This Week In Foodservice

The editorial team aggregates key industry information and provides brief analysis to help foodservice professionals navigate the data.


A Closer Look at Restaurant Industry Employment, and More Foodservice News

Two chains get new owners, while a new restaurant investment firm emerges with a focus on limited-service concepts. These stories and more This Week in Foodservice.

There’s an old cliché that says all economics are local. While there’s tons of truth in that sentiment, it applies even more to labor in the restaurant industry.

Indeed, few industries were harder hit by the pandemic than the restaurant industry. And as the National Restaurant Association points out, as of February 2023 restaurant industry employment checks in at 0.9% less than its pre-pandemic level set of February 2020, a full three years after the pandemic began. Like so many foodservice-related data points, exactly how this plays out varies by state.

For example, 28 states and the District of Columbia have fewer eating and drinking place jobs than they did in February 2020. Some states have seen the number of foodservice jobs decline by 10%, per the NRA’s data. Conversely, as of February 2023, 22 states had foodservice industry employment greater than was the case in February 2020. Some even have seen eating and drinking place jobs increase by 10% or more.

With the industry focusing so much attention on automation and robotics, why is labor still such an important topic? Several reasons, really. First, labor levels generally connote overall industry health. So, operators continuing to add positions in certain regions indicates those geographic areas are starting to recover. Second, the adoption of automation is not replacing labor, at least not yet. Rather, foodservice labor continues to work side by side with automation-based solutions. This allows operators to make more effective and efficient use of their employees, which is critical when delivering the two traits consumers crave most: convenience and hospitality.

Foodservice News This Week

  • Main Squeeze Juice Co. has acquired Tennessee-based I Love Juice Bar. The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed. The two companies will merge under the Main Squeeze Juice Co. brand name “with the intent of integrating the best of both brands, including the menu items customers love most,” per a release announcing the deal. The rebrand will occur over the coming months. I Love Juice Bar has 23 locations, primarily in Tennessee and Texas. Main Squeeze's 28 locations are in Louisiana, Missouri, Texas, Florida, and Mississippi.
  • Polished casual dining chain Firebirds Wood Fired Grill was acquired by Garnett Station Partners. Terms of the deal were not disclosed. Firebirds has 56 locations spread across 20 states. This is not Garnett’s initial investment in the restaurant industry. The company’s equity portfolio includes such concepts as Fat Tuesday, Kona Ice and Carrol’s Restaurant Group.
  • A new restaurant investment firm intends to acquire limited-service restaurants, per a story in Nation’s Restaurant News. Paramount Restaurant Group is led by childhood friends Jim Greco and Michael Belfonti. Greco is no stranger to the restaurant industry, having previously served as CEO of Sbarro and Bruegger’s. Belfonti is the founder and CEO of Belfonti Companies, a national real estate development group based in Hamden, Conn. The company intends to acquire limited-service restaurants that are “meaningfully differentiated and positioned for growth.”
  • Plant-based fare continues to sprout in some unusual places. Long known for its very meat-centric menu, Fogo de Chao now offers a variety of vegetarian and pescatarian options, Restaurant Dive reports. The chain added such items to help broaden its consumer appeal and to allow guests to further customize their tableside experiences, per the company’s CEO.
  • While many operators continue to explore all-electric kitchens, Burger King is looking to other parts of its business. Specifically, Burger King transitioned 31% of its North American field team fleet to electric vehicles across 16 states. The burger chain set a goal of having 100% EVs by 2030. This move serves as the next step in delivering on multiconcept operator Restaurant Brands International’s, parent company of Burger King, science-based targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2030, versus a 2019 baseline.
  • FAT Brands plans to take its charitable endeavors to the next level. The multiconcept operator has created FAT Brands Foundation to “amplify the existing charitable efforts of its 17-brand portfolio, the foundation will partner with local non-profit organizations in areas in which FAT Brands has a presence to provide essential programs to help families and communities thrive.” Jessica Wiederhorn serves as president of FAT Brands Foundation as well as head of the company’s non-traditional sales and partnerships. The foundation was seeded with a $250,000 donation from FAT Brands.
  • Growth Chains: Focus Brands’ chain Carvel inked a development deal to bring eight units to Houston over the next five years. Wisconsin-based Cousins Subs opened a newly relocated restaurant in Stevens Point. The 2,400 square-foot restaurant features a full-service drive-thru, seating for 42 guests and encompasses the brand’s signature Milwaukee Sub Shop Fast-casual Mexican themed chain Fajita Pete’s inked a development agreement to open four units in the Pittsburgh market. Plans call for the first location to open during the third quarter of 2023. Johnny Rockets plans to open 20 additional franchised restaurant locations in Mexico during the next 10 years. The chain has 25 restaurants throughout the country today. P.F. Chang’s opened a P.F. Chang’s to Go location in New York City’s Midtown West neighborhood. The chain now operates 20 P.F. Chang’s to Go locations system-wide, including 4 in The Big Apple. Salad and Go is poised to open two more units in the Houston market. Shake Shack plans to open its first Canadian location sometime in 2024. Überrito Fresh Mex opened another location in the Houston market.

This Week in Economic News

  • Consumer confidence improved ever so slightly in March, per data from The Conference Board. The organization’s Consumer Confidence Index totaled 104.2 for the month, up from 103.4 in February. The Present Situation Index, which reflects consumers’ assessment of current business and labor market conditions, decreased to 151.1 from 153.0 last month. The Expectations Index, consumers’ short-term outlook for income, business, and labor market conditions, ticked up to 73.0 from 70.4 in February. For 12 of the last 13 months the Expectations Index has been less than 80, a level which often signals a recession within the next year, according to The Conference Board. The cutoff date for the survey was March 20th, about ten days after the bank failures in the United States.
  • Initial jobless claims declined by 1,000 for the week-ending March 18, per the U.S. Department of Labor. The 4-week moving average was 196,250, a decrease of 250 from the previous week's unrevised average of 196,500. Many interpret the continued tight labor market as a sign that the failures of two regional banks and the turbulence of the financial markets are not affecting the economy as this Reuters story explains.
  • Sales of new single‐family houses in February 2023 increased 1.1% compared to January, per the U.S. Census Bureau. While the month-over-month improvement is welcome, February’s sales of 640,000 new homes are still 19% less than the same period from one year ago. Still, this does represent the third consecutive monthly gain in new home sales, per various published reports.
  • Existing home sales increased 14.5% in February, per the National Association of Realtors. This snapped a 12-month slide and represents the largest monthly percentage increase since July 2020, when sales grew by 22.4%. Compared to one year ago, though, sales retreated 22.6%. The median existing-home sales price decreased 0.2% from the previous year to $363,000. The inventory of unsold existing homes was unchanged from the prior month at 980,000 at the end of February, or the equivalent of 2.6 months' supply at the current monthly sales pace.
  • New orders for manufactured durable goods declined by 1% in February, per the U.S. Census Bureau. This follows a 5% January decrease. Excluding transportation, new orders were virtually unchanged. Excluding defense, new orders decreased 0.5%.