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The Secret Ingredient for Staying Popular & Profitable | FoodPower is a restaurant consulting firm that coaches industry leaders to leverage strengths, create concepts, refine menus & identify opportunities to increase revenue & capatalize on the changes in today's dining out patterns.

Here I am laughing with Rory Fatt, President of Restaurant Marketing Systems. I work regularly with him and his team, along with the dynamic restaurant owners who attend his seminars from around the country.  During a seminar in Chicago last week, FoodPower’s talk focused on the Top 20 Restaurant & Food Trends. We discussed the best practices and illustrated success stories to encourage each operator to pick and choose the most relevant trends for their restaurant.  We then explored the best ways to incorporate the trend ideas into their concept and/or menus to increase their popularity and profits. This helps to create and constantly reinforce their point of differentiation. 

After our session and while celebrating the Chicago Blackhawks capture of the Stanley Cup, a group of us visited three restaurants that were clearly trendsetters. Somebody has to do this difficult work.

Trendsetter #1 Uncommon Ground Restaurant on Devon
Leader in green initiatives with the first certified organic rooftop farm in the U.S.

I joined Helen Cameron, chef, owner, and the “trendiest green gal” I know on the rooftop of her restaurant, Uncommon Ground – in the pouring rain, I might add. Trust me, this garden and the commitment that created it is an amazing feat.  The worldwide attention it has received illustrates and inspires those of us that are dabbling by comparison at “going green.” When Helen paired her passion with action for fresh, local, sustainable, organic ingredients the community projects and value-added propositions multiplied.  The garden produce feeds the restaurant, educates and inspires others with the Green Room Sessions and Eco-Mixers (Helen was a speaker at the National Restaurant Association convention), and benefits and supports initiatives like CROP, that is building orchards in Chicago.
The seared wild alaskan halibut with lemon-confit potatoes, peas, fava beans, sunflower sprouts, and green garlic cream was a tribute to the project and so delicious I wanted to lick the plate. The drink pictured is the seasonal “Agropolitan,” a special that features Moonglow Pear-infused Rain Organic Vodka, fresh organic apple and pear puree shaken and served martini style with a sliced pear crisp.  Helen donates a dollar from every two “Agropolitans” sold to the Chicago Rarities Orchard Project (CROP), to develop a community orchard in Chicago. 

If I lived there, I’d be a regular at Common Ground for sure.

Trendsetter #2:  Big Star in Wicker Park
This Mexican Taqueria is all about the food – with Pork Belly Tacos to die for!

A group of restaurant savvy partners pulled together by Chef Paul Kahan took over an old Pontiac dealership space.  They created a warehouse-style, cash-only, bar-focused, honky tonk with artisan whiskeys and small-batch craft tequilas -- Big Star. Add hip bartenders and a simple, focused menu of memorable Mexican favorites highlighting handmade mini tortillas at three bucks apiece and you’ve got yourself a winner. The food is sold at the big bar dominating the center of the space, the few side tables, alfresco on the parking lot when the winds aren’t blowin’ a gale and through a take-out window. Some work to get a seat, while others are fine standing. 

We shared pitchers of strong handcrafted margaritas, with a sexy, rich queso fundito and memorable 3-buck tacos. Price points are low for premium food and drinks, which ensure a crowd.  The menu is focused and easy, revolving around four tacos and four tostadas as the core, with sides like crema and roasted serrano chiles to add creativity. Many opt for an icy dulce de leche milkshake to cleanse the palate before moving on.  I’ll go back as often as I can.

Trendsetter #3: Violet Hour Speakeasy in Wicker Park
A late night sexy cocktail mecca that’s all about the drinks, the experience
...and being in on the secret

On the town with the gang we depart Big Star and, shhh… at the recommendation of our new best friend, Damien, you gotta be in the know to go… we go. 

We head across the street to an unmarked, no-name, non-descript building covered with bold artwork and enter through heavy velvet drapes and WOW! We discover a hidden upscale décor as planned - the Violet Hour Speakeasy - part classic-formal and part Alice in Wonderland.  Fancy crystal chandeliers, fat east coast crown molding with cornflower blue walls and velvet drapes. Busy hardwood floors are a disconnect but add a touch of warmth and energy, but the seating is what is most fascinatingly eccentric.

Very narrow & very tall, high-back blue leather chairs are clustered close around tiny, white nightstands flickering with candlelight.  Yup… the mood is set for intimacy.   

The drinks are the focus, $12 apiece – all made by serious mixologists with painstaking precision. There are 36 totally creative drinks on the menu, one of the most popular, Romeo & Juliet, with Beefeater, mint, cucumber and rose water. The drink menu is creative and fun to read. There are only finger foods for sustenance – among them, a favorite is panko-breaded deep-fried peanut butter, banana and bacon with wildflower honey. I think this trend will last, but the no cell phone rule could cramp the style. No lines – they call you on the cell when space is available but then you must turn them off. At least they won’t get raided for bootleg as in the speakeasies of the 20s.

If you wish to adapt your restaurant concept to the trends – give us a call.  We can help initiate, tweak your brand, run the trend through the culture of your biz and then tell the world about it. 

Feel free to contact me at or at 949.646.3206.  You can also find me on Facebook and follow me on Twitter.
To the power of food!
Phyllis Ann
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Established in 1982, Orange County-based FoodPower is a restaurant consulting firm that coaches industry leaders to leverage their strengths. By working hand-in-hand with restaurant management and staff, FoodPower can help create concepts, refine menus, and identify opportunities to increase food sales and capitalize on the changes in today’s dining out patterns to strengthen brands.

2463 Irvine Avenue E1 | Costa Mesa, CA 92627
949.646.3206 | |

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