Part One: A new restaurant sector pokes its way out of the shell in California

| by S.A. Whitehead
Part One: A new restaurant sector pokes its way out of the shell in California

At this year's National Restaurant Association gathering in Chicago, Euromonitor International's Global Food and Beverage Lead Michael Schaefer told a roomful of restaurateurs that one of the biggest trends going forward across all restaurant sectors was a shift from fast casual and QSR as we know them, to something he referred to as "luxury QSR."

To elaborate on that point, he gave some examples, like the increasing number of young, well-trained chefs in the industry who've opted to go into business with food trucks or pop-up restaurants. These are food service businesses that focus on rapid creation and delivery of food that's prepared with lots of high-end touches, like upscale baked goods, condiments and coffee, which he referred to as the "new fragrance." In short, Schaefer said his company's research shows, "People want to indulge," but they don't have a lot of time, so quick delivery is essential.

Now, just a few weeks out of that session, one of the first players in that "luxury QSR" realm has entered the restaurant scene. The innovators behind a new chain called, Starbird, and its first location in Sunnyvale, California, call the concept "super-premium fast food," rather than "luxury QSR," but the concept remains the same as that described by Schaefer since Starbird also revolves around rapid food creation and delivery of menu items made with higher-end ingredients.

So, if this is indeed the start of a super-premium fast food or luxury QSR category, is it really a separate distinction? It looks like it is and here are some of the distinctions:

  • Higher-end, locally and responsibly sourced ingredients

Chicken, as you might have guessed from the name, is Starbird's main attraction. But those behind the restaurant make it very clear that this is not just any chicken, and that's a key distinction that is increasingly important to a growing number of Americans, according to Euromonitor research, which shows that people not only want to know where their food came from, but also to feel good about it.

That's why Starbird's birds come by way of a California organic, free-range chicken farm called Petaluma. Eggs are all from cage-free chickens. Sandwiches are served on house-made organic flour rolls. The coffee is ground and brewed to order. And even the chocolate cones for the house-made ice cream drumstick dessert is made by hand at the restaurant. This is, in short, food that people can eat without guilt or concern.

  • Speed is the co-star

Those behind Starbird explain that their whole concept is built around a restaurant ordering app of the same ilk of those that are rapidly transforming the entire food service industry. Through that technology, Starbird not only achieves the "quick" in QSR, but eliminates the much-loathed drive-thru line that a recent survey said millennial parents will do just about anything to avoid when their kids were in the car. Instead, guests here place their orders whenever and wherever they choose, then upon arrival at the restaurant, guests hit "I'm here" on the app and their food is delivered within five minutes to the table or a numbered parking spot in the lot. No drive-thru line.

"Our lives and our expectations have changed dramatically since the advent of the original drive-thru," said the concept's founder, Aaron Noveshen. "We're adapting to the new needs of our tech-savvy and culinary-conscious community. We're changing the traditional fast food landscape with new expectations, new standards and new ideals for quick service dining."

  • Re-invention of the food service employment model  

Starbird is the brainchild and first product of dining incubator, Culinary Edge Ventures. That organization was founded by Aaron Noveshen, Stephen Goldmann and Steven Goldstein. Aside from ingredient quality and delivery speed, the trio said it was important with this restaurant concept to do something a little different to make the brand a career destination, rather than the temporary, hold-over job that many see food service to be. The trio thought it important to build something into their system of hiring and training that not only attracted the best employees, but retained them and helped them grow careers with the company.

Acknowledging that this track might not be the case for all employees, the trio created a multi-path program that provides a special program for those who want to move into a job at the restaurant and move up the career ladder. One-on-one training and mentorship are key features of this program, which will be worth watching to see if it is successful. The results could give others across food service something to ponder to address the pervasive and constantly vexing problem of uncommitted and often transient employees. 

Tomorrow, fields a few questions with the restaurant's founder, Aaron Noveshen. Then, later this week, we'll take a look at a couple of restaurant product suppliers that have already started addressing this growing desire among some restaurateurs to add a little luxury with everything from ultra high-end beverages and dessert ingredients to unusual forms of pizza dough that cater to the growing gluten-free crowd.


Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability, Customer Service / Experience, Food & Beverage, Food Trucks, Franchising & Growth, Marketing, Online / Mobile / Social, Online Ordering, On the Move, Operations Management

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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