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Celeb chef's new recipe for success:
Healthy fast casual
Kimberley Bainbridge
April 10, 2015 CNBC.com
The number of fast-casual restaurants has skyrocketed since 2009—it's the only niche in the
restaurant sector that's shown any growth—and that has led to some big public offerings, from
Chipotle to Shake Shack. But critics contend that today's fast-casual boom still lacks one key
ingredient: health.
Franklin Becker, fine-dining veteran and celebrity chef, is aiming to change that. Becker has
added fast-casual chain entrepreneur to his résumé and has teamed up with a New York City
fast-food power broker Aurify Brands (Five Guys, Dunkin' Donuts and Melt Shop). Together,
they plan to make The Little Beet the next fast-casual boom recipe, focused not just on better
ingredients but overall better human health.
Source: Little Beet
The Little Beet, a fast-casual restaurant in New York City
"America is in the beginning phases of a revolution," said Becker. "No longer are we looking for
mass-produced foods. We are looking towards a healthier lifestyle. In our schools, in our
workplaces and at home, everyone is more aware of what they eat."
A recent New York Times analysis of Chipotle's menu revealed sodium levels that would make
undergrads surviving on ramen noodles and Kraft mac seem to be leading as healthy a lifestyle
as barbacoa burrito salad fans. The average meal at Chipotle has more than 1,000 calories, "a full
day's worth of salt and 75 percent of a full day's worth of saturated fat," the Times reported.
Burgers and fries and caramel shakes speak for their own nutritional content. What
both Chipotle and Shack Shake show is that using good ingredients isn't necessarily a recipe for
a healthy lifestyle as much as partially healthy indulgence.
Now in his mid-forties, Becker is a regular guest on BRAVO's "Top Chef," The Food Network's
"Iron Chef," and various popular morning shows like "TODAY" and "CBS This Morning." As
corporate chef for EMM—a premier restaurant management company that hosts events attended
by celebs from Jay-Z to John Travolta—Becker developed award-winning menu items for
upscale eateries like Abe & Arthur's, CATCH and Lexington Brass. He was executive chef for
fine-dining haunts like Capitale, Brasserie and Trinity at the Tribeca Grand. He received
accolades from the notoriously stringent New Yorker food critic Gael Greene, honorable
mentions from John Mariani (formerly of Esquire) and others.
Backed by Aurify Brands, Becker's new venture, The Little Beet, is a complete departure from
the restaurant investment group's traditional calorie-dense portfolio staples. Though The Little
Beet falls into the fast-casual category, it attempts to differentiate itself from other fast-casual
restaurants by offering consumers "Guiltin' Free" products with their largely gluten-free menu
items.
"It's the first concept that we've developed that is actually healthy," said Aurify CEO John Rigos.
"Five Guys we franchised. Melt Shop [in Manhattan] is artisanal, with great-quality, great-tasting
ingredients. But at The Little Beet, we actually use the vegetables. You can actually taste the
broccoli, cauliflower, string beans. Most times you can't, because they're smothered in sauce."
A plan to "beet" the competition
The Little Beet uses locally sourced ingredients whenever possible. Where a simple chicken
burrito sans sauce, cheese, guacamole and sour cream comes in at 790 calories, and a single
ShackBurger without cheese or fries weighs in at 490 calories, a Little Beet chicken plate with a
side of sweet potatoes is only 470 calories.
In fewer than 18 months, The Little Beet has expanded from one flagship store in Manhattan to
include another location in the affluent suburb of Garden City, Long Island. As executive chef,
Becker has also helped develop The Little Beet brand into a full-service dine-in restaurant called
The Little Beet Table. The Little Beet currently serves about 1,500 people daily and plans to
open seven new locations in the near future, with one opening on West 51st and Park Avenue by
summer 2015, then expand into Washington, D.C.
Becker is moving more aggressively to expand than some of the blockbuster fast-casual chains.
Chipotle waited two years to open its second and third location, and it was three years before
Chipotle opened a fourth location, according to its corporate website.
The Little Beet's business plan is riding the coattails of the fast-casual juggernaut, which partially
explains why Becker is moving swiftly to expand. NPD Group Restaurant analyst Bonnie Riggs
said the restaurant industry was hit hard by the recession in 2009, and the fast-casual sector is the
only niche to have had strong growth year after year. It reached $23.3 billion, as of February, up
10 percent over the year-ago period. Visits to fast casual restaurants increased by 7 percent
compared to a year ago, according to The NPD Group/CREST research unit.
"People like the idea of fresh, quality taste and know it's not necessarily the cheapest, but they
see it as a value," she said. "Cosi closed a few units recently," the analyst said. "Baja Grill had
some challenges. For some stores, traffic is down. But fast casual is giving consumers what they
want for right now," Riggs added.
Source: Little Beet
Franklin Becker, founder and executive chef, The Little Beet