back vibe. When the shop opens, it will feature old photos of Fort Wayne and panoramic shots of the city.
"From the beginning, the first thing that struck me was the character of the store," Rowe says. "(With other fast-food shops), it’s almost like a sterile, clinical environment. They lack character."
Local bands will also be booked to play during the week to draw in customers.
As an owner, Rowe found that the point-of-entry cost of a fast-casual restaurant to be attractive as well as the potential for growth in the limited-service market. Rowe managed a local Taco Bell and saw 10 percent to 11 percent growth year-after-year over the past several years.
It’s that marker, among others, that make Rowe optimistic about Potbelly. He and his partner hope to open three to four restaurants in the next five years.
Returning to roots
Nawar Saleh has prepared everything from sushi rolls to pasta in his years working at restaurants, but his latest gig as chef at Famous Falafel has allowed him to return to his roots.
Saleh, who hails from Michigan and has Iraqi roots, is making homemade hummus, falafel, beef Kafta, tabbouleh and fattoush. The dishes at the restaurant, which opened Christmas Eve, are representative of Iraq and a wide cross section of the Mediterranean – Lebanon, Syria and Greece.
And while traditional flavors are important to Saleh – he wants the food to taste like what his grandma used to make – he does put a modern twist on classics. There’s a falafel burger that is served with tahini, lettuce, tomatoes, turnips and fries.
"I let the food talk for me," Saleh says.
The restaurant is at 5755 St. Joe Road, behind Dairy Queen. It is open 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily, according to Famous Falafel’s Facebook page. Delivery is available; call 492-8349.
Ah, do you feel that? It’s love, and it’s in the air. Sure, it might feel a little chilly and maybe not that nice but I assure you that it is that warm, fuzzy feeling we get this time of year.
In honor of that time – we’re talking Valentine’s Day in case you didn’t know – local spots are offering some specials.
• Waynedale Bakery, 2610 Lower Huntington Road, is teaming up with Melinda’s Flower’s for sweet packages. The deals will include sweets such as iced heart-shaped sugar cookies, raspberry tortes, cupcakes and heart-shaped chocolate chunk cookies (6-inch and 9-inch available). Treats can be paired with balloons and flowers. Delivery available. For more information or to order, call the flower shop at 445-4273 or the bakery at 747-2992.
• Wine Down is offering a special dinner for two for $79 on Feb. 10, 11, 13 and 14. The meal includes a full pound of Chateaubriand filet, Chateau potatoes and asparagus with hollandaise. Dinners are served with soup or salad and finished with a shareable dessert of white chocolate mousse and mixed berries with a cookie crust. Reservations are required and quantities are limited. Call 755-1019.
• Lucky Moose, 622 E. Dupont Road, will have several specials beginning at 4 p.m. Feb. 14. In addition to its regular menu, Lucky Moose will have an 8-ounce ribeye with a shrimp skewer; 13-ounce prime rib; mahi mahi and coconut shrimp; ribs and royal red shrimp; and seasame-crusted tuna with tuna sushi roll. All dinners include soup and salad bar and chocolate cake. Specials will be priced from $14.77 to $17.77. Reservations highly recommended; call 490-5765.
• The Golden, 898 S. Harrison St., is taking reservations for the holiday. The restaurant will not change the menu but the swanky style is sure to woo your loved one. Call 710-8368.
Andrew Taing grew up making doughnuts in his uncle’s shop – Tom’s Donuts – at Wells Street and West State Boulevard.
"I could just about make donuts in my sleep," he says, noting that he’s worked in three or four family-owned doughnut shops.
So it was only natural for Taing to set up his own shop.
Tasty’s Donuts recently opened at 441 W. North St. in Kendallville. Taing is the manager and official doughnut maker and his fiancée, Crystal Brooks, works the sales counter along with the help of three part-time employees.
Cake donuts and yeast donuts that are glazed, sugar-coated or frosted, along with filled donuts, long johns, apple fritters and cinnamon rolls are some of the shop’s best-sellers.
Tasty’s Donuts is open 5 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. Sunday. Customers may call ahead to 260-349-1928 to place large orders. For more information on Tasty’s Donuts, visit the store’s Facebook page.
Is there a special dish you make for a romantic meal at home or a local restaurant you and your significant other go for special events like Valentine’s Day? We want to hear about it for an upcoming story.
Send recipes and ideas to Corey McMaken at firstname.lastname@example.org by 5 p.m. today.
The Dish features restaurant news and food events and appears Wednesdays. Fax news items to 461-8893, email email@example.com or call 461-8304.