This blog has been quiet for quite some time now. I do apologize for that. I haven’t done much fast food or soda writing recently.
I’m currently working on a new project called “The Meatloaf“. It’s a comedy site, and has nothing to do with meatloaf. I just thought the name was funny. Check it out if you’re so inclined!
For the last six months, I haven’t really written about fast food for Serious Eats. Instead, I’ve penned a column on soda with my girlfriend, Carey, who happens to be the Senior Managing Editor of the site. It’s one of a few co-authored columns, but it suits us well: I cover regular soda, which she hates; she covers diet soda, which I can’t stand.
I’ve had a few ruminations brewing in my mind, and I thought I’d share them.
Some of you might by crying “nepotism!” Yes, my girlfriend is the Senior Managing Editor of Serious Eats, and we co-write a column. No, it is not an example of nepotism, but rather of utilizing one’s network. I happened to be at the Serious Eats office one day, when Ed Levine proposed the column to me, and we rolled Carey into the mix to cover diet soda, because I hate diet soda. Nepotism is not ever turning your writing in on time, and never being scolded or reprimanded.
On Corn Syrup
High Fructose Corn Syrup tastes like chewing on aluminum foil, if you taste it right next to sugar. It’s faint, but the difference in taste is there.
On Espresso Coffee Soda
I’m hopelessly addicted to Espresso Coffee Soda from Manhattan special. It’s so good, once it hits the lips. You do need to watch out for foam cascading out of a freshly opened bottle, though.
Here’s a list of the most recent posts on Soda that Carey and I authored:
I’ve been tremendously busy lately, and mostly writing about soda, not fast food. Carey Jones and I are co-writing a column about soda. The most interesting pieces, from my point of view, are us covering all the Coke Freestyle Machine, and my blind taste test of Pepsi, Coke, High Fructose Corn Syrup, and Cane sugar.
If you only read one of these articles, it should be the one in which we try all 127 flavors in the Coke Freestyle machine. It took place over 5 days at the Five Guys on 7th avenue in Brooklyn. I mean, who could try all 127 flavors in one sitting?
For me, the most fascinating was my blind taste test of Pepsi vs. Coke, High Fructose Corn Syrup vs. Sugar. To explain that better, we had Pepsi Throwback (made with sugar), Coke from Europe (made with sugar), Regular Coke (HFCS) and Regular Pepsi (HFCS). Carey served me two at a time, and I had to pick the one I liked better. The results were interesting: I slightly preferred Pepsi to Coke, which I already knew, but overwhelmingly preferred sugar to HFCS.
The rest of the articles we’ve written are here:
For the better part of the last year, I’ve catalogued some of the exploits of being a Fast Food Blogger. I’ve tremendously enjoyed giving you all a glimpse into the life of a fast food writer, but my tastes (in writing at least) have changed. I’ve passed the torch for Fast Food Bureau Chief to Will Gordon, and I think he’s already done a great job to spice up the column. I’m now focusing on Soda for drinks.seriouseats.com/ along with Carey Jones.
This does NOT mean I dislike fast food, as my tastes haven’t changed. (In fact, I was at Five Guys just yesterday.) I’ve always preferred sitting down to long meals, tasting bits of many things, and enjoying my food along the lines of the Slow Food movement. On top of that, in college, I was a French and Italian major, which are two regions of the world which adhere to Slow Food Principles. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to marry two passions of mine: food and romance languages. So, I will be switching to writing more about Slow Food on slowfoodr.wordpress.com
I’ll continue to post fast food related items to FastFoodr, and it will continue to serve as my main site for SeriousEats.com related posts. However, I want to begin to explore a new and different part of the food world. I hope you’ll check out the new site!
It’s always nice to leave New York. As great as it may be, it can feel confining. I jumped at the opportunity to spend this week touring Texas and New Mexico with SeriousEats.com editor Carey Jones. One week driving around the South / Southwest, paid for by someone else? I’m in.
The first stop on Day 0 was Houston. If “Highway” doesn’t come right after “Houston” in the dictionary, it should. I’ve never seen so many highways in my life. Though the city is laid out on a map in rather straightforward terms, it seemed as if they elected to build highways instead of regular roads. For a relatively “new” city, it makes sense. Supersize for your growing population.
The first stop was El Real, a former theater converted into a Tex-Mex restaurant. Carey grew furious as I spent the better part of the dinner transfixed by “A Fistful of Dollars,” which they projected on the wall. Their puffy tacos were quite good: crispy tortillas filled with picadillo beef, a peppery and spicy loose ground beef. Not to miss were the house salsas, and the queso. A can’t miss, though, are their churros: quite possibly the fluffiest, crunchiest churros I’ve ever had, dusted ever so gently with sugar and cinnamon. These weren’t the stale, microwaved junk they Sodexho served you in high school; no, handmade by a Mexican baker, they’re to die for.
At the end of Day 0, we’d had 5 tacos, 4 salsas, and 1 amazing churro. Not a bad way to christen a journey!
A few months ago, I published the first half of an interview I did with the CEO of Biscuitville, Burney Jennings. He told me a great deal about the company, its operations, and its philosophies. You can read the first part of the interview here.
As I said in my first article, “fast food executive” conjures the image of a rotund man in a suit. Burney looked more like a golf pro: slim and trim, with a big smile. Here is part two of our interview.
Me: So, they tell me Biscuitville has one of the highest turnover rates in the industry.
Burney: Phil Johnston [author of Biscuitville: The Secret to Building a Sustainable Competitive Advantage], whom I really like a lot, has done a great job with statistics. I won’t say 39%, because I don’t truly know, so quote him and not me, but yes, we do have very high turnover in terms of product. And we don’t have a big warehouse, so Larry (our warehouse manager) can’t have lots of product sitting around.
Me: There’s no Ronald McDonald, there’s no Ray Kroc anymore. Other restaurants have that family connection. Can you comment about Biscuitville as a family owned business? How family owned is it? What has that been like? Has that put any strain on you?
Burney: It is a family business. Let’s start with the relationship with my dad. I slowly worked into this position of President. In 1996 I became president, but he was still active as Chairman of the Board. It took another 7 to 8 years before he became hands-off with the business. He is still Chairman of the Board. We have had discussions, but we haven’t had major disagreements. As a family business in going from the first generation to the second, it’s been fairly smooth transition, which is pretty unusual. Usually, the first generation has trouble letting go… It is a family-owned company. I have brothers and sisters who own the business, but I am the only that is active in the business.
Being a business that is local and owned by a family plays into being public versus being private. We have found that our customers like that we are a private company, a family company, a locally-owned company. On top of that, the way we compensate our operators is a profit-share. They really have an ownership mindset, which is important for us to maintain a high level of customer service and satisfaction. I’ve seen them work, and they really get to know their customers, and know them by name.
Me: Some of these chains grow at exponential rates. Subway largest chain in America right now. But Biscuitville has remained small, doesn’t have any debt on its balance sheet and no outside investment. Can you comment on that? Does that limit you?
Burney: It limits you in that you can’t add 20 restaurants next year. We could if we got outside investment. It limits you because you don’t have the dollars to do so. But we’re okay with the slow growth.
Me: Have you ever felt the pressure? Just for a small expansion?
Burney: No, none.
Me: Well, Burney, thanks for your time and thank you for answering my questions so openly and candidly.
Burney: Of course! I’ll be excited to read the interview!
I love New Mexico. My parents have been taking me there since I was a child, and I always loved it: hot days and cool evenings, dry air, and New Mexican Green Chile. Blake’s Lotaburger piles the green chile on their burgers, and they are awesome. Their other toppings are nothing to write home about, but their green chile burger is some of the best food out there under $5.
You can read my review on Serious Eats here.
The news broke that Burger King will retire its mascot. Brought to you by Crispin Porter + Bogusky, the geniuses behind the Groupon super bowl ads, it was just way too weird. Eater sums it up pretty well. Here’s a photo of me with him at the “Breakfast in Bed with the King” event.
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to spend the weekend with my dad in New Mexico visiting family. Aside from being one of the most beautiful states in the Union, New Mexico is home to Blake’s Lotaburger, a regional burger chain. Their competitive advantage? They put Green Chile on the burgers. If you’ve never tasted New Mexican food, Red and Green Chile come on just about everything, and they make everything better.
I’ll be reviewing them on Serious Eats in the weeks to come, but wanted to share this email from my dad immediately:
The other day when I got to my car in the parking garage, I noticed the strong odor of your Lotaburger dinner still in there. I thought to myself “Those things happen”, and I started for the airport. I got to the convenience store right before 25, where I usually get off for a cup of coffee for the road. When I came back to my car, and opened the door, I noticed that the odor was still in there, just as strong—it hadn’t “aired out” at all. Unusual, I thought, so I looked over where you’d been sitting, and down on the mat there was a string of onion, still moist, which I threw out the window.
To the airport, then, where I turned the car in. I don’t know if the attendant noticed the odor still in there, but what if she had? What would they do? In fact, it would be interesting to fast-fooders, as it is to me: “What do Hertz and Avis do about food smells left over in cars for those who’ve enjoyed a fragrant meal on wheels?”
Your public might be interested. In anecdotes, and solutions!
Just a thought.
How can you work at a health and fitness company, but then write about Fast Food?
People often ask me this question, in some form. How can I eat fast food, and be taken seriously as a someone in the health and fitness sphere? How can I possibly eat a Big Mac knowing what I know about McDonald’s and the Nutrition Facts? Haven’t I seen Food, Inc.?
I think it helps to take chronology into account. I wrote about Fast Food long before I started working at a fitness company. Between June ’10 and December ’10, I ate fast food approximately once per week, as I was writing about one column per week. And in that time period, I gained weight. In January ’11, I started writing around twice per week for Serious Eats, and thus eating fast food twice per week. And my weight went down. Why? I paid very close attention to what I was eating the other 90% of the time.
In the half year from June ’10 to December ’10, I became much more involved with Serious Eats. I attended review dinners, I visited their offices, and I was the recipient of many doggie bags. Consequently, a large percentage of the food I ate came from restaurants — generally very rich food — and it was primarily free. That took me to a point where I was the heaviest that I’d been in my entire life. From January ’11 to May ’11, I almost doubled up on fast food, writing two columns per week. But, I cut out things I used to eat and drink: Oreos, BBQ ribs, Hamburgers, and Miller High Life. I added in Spinach, Tofu, Chickpeas, and a lot of salad.
I don’t pretend that Fast Food is healthy. In fact, I know it’s not, and I know why it’s not. But I am a pragmatist. It’s there, and we eat it. Some of us eat too much fast food, and ought to reduce that amount. Some of us eat a harmless amount of fast food, and a harmful amount of other rich foods that don’t carry the same negative stigma.
Yes it is a hypothesis. I haven’t done nearly enough research. But, my diet experience made made me think that fast food becomes a scapegoat for deeper, systematic issues with the American Diet, and that notion prompted me to want to work in the health and fitness sphere.