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Marilyn Odesser-Torpey

Top 100 Independents: The Mid-Atlantic

GraffiatoRichmond, VirginiaChef de Cuisine Matthew Robinett delivers Italian-inspired small plates with a Southern flair, in this upscale take on casual, hip dining, housed in a historic building with massive windows lining the dining room—a legacy item from the early 20th- century furniture showroom that was the original tenant.

Top 100 Independents: The Northeast

Abe FisherPhiladelphiaThe restaurant is known for its contemporary Jewish cuisine like the Montreal-spiced, smoked short rib with house-made rye and mustards.Opened ∕ August 2014Projected Annual Sales ∕ Over $2 millionAverage Check ∕ $55Owners ∕ Mike Solomonov and Steve CookTownsendPhiladelphiaLocated in a historic row house, this French fine-dining restaurant is known for its updated classics like Rabbit Pot au Feu, as well as its modern selections—Escargot with Fiddlehead Ferns, Bacon, Sherry and Crème Fraiche.

From Pawn Shop to Fine Dining

The exterior signage of restaurant Gold Cash Gold, including the name plastered above the door, is a cheeky reminder of the building’s days as a pawnshop. Now home to an eponymous restaurant that opened in December, the circa-1890 building in the Corktown neighborhood just west of downtown Detroit went from pawn shop to locally sourced, modern American dining spot in about 12 months.

Chicago Hot Spots

If there was ever any doubt about Chicago's clout as one of the top food cities, the decision by the James Beard Foundation to move the annual awards celebration to the Windy City this year dispelled those questions.

Spiked with Flavor, Not Alcohol

Vinegar might not be the first liquid that comes to mind when selecting a refreshing spring or summer drink. Yet house-made drinking vinegars with macerated fruit and sugar, more commonly known as shrubs, are among the craft beverages featured on the menus of a growing number of full-service restaurants, according to research from Datassential.

Taking Up the Family Business

For many people in and around Bettendorf, Iowa, enjoying a traditional family meal doesn’t mean gathering around the table in their own homes. It means going to Ross’ Restaurant, a local landmark that has been owned and operated by the same family for 74 years.

Welcome to the South

Southern beverages and flavors dominated menus in 2014: quick serves latched onto the iced tea craze, incorporating Southern-inspired flavors such as peach, while brands like Red Robin reached for Kentucky’s Jim Beam Maple Bourbon to whip up a boozy shake.

Garnishes Go Glamorous

Lemon wedges, orange wheels, olives, cherries, and tiny umbrellas—these are the go-to garnishes that adorned cocktails for decades. But inventive restaurants are moving way past the proverbial pink parasol, reaching for bold and unexpected accompaniments to turn basic potables into glamorous drama queens.

A Neighborly Approach

Bar Louie
FRANCHISE FEE $50,000 per arrangement
ROYALTY FEE
6 percent
MARKETING FEE
1-3 percent
MINIMUM NET WORTH
$3 million
LIQUID ASSETS
$1 million
AVERAGE ROI
2.5 years
AVERAGE UNIT VOLUME

On Top of Takeout

Nine out of 10 Americans order takeout at least once a month, and 51 percent do so once a week or more often, according to “The Takeout & Off-Premise Dining Consumer Trend Report” published in 2013 by Chicago-based Technomic research company.

Social Reform

Social media contests may be all fun and games for consumers, but they have proved to be serious business strategies for The Melting Pot and Mellow Mushroom.When fondue favorite The Melting Pot changed the pricing structure on its menu after more than three decades, it was a big deal that called for a big promotion.

Million-Dollar Paybacks

Many operators look at a shuttered restaurant and see a doomed site. But for The Greene Turtle Sports Bar & Grille, converting vacant former restaurants has resulted in locations with sales trending more than a million dollars over the system average.

Beefing Up the Midday Meal

Those lavish expense accounts that supported multi-hour, three-martini lunches in former decades won’t make a comeback any time soon, but two of the nation’s prominent steakhouse chains are banking on Americans’ desire to beef up their midday meal.