Thursday, January 11, 2007

Perfect pairings

Ever on the prowl for ways to serve the restaurant community, The Scoop has decided to give matchmaking a try. And what better way to start than with these obvious pairings, suggested by recent headlines?

David Rockwell and McDonald’s – Rockwell, the rock star of interior design, is know for the sense of theater he instills in his creations, be it a restaurant (Nobu, Ruby Foo’s), a casino (Mohegan Sun) or an actual stage (the sets for the Broadway hit “Hairspray”).

And now, The New York Times reported Wednesday, Rockwell is turning his attention to the sandbox. A page-one story noted that the much-in-demand designer has agreed to come up with a 21st-Century version of the children’s playground for the City of New York. Although details have apparently not been finalized, the plans call for features like wooden ramps that tykes can run up and down; a “water zone;” and a mini-crane the kids could use as a group to fill things with sand. A prototype will be built in Manhattan, with other areas of the city encouraged to copycat it at will.

Now consider what McDonald’s is doing with its Playland indoor rec areas, one of the sleeper factors in the chain’s success. Headquarters has said it wants to convert those facilities into mini-exercise centers, called R Gyms, where kids can pedal stationary bikes, zip through an obstacle course, work up a sweat at air hockey, or shoot hoops. The stated mission is encouraging mini-patrons to be more active. Cynics contend that McD’s merely wants to mute the criticism that it’s plumping up kids without a thought about their health.

Whatever theory you buy, there’s no disputing the chain’s intent to cop a more contemporary approach to play. What better way than having Rockwell come up with something that would be to indoor playgrounds what Starbucks was to the old coffee shop?

Bubba Gump and Chris Thomas – Bubba Gump Shrimp Co., a sleeper in its own right, announced yesterday that it’s willing to sell a stake in the 24-unit chain to generate expansion capital. Last week, Sizzler and Planet Hollywood vet Chris Thomas got together with his similarly seasoned partners, former Chart House chief John Creed and one-time Embassy Suites head Clyde Culp, to announce they’d amassed a bushel of cash for restaurant acquisitions.

Is this matchmaking stuff a breeze or what?

Thomas’ firm, Restaurant Acquisition Partners, raised the money through a stock offering on Dec. 15, without an operating business currently in its fold. As what’s known as a blank-check company, it generates capital first, then hunts for a business where it could be put to use.

Creed comes from a seafood chain that preferred showcase locations; Thomas knows about Hollywood-themed movies; and Culp is an old hand at franchising and site development. Gump is a seafood dinnerhouse brand inspired by a hit flick, and franchises its big, high-volume restaurants, often in tourist destinations.

Their families should meet.

Meth Coffee and Miss Manners– It is the policy of The Scoop to avoid supplier brand names so you won’t suspect me of whoring for an advertiser. I don’t think there’ll be much risk of that here. Yesterday brought the announcement of a new hot beverage, presumably for the grocery market, but possibly slated for a subsequent push into foodservice. It’s called Meth Coffee, a “hard-hitting coffee roast for energy addicts,” ideal for “boosting stamina and mental clarity,” the promotional materials explained.

Targeted customers, the announcement continued, include “thrill seekers” and “workaholics” in need of a “jumpstart.”

Okay, we get it. It’s the crystal meth of coffee. And what could be funnier or more clever than trying to push your product by playing off a drug epidemic? Why not market it with some Crack Cakes, or a line of doughnuts called Drunk Dunks?

Indeed, the product is noteworthy. It sets a new standard in poor taste.

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