Sunday, October 12, 2008

A Blum of an idea

MUFSO hasn’t officially started yet, but it’s already clear that one issue will be hotly debated during the three days of the conference: Is Brad Blum crazy?

That seems to be the question on attendees’ minds as they register, grab a pre-conference cup of coffee, or bump into an editor as he drops bread crumbs in hopes of tracing his way back to whatever elevator serves the time zone where his room is located (the convention is being held in the Gaylord National, a sprawling, biosphere-like complex outside Washington, D.C.) A completely unscientific straw poll indicates the insanes have it, with only one dissenter contending that Blum showed true insight in choosing a “vertical sausage” concept as something to develop. That dissenter would be me, the crumb-dropper. And I’m convinced Blum is on to something big.

In case you missed our coverage, Blum is a former head of Olive Garden and Burger King. Lesser known within the industry was his key role in building a European market for the cereals of General Mills, the former owner of Olive Garden. All of those were huge jobs. But he largely dropped out of view after things went bad at Burger King.

Now he’s moved back into the spotlight with Dogmatic Gourmet Sausage System, a New York City restaurant he’s basing on a popular cart that operates seasonally in Greenwich Village, traditionally the city’s most avant-garde area. The place will feature six high-craft sausages made with ingredients that Alice Waters would sanction, like grass-fed beef or free-range chicken. That’s Strength No. 1. The halo of those more-natural foodstuffs are quickly coming to be appreciated by mainstream America—not Joe Sixpack, maybe, but perhaps his niece, Tiffany Apple-tini.

Another signature item will be organically grown asparagus spears. Outlandish, yes. But not a hard sell, not only bcause of the organic descriptor but also because asparagus is a known entity. We’re not talking about edamame or an acaci salad. That, I’m willing to bet, will become Strength 1.5.

And then there are the drinks—handmade soft drinks made from fruits along with high-craft sodas. That’s a solid Strength No. 2.

The sausage and asparagus will be served in an artisanal roll that’s toasted from the inside out from the insertion of a hot stake. The roll is configured so that the completed sandwich stands upright. Hence the vertical-sausage descriptor. And there we have Gimmicks 1 and 2.

Add it all together and you have a New Age-y concept with overtones of health, freshness, novelty, even Greenwich Village outlandishness. If the numbers make sense—admittedly, a big if; the prototype is being built in an ideal site off Union Square Park, one of the city’s high-rent districts—this could be something that catches on.

Blum has already indicated that he plans to parlay the initial restaurant into a national chain. We hear that all the time. But he has experience, connections and the chutzpah to give such a thing a try.

That’s why I’m saying it’s hardly an insane idea at all. Indeed, it’s one of the more interesting ventures the industry has seen in awhile.

Okay, back to dropping my bread crumbs. And I think I see a hungry bird flying around.

If you're interested in what our industry's leaders have to say about the nation's current plight, please check back here often. I’m going to try to blog as much as possible, including right from the MUFSO conference room.

1 comment:

  1. The concept might fly in left coast cities like san francisco and LA, probably would work in Taxachussett. As long as the market demo includes a primary market of grass eaters and suckers willing to overpay for glorified sausage and peppers. The stick in the roll reminds me of the microwave hot dog cooker my mother used. I always get a laugh out of ex big company CEO's going through a midlife crisis who try starting these concepts. It wreaks of wanting validation as a foodservice guru that they feel they never got credit for as a CEO.
    I call it ther Fredo Corleone syndrome: "I'm smart Mike. Im not dumb like everyone says."
    Lastly, The real entrepreneurs ae the guys that try these new concepts with their last buck, or put their house up as collateral. Not former CEO's with millions in the bank who are looking for a new toy.

    Sincerely, Steakman