Monday, September 29, 2008

Meatloaf – An American Institution

It’s almost October, which means that for the past couple of months, I’ve been busy perfecting our new fall specials. One of our new features is the “Mile-High Meatloaf,” and I thought a little background on the history of meatloaf would be in order.

Nobody knows exactly when meatloaf was first created. Early records show that for centuries, cooks would mince already-cooked meat by hand and re-form it into molds. Some even believe that meatloaf has its origin in scrapple, a mixture of ground pork and cornmeal served by German-Americans in Pennsylvania since Colonial times.

But it wasn’t until the Great Depression and World War II that the American public began incorporating ground meat into family meals on a widespread basis. It was critical for families to stretch food dollars as much as possible. Using an inexpensive ground meat and throwing in leftovers and other less-than-fancy ingredients along with a few spices gave cooks a way to use up things that might otherwise go to waste. This is the reason we all feel that our mom’s meatloaf is the best. There are as many different variations as there are families and generations.

Today, many hail meatloaf as the ultimate comfort food. Because of its appeal as a traditional family dinner, Americans are ordering meatloaf at restaurants in record numbers. For that reason, I invite you to try our Mile-High Meatloaf. We’ll fill your need for comfort food with four slices of our private recipe meatloaf served over a grilled slice of homemade Italian bread. To make it a Mile-High, we top it with two large scoops of fluffy mashed potatoes, savory beef gravy and crisp onion rings. You really have to see it (and eat it) to believe it.

The Mile-High Meatloaf will be featured at Eat’n Park from Monday, September 29th until Wednesday, November 26th. It is a limited time offer, so be sure to stop in and give it a try. Then come on back to the blog and let me know what you think.

Until next time,
Regis Share

Friday, September 26, 2008

Uniontown Eat’n Park Receives Community Choice Awards

Congratulations to General Manager Kim Gunsallus and her team at the Uniontown, PA, Eat’n Park! Thanks to readers of their local newspaper, the Herald Standard, our Uniontown restaurant grabbed top honors in the following categories:

-Best All-Around Restaurant
-Best Breakfast
-Best Brunch
-Best Salad Bar
-Best Health Food Menu
-Best Homemade Desserts

We’re especially proud of the award for “Best Health Food Menu.” We’ve worked hard to make our menu accessible to everyone, including those with special dietary needs like a gluten-free diet. In case you haven’t been in to one of our restaurants lately, throughout our menu, we use our “Eat’n Smart” symbol to denote items that are healthier with less calories, cholesterol, and fat. The back of the menu lists the items on our menu that will fit into celiac, reduced-sodium, and vegetarian diets.

Regardless of diet restrictions, we hope to offer something for everyone, and we want to do it with a smile. Kim and her team are clearly doing that and more for the Uniontown community. Congratulations! Share

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Back to school presents challenges for family meal planning

Some life changes seem to arrive with the seasons. I have two children in grade school, and each September brings the crush of the schedule back into our life from the carefree days of summer. School and homework would be enough, but there is also football, cheerleading, soccer, piano lessons, PTA, etc. When do we eat together?!?!?

Often, this time of year, our options include more takeout. We don’t have time to cook and we don’t have time to sit down someplace, so takeout becomes our cook for the night. At Eat’n Park, we know many families face the same dilemma that mine does during this time of year, so we try to make our takeout satisfying for the whole family. Our menu already offers something for everyone, but we’re always looking for ways to improve our takeout service and food quality.

Our sandwiches and salads travel especially well, but one of our most popular takeout items is the Quart of Soup. We have chili and chicken noodle soup available every day, plus our soup of the day (like my personal favorite, potato soup on Wednesdays and Sundays).

As I mentioned earlier, we’re always striving to improve our takeout experience. So, we’d love it if you’d give our takeout a try, and comment back on this blog with what you liked and what we could do to make it even better. In fact, here’s a coupon for 20% off your next takeout order, valid through October 10, 2008 (click here). I look forward to seeing your comments!

Enjoy,
Kevin
Sr. VP, Marketing Share

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Smoke-free dining is better for our team members

On Thursday, September 11, the state of Pennsylvania is going smoke-free. More than a year ago, on May 31, 2007, we decided to make all of our restaurants smoke-free voluntarily. It wasn’t an easy decision at the time. We knew that many of our guests would love the change, but we also knew that some of our guests who smoke would be disappointed by our decision. We’re in the hospitality business. Trying to make everyone happy is what we do. It’s in our blood! This would be a choice where we would have to make some people happy and others not.

The group that was most important to us in this decision was our team members. The Eat’n Park experience is delivered every day by our more than 8,000 team members. The evidence is pretty clear that working in an environment with second-hand smoke is not good for your health. When the state of PA (Ohio had already gone smoke-free in December 2006) delayed its smoke-free legislation, we felt we couldn’t, in good conscience, continue to ask our team members to work in an environment that we knew to be hazardous to their health.

We have received tremendous positive feedback and support for our decision, and we have never regretted it. Our team members enjoy a healthier work environment, and we have heard from so many families who appreciate a place where they can dine smoke-free.

To thank you for your support, we will be serving FREE Smiley cookies with dinner on Thursday, September 11 (from 5-8 pm). So, stop by your neighborhood Eat'n Park and enjoy a great dinner and a Smiley Cookie on the house!

See you at Eat'n Park,
Kevin
Share

Friday, September 5, 2008

Welcome to our blog

Hello, and welcome to our blog! My name is Jeff Broadhurst, and I am the President and CEO of Eat’n Park. We’re excited about this new feature, and we are hoping that we can connect with you through the blog and incorporate you into the Eat’n Park family.

Obviously, the world we live in is constantly changing. The way we communicate today is far different from the way we did back in 1949 when our company first began, but we’ve always strived to hold on to those personal interactions that are so much a part of our history.

This blog is an extension of that goal. We hope to share a bit of our culture with you through stories, recipes, and other information that we think you’ll enjoy. More importantly, we hope you’ll share with us – we want to answer those questions you’ve always had about Eat’n Park (how did we come up with that name, anyway?) and we want to hear your ideas, feedback, and hopefully, a few compliments too!

You’ll be seeing a variety of topics here, ranging from our sustainability practices to menu development to our restaurant remodels. Some of our most innovative team members will be posting their thoughts, so expect information that you haven’t heard before. Check out the author bios on the right to see who you’ll be hearing from.

So please, take a look and let us know what you think! We’re looking forward to hearing from you and very much appreciate your business.

Keep Smiling,

Jeff

President and CEO Share

Size does matter...for tomatoes

I love tomatoes….nothing speaks local like a great tasting, juicy tomato picked at the height of ripeness!! So, of course we wanted to make sure all of our guests enjoy that home grown favorite. But as you know, these global orbs tend to also come in a variety of sizes and shapes, which makes it difficult to execute for a company with as many locations as we have. We needed to make sure our local farmers could deliver tomatoes that had a consistent size and shape.

So this past winter, with snow still falling and fields still frozen, I got in my car and visited with a few of our farmers. Two of the farmers were in western PA: Art King from Harvest Valley Farms (http://www.harvestvalleyfarms.com/) and Don Brenckle from Brenckle’s Farm and Greenhouses (http://www.brenckle.com/). During this meeting, we talked about the importance of the consistent size and shape of our tomatoes…but we also couldn't lose the fantastic, fresh taste that is the hallmark of a locally produced vegetable. As I sat at the kitchen table at Art’s house and stood in the greenhouse at Don’s, we leafed through numerous seed catalogues to find that seed that would produce the perfect tomato for Eat’n Park.

Since we have restaurants stretching from Ohio through Central PA, it was necessary to partner with a farmer in the East that would be willing to meet these same specifications. The most logical choice was Steve Groff, a farmer that I met 6 years ago at the PASA (http://www.pasafarming.org/) conference in State College, PA. Steve welcomed the business and is now supplying our eastern restaurants with tomatoes from Cedar Meadow Farms (http://www.cedarmeadowfarm.com/) in Holtwood, PA.

What I like best about featuring local tomatoes is freshness of the product. Our tomatoes go from the vine to the plate in our restaurants in less than three days!!! That is the only way to keep the wonderful fresh taste. My only regret is that the season is too short. But don’t fret; I’m working on that…

Jamie
Director of Sourcing & Sustainability Share

The story behind the voice of Eat'n Park

We are very excited to be working with a Pittsburgh-based singer to provide the musical sound of Eat’n Park. Sarah Marince, a Moon Twp., PA resident, is an aspiring country singer. She’s been opening for big name artists, including Taylor Swift, Trisha Yearwood, Kellie Pickler, Julianne Hough, and Reba McEntire, preparing to get her own big break.

Here’s a little history on how we hooked up with Sarah. At the beginning of 2008, we wanted to update our famous “Place for Smiles” jingle with a fresh new voice. We saw Sarah perform at the release party for her new CD and were amazed how young and old gravitated to her sound and her personality. She is truly a great person and it comes across in her performance. Add to that the fact that she has a tremendous voice! We thought she would be the perfect representative for Eat’n Park. We’ve posted the new version of our jingle and a free song from her new CD on our website so that you can hear Sarah yourself. We also recorded a video of Sarah when she was in the studio recording our new jingle. Catch it all at http://www.eatnpark.com/promo.asp

This summer, we wanted to share Sarah’s sound with our guests, so we took her on the road to perform outside various Eat’n Park restaurants. We had a blast and so did our guests. You can check one of Sarah's latest performances below, or see all of our videos here: http://www.eatnpark.com/newsVideo.asp.

We thank Sarah for helping to make Eat’n Park the place for smiles this summer!

Kevin

Senior Vice President, Marketing

video Share

National Hamburger Festival, Part 1: The birth of our award-winning burgers

I’m sure that all of you reading this have ordered hundreds of hamburgers in your lifetime. But did you ever stop to think about where they come from, who comes up with these great flavor combinations, and how do we know which burger out there is really the best one? Well, if those thoughts have been have been weighing on your mind, you’ve come to the right place because I have all those answers and more!

First off, the hamburger ideas normally come from the imagination of the culinary equivalent of a mad scientist. Day after day, I work in our kitchen located in the Waterfront in Homestead, PA, with our manager of menu development, John Frick. We work at combining hundreds of ingredients in an effort to come up with the next big hit. Now and then, the flavors come together and a great taste sensation is created. That is the case with two of our burgers, the Black Angus Superburger and the American Grill.

Now, with all the burgers out there, how are the best burgers chosen? As it turns out, that decision is made in Akron Ohio. Yes, Akron. Ohio. For the past three years, Akron has been the host of the National Hamburger Festival. The festival has become so popular that the Food Channel filmed a half hour feature from there in 2007. So this past July 19th, armed with my two favorite burgers, I traveled to Akron to wow the judges.

I strongly feel that these are two of the best burgers I have ever eaten or created, but each has a very distinct background. The Black Angus Superburger came about partially as the result of a joke: John and I put it together just for the fun of it. We were presenting our new 6 ounce Black Angus patty to the menu development committee. To over-dramatize the size of the burger, I used two of the char-grilled patties on a double-decker bun in place of our classic Superburger patty. The resulting burger was huge. It tasted great. Everyone went wild for it. They loved it so much it went directly to the menu without any testing. That in itself was a first. The Black Angus Superburger has since become one of our most popular selections.

The American Grill was one of the first menu items I developed for Eat’n Park back in 1997. But a little secret - the idea was not completely original. The American Grill is a char-grilled patty served between two grilled slices of yellow egg bread with sautéed dices of green pepper, sweet onion, and button mushrooms, all with a hint of yellow mustard. This burger was first served in my family’s restaurant back in the 70’s under the name “the hamburger special”. How original. It was the number one burger at Holden and Hall’s Pub. I knew that if it was loved there, it would be loved at Eat’n Park, so with a minor change in the bread, it became the American Grill.

Going into the competition, we knew our guests loved our delicious burgers, but would the judges? Find out in my next post....


Regis
Senior Director of Culinary Services Share

National Hamburger Festival, Part 2: Hometown favorites conquer the world

With the National Hamburger Festival approaching quickly, the marketing department decided to enter our Black Angus Superburger in the “Best Traditional Burger” category. But I so love the American Grill that I decided to enter it into the “Best Creative Burger” category.

At an assigned time, three of each burger was to be delivered to the judges’ tent. The Black Angus Superburger was the first up at 11:45 am. I prepared the burgers and rushed them to the judges’ tent in the hopes of keeping them as fresh and hot as possible. I got to the assigned location only to find that the tent had been moved! None of the festival workers could agree as to the new location of the tent. I had to get my entries there hot and I had to get them there on time. Mere minutes later I found the tent, handed over my creations and rushed back to our concession area to prepare the American Grill for the 12:15 judging.

Standing over the hot grill, I quickly found that evenly grilling the egg bread on our rented and hard- to- regulate grills was not going to be an easy task, and I only had enough ingredients to make six American Grills. Three had to be perfect for judging. The patties cooked nicely and the vegetables were sautéed to perfection but the bread for the first two burgers burned almost immediately upon hitting the grill. More stress! Happily, I was able to grill three perfect sets of egg bread for the burgers, assemble them, and get them to the judges’ table right on-time.

My work was done. It was now time to slow down and enjoy the festival. As I walked “hamburger row” with my wife Sarah, I got my first real look at the competition. There were some local favorites like Carvers and Louie’s, but some national competition as well. There was White Castle, Quaker Steak and Lube, Steak ‘n Shake, Fatburger, and Big Boy to name a few. Half way down “hamburger row,” I stopped at a souvenir stand and purchased a National Hamburger Festival hat. I joked with the woman in the stand that if I didn’t win, I was bringing the hat back. Confident in the quality of the burgers I had served, I placed the hat on my head and continued my walk down “hamburger row.”

I am proud to share with you that by the end of the day the Black Angus Superbuger was awarded the second place silver award for the “Best Traditional Burger”. But what I am most proud of is that the old family recipe from The Pub, the American Grill, was awarded the first place gold medal as the “Most Creative Burger.”

I’d like to thank Kevin Wall from our Cuyahoga Falls restaurant for cooking, as well as the rest of our Ohio restaurant team members for their role in our success at the Festival. I am really looking forward to defending our titles in 2009. And I am sure that between now and next July, John and I can come up with another winning flavor combination. In the meantime, stop in at any Eat’n Park, try both of our delicious burgers, and award your own gold medal.

If you would like to learn more about the National Hamburger Festival, please visit
www.hamburgerfestival.com

Until next time,

Regis Share


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