Restaurant News Bites: Heart Attack Grill, Red Robin, Pizza Inn

Restaurant News Bites: Heart Attack Grill, Red Robin, Pizza InnRestaurants around the country are embracing the popularity of salads to make 2011 the Summer of Salads. As customers have become more health conscious and interested in alternatives to burgers or pizza, many fast food and casual restaurants alike are adding new menu items. Wendy’s, McDonald’s and others have added new limited time salads to their summer menus.

The price of coffee is about to shoot up as the cost of growing the beans skyrockets. Large distributors like J.M. Smucker, responsible for brands like Dunkin’ Donuts and Folgers, announced it will raise prices by 11%. Starbucks is raising the cost for beans and ground coffee by 17%. The commodities price of a pound of unroasted coffee has gone up nearly 92% over the last year.

Red Robin wasn’t looking very well to investors about a year ago, but after nine months with a new CEO confidence is once again building in the company. Profits have risen and costs sunk after Steve Carley took the helm. The chain is now much fitter and leaner after three consecutive years of falling profits and falling stock value.

Lettuce Entertain You is turning 40 this week, and the 80 American locations plan to mark the celebration in style. Rich Melman, the CEO of the chain, received the James Beard Award a month ago as well. Lettuce Entertain You started as a restaurant known as RJ Grunts in Chicago, which is still open. Melman has also opened scores of popular restaurants like Maggiano’s and Shaw’s Crab House.

Some of the biggest names in the restaurant industry are integrating new technology to speed up the serving process and cut down on errors. This includes texting systems to notify customers when their table is ready. Customers can’t leave with an expensive restaurant pager and they’re no longer confined to the lobby or bar of the restaurant as they wait.

Pizza Inn already has the fresh pizza concept down, but now they are expanding into the fast casual market. The Pie Five Pizza Co. brand launched recently in Fort Worth, Texas. The restaurant combines fresh baked, custom topping pizzas that are ready in under 5 minutes. The prototype is a small 60 seat location with a shiny industrial styled interior.

Jon Basso’s Heart Attack Grill may be in need of some CPR.  The controversial burger concept is closing temporarily after clashes with the city over the exterior paint color, but he says that it will reopen shortly. He is considering moving the restaurant, which has generated plenty of buzz for its wait staff dressed as nurses and purposely unhealthy menu, to a more welcoming city. The Grill is painted white, but it is located in a nearly vacant tan shopping center.

Rocky Aoki founded the Benihana chain, but his widow is now suing the company for allegedly making false statements and defamation. This new development comes in reaction to the suit filed against her last month by the current Board of Directors of Benihana. That suit claimed that the widow Keiko Aoki was purposely trying to lower the stock value by making claims that she deserved to run the company.

Fazoli’s offers you an inexpensive way to explore Italy’s cuisine with their new Tour of Taste promotion. Five new entrees have been added to help guests explore the unique tastes of Naples, Sicily, Rome, Tuscany and Campania. Guests who order a large drink can win instant prizes, while anyone who orders a Tour of Taste entree can enter a sweepstakes to win a trip to Italy.

Frisch’s has made their 202nd consecutive quarterly dividend repayment. The latest repayment comes in the form of $.15. The company continues to report a profit, as it has since it first sold stock in 1960. It has also paid cash back to its shareholders and investors every single quarter since going public. The company operates the Big Boy brand and owns some Golden Corral restaurants.