A recent article in the print Wall Street Journal asked the question in its title “Does This Look Like Fast Food to You?” The article went on to report on the “tidal wave of top chefs and restauranteurs suddenly flooding into the fast food market.” They note that what they are really talking about is called “fast casual” or “quick serve” because this tidal wave is something more like Chipotle than McDonalds, i.e. perceived as higher quality and healthier.
But really, the tidal wave is about the chefs and their brands and not about fast food. The food business has turned into a culture of chefs and their brands.
Interestingly, the exact same article appeared in the online Wall Street Journal sporting the possibly more search engine friendly title, The Chipotle Effect: How Chefs Are Reinventing Fast Food. Both the online and print articles used the phrase, “top chefs extending their brands” in the subhead yet disappointingly, didn’t really expand on the concept of chef as brands or chefs extending their brands. They really dwell on what they call the Chipotle template, “sleek design, customizable menu, open kitchen ordering line” as if in essence all seven of the very diverse chef owned fast casual restaurants that they described are simply seven Chipotle clones owned by seven chefs well known enough to be considered brands. They should have gone with their subhead.
The article emphasizes the “Chipotle effect” and only briefly notes Danny Meyer’s success with Steak Shack which more closely resemble what is going on here and perhaps who the brand extending chefs might find inspiring. St. Louis’ and JBS’s Danny Meyer opened the Union Square Cafe in 1985 and now heads the Union Square Hospitality Group with 10 restaurants plus the Steak Shack franchise. In other words, Meyer has repeatedly extended his brand and most recently extended it into a fast casual concept, Steak Shack that is now a franchise valued at over $1.6 billion dollars.
Chipotle is a quick serve restaurant brand that continues to grow as a quick serve restaurant brand. As a brand it has a lot more in common with McDonalds and the other dreaded fast food chains than it does with the seven chefs that are extending their brands into fast casual. And according to what I have been reading lately, Chipotle may have a healthier brand image than McDonald’s but may not be any healthier than McDonald’s.
At Diva Foodies, we believe that there are endless possibilities for chefs that create strong personal brands. We also believe there is a huge upside for food brands and restaurants to brand their chefs. We will continue to write on this topic and we offer several packages of Diva Foodies Super Hero Digital Chef Branding.