CoreLife Eatery, Balance Grill,  I Love Bacon leaders on crazy vs innovative

| by S.A. Whitehead
CoreLife Eatery, Balance Grill,  I Love Bacon leaders on crazy vs innovative

Millennial females as the main target for a bacon-based food truck? 

Asian-flavors stuffed into tacos?

Yoga in a restaurant? 

These were all successful restaurant ideas that were once considered just a little bit crazy, according to a panel of restaurant leaders, who shared some of their best and worst innovations with fellow restaurateurs last month at the Fast Casual Executive Summit in Nashville. The point of the hour-long discussion was to help fellow business owners and operators learn how to tell the difference between a truly innovative idea with "legs" and one that is just plain crazy.

 Included in the discussion, moderated by LoyaltyPlant's Jim Steinberg were:

•    CoreLife Eatery President Scott Davis.
•    Balance Grill co-founder and CEO Prakash Karamchandani.
•    I Love Bacon co-founder Keith Hill. 

Seated left to right: CoreLife Eatery CEO Scott Davis, I Love Bacon co-founder Keith Hill, Balance Grill CEO Prakash Karamchandani and moderator, LoyaltyPlant's Jim Steinberg.    Photo: Matt Tillbury

They celebrated — and commiserated —  on one another's successes and failures. What follows are responses to four of our favorite questions.

Q: How do you know when something — particularly something crazy and offbeat — just might work? 

CoreLife: Once the staff starts to like something, that's the first real indication that it might work.

Q: On the flipside, what kinds of ideas just didn't work that you thought would?

I Love Bacon: For us, we have a lot of issues where we come up with a good item that we think will be amazing, but we just can't think of a way to implement it in a 220-square-foot food truck.

Balance Grill: An Asian burger with steam buns. … But then, when we got (the steam buns) there it was like a Chinese steam bun and super-starchy. And it did not fit with what people expected. So even though we got the flavors right, and it made sense conceptually, it just failed. … And social media, like told us right away that they sucked. So that pretty much did it. But then we did some analysis and found out … it came down to the bun, not the flavors. … So, we put that back in tacos.”

Q: What are some of the weirdest ideas that you've executed that have ended up going mainstream? 

Balance Grill: I got this idea from a Washington Post article that …talked about how people worked for brands, not managers. …  and I thought of myself and the … businesses I'd left because I didn't like the manager. … I said, "What if we run the restaurants with no managers, but just use technology?" … It took two years for us to implement it, but it turned out … to be great. 

Q: How then does innovation play into product marketing, even when it borders on a bit crazy? 

CoreLife Eatery: With us … we're really targeted at people who want to eat healthier every day. Most people want that, but they can't find it … and ultimately you end up feeling like you don't have any control over your life anymore. … So that's how we started (with marketing) … (aiming at) people who were looking for that and asking, "How do I have more control in my world?"

I Love Bacon: Okay, it's "I Love Bacon": Who do you think our primary target is? Men, right? But we have found out it's millennial females, too. So, now we're thinking four years in, "How do we offer what we're doing in a healthier way … and it's been cool to watch how that happened and how we've grown that audience."

Balance Grill:Going all digital (with marketing). … We don't spend on ads at all … and we have a concrete strategy around that. … We use video for pretty much everything … and stagger it out to release it through Facebook. … We also have a pretty comprehensive Instagram-to-Facebook-to-mobile app strategy. That gives us time to talk about those menu items, too. 

Great discussions, like the one above, are jam-packed into this summit and the Fast Casual Executive Summit in 2018, this time in Seattle. Register now. 

Photo: iStock

Topics: Fast Casual Executive Summit, Marketing / Branding / Promotion

Companies: LoyaltyPlant Inc.

S.A. Whitehead

Award-winning veteran print and broadcast journalist, Shelly Whitehead, has spent most of the last 30 years reporting for TV and newspapers, including the former Kentucky and Cincinnati Post and a number of network news affiliates nationally. She brings her cumulative experience as a multimedia storyteller and video producer to the web-based pages of and after a lifelong “love affair” with reporting the stories behind the businesses that make our world go ‘round. Ms. Whitehead is driven to find and share news of the many professional passions people take to work with them every day in the pizza and quick-service restaurant industry. She is particularly interested in the growing role of sustainable agriculture and nutrition in food service worldwide and is always ready to move on great story ideas and news tips.

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