Seoul Taco Grows and The Toasty Awards Makes Debut
6 Min Read By MRM Staff
The top five on MRM’s Daily Bite include a food truck concept with an artistic bent, new opportunities and the first Toasty awards.
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Seoul Tacco Expands Footprint
Originally a food truck started in 2011, Seoul Taco, top photo, has grown to four fast-casual restaurants in Missouri and Illinois. This fall, Seoul Taco is opening its fifth location in Chef David Choi’s hometown, Chesterfield, MO.
Inspired by the brand’s “street” roots, Choi collaborates with local artists to bring the excitement and vivacity of urban culture to each new restaurant. For example, the Chicago location features a street-art inspired mural of luchadores practicing taekwondo. To alleviate costs, all four Seoul Taco locations utilize reclaimed materials such as spray-painted salvaged boom boxes that add a pop of color.
For his new location in Chesterfield, MO, Choi is collaborating with Chicagoan Alex Morales of Smartmouth Design and David Stavron of St. Louis’s Shellback Iron Works to bring Seoul Taco’s vibrant character to life.
Grill Concepts Looks to Grow
Grill Concepts, Inc. (GCI) appointed three new executive team members:
Senior Vice President of Operations Mike Charvat,
Senior Purchasing Director Brian Klein; and
Senior Director of Information Technology Phil Olea.
The new hires, based at the company’s Woodland Hills headquarters, report to GCI Chief Executive Officer John Sola, and are responsible for their respective divisions’ roles in the continued growth of the restaurant group.
“With the storied success of The Grill On The Alley and Daily Grill, the continued expansion of the Public School On Tap brand and the upcoming opening of Wewatta Point in Denver this fall, Grill Concepts will enter 2018 in a stronger position than ever before,” said Sola, a 34-year veteran of the company who was appointed CEO in 2016. “Mike, Brian and Phil each possess a wealth of talent and industry knowledge that will be crucial in developing smart, forward-thinking strategies that will drive our ongoing growth and success.”
As Senior VP of Operations, Charvat leads the teams that provide the food, beverage and service experience at all GCI concepts. Most recently serving as the Vice President of West Coast Operations for Levy Restaurants, he oversaw the foodservice operations at some of the nation’s most iconic stadiums and arenas, including Dodger Stadium, Staples Center, Oracle Arena, and MODA Center. Previously, he was the Vice President of Operations for the Michelin-rated Patina Restaurant and held other executive leadership roles at ARAMARK, Real Mex Restaurants, and the Walt Disney Company.
In his role as Senior Purchasing Director, Klein spearheads supply chain and procurement strategy across all GCI concepts. With more than 20 years of experience, his skills in vendor relations, sourcing and contract negotiation have resulted in millions of dollars in cost savings for previous employers. Most recently, he served as Purchasing Manager for Tavistock’s fast-casual restaurant chain Freebirds World Burrito, and previously for Golden Living/Ceres Purchasing Solutions, Hospital Housekeeping Systems and restaurant chain operator Ran Ken Inc.
Newly appointed Senior Director of IT Olea oversees the company’s technology needs, including point-of-sale software and security risk management. Prior to joining GCI, he owned and operated his own software company, The POS Experts, which has worked with more than 185 organizations worldwide over the past 30 years. Olea also previously led technology strategy on behalf of other high-profile retail, restaurant, fast food and cruise ship brands, such as Starbucks, Taco Bell, Jack-In-The-Box, Denny’s and Panera, as well as Wanda Group Chinese, which owns and operates retail locations worldwide, including AMC Theatres.
Additionally, Michael Kaplan has been named Area Director of Operations and Corporate Beverage Director. Prior to joining Grill Concepts in 2015, he served as Regional Director of Operations for Fig & Olive, as well as Director of Food & Beverage Administration for the Mirage Resort & Casino in Las Vegas. His new title reflects expanded operational responsibilities, overseeing Grill Concepts’ beverage program as well as restaurant teams among the Grill on the Alley and Point Seafood brands.
Looking ahead, GCI will launch its first mobile app in 2018, offering another way for the company to engage with its loyal clientele and allowing members of its “Insider” Loyalty program to track their dining rewards, make reservations and have access to VIP offers and events for each concept.
Applebee’s Adds Chief Culinary Officer
Applebee’s® Neighborhood Grill + Bar named Stephen Bulgarelli vice president and chief culinary officer to head its culinary team.
“Chef Stephen possesses a unique balance of strategy, creativity, and team orientation that will elevate our menu and strengthen our culinary culture,” said John Cywinski, president, Applebee’s. “All of this coupled with his passionate focus on our guests makes Stephen the ideal partner for our franchisees.”
Noted Bulgarelli, “As the biggest casual-dining brand in the country, Applebee’s is America’s neighborhood kitchen, and I am honored to create original and downright good food that millions of people will be able to enjoy each week. In collaboration with an already stellar culinary team, we’ll be focusing heavily on listening to our guests to help drive the changes that will further set Applebee’s apart.”
Bulgarelli most recently spent seven years with Chili’s, the last five as vice president of food and beverage. Prior to his tenure at Chili’s, Bulgarelli was the vice president of culinary innovation at O’Charley’s, held two culinary leadership roles with T.G.I. Friday’s and was an executive chef at LSG Sky Chefs.
Toasty Award Winners
Toast announced the 2017 “Toasty Awards” winners, the first annual awards program that honors the hard work and ingenuity of the restaurant community. Recipients of the awards are: New Washington, Indiana’s 1894 Lodge for the “G.O.A.T. Staff” category, Nashville, Tennessee’s Party Fowl for the most “Selfie-able Decor” category, and, Saucy Brew Works for the “Masters of Technology” category.
Winning entries were selected based on votes via Survey Monkey and tweets that leveraged the hashtag #ToastyAwards17.
“Our Toast customers are—without question—the hardest working group of restaurants in the U.S.; we were thrilled to be able to honor all of them and highlight a few with our first annual Toasty Awards program,” said Chris Comparato, CEO of Toast. “We look forward to seeing how the 2017 winners progress in the years ahead.”
Winners from each category were selected for embodying the following:
G.O.A.T. (Greatest Of All Time) Staff: the Greatest Of All Time Staff award honors the people who go above and beyond the call of duty, delighting guests and truly shaping a standout experience
Most Selfie-able Decor: from lighting fixtures to snazzy bathrooms, this award celebrates the business that knows the details are integral to the culture and guest experience
Masters of Technology: an award for the restaurant that has mastered the use of modern technology and brought their business to new heights through innovation
A total of 30 finalists were selected from a pool of over 300 nominations submitted by the Toast community. Of those 30 finalists, there were over 3,000 votes, resulting in the 2017 winners.
Tratto Names Chef de Cuisine
Tratto, the trattoria within The Marker, a Joie de Vivre Hotel located in San Francisco’s Theater District, named Robert Birnschein Chef de Cuisine. He will work alongside Executive Chef David Feldman to shape Tratto’s menu and manage the kitchen staff.
“Robert is the perfect fit for our team and will help us continue to elevate Tratto’s menu and our presence in this evolving neighborhood,” said Tratto’s General Manager Justin Knoth. “His passion for cooking and his dedication to creating a memorable experience for guests are reflected in his cooking and culinary style. He is an outstanding addition to our team and we look forward to having our guests experience his talent first hand.”
A California native who was born and raised in Sacramento, Robert Birnschein has 17 years of experience cooking in a wide range of establishments from casual to fine dining. Over the years, Birnschein developed a versatile skillset working in a variety of bistros, high-volume restaurants, country clubs and hotels in the Sacramento area, including the Lions Gate Hotel, Eight American Bistro and Winchester Country Club.
Managed and designed by Puccini Group, the interior is inspired by European décor and reflective of the vibrant neighborhood surrounding it. Art plays a key role in the design theme with Tratto’s inaugural local artist-in-residence, Amos Goldbaum, who crafted a number of large landscape murals for Tratto’s main dining room, inspired by iconic vistas, streets and skylines of San Francisco. For the private dining room, Goldbaum created a panoramic mural that reflects the rituals and processes of food-making. Goldbaum’s artwork goes beyond the wall art and is incorporated into the menu and uniforms. Classic black and white films are also displayed in the bar area, paying tribute to the neighborhood’s rich theater culture and sparking conversation among patrons.