THE NATIONAL RESTAURANT EXCHANGE

01-26-21

Massachusetts Restaurants Can Stay Open Past 9:30 p.m.

25 percent capacity caps remain in place until at least February 8

The stay-at-home advisory and early business closure order that required restaurants and other businesses in Massachusetts to close by 9:30 p.m. were each lifted at 5 a.m. on Monday, January 25. Under the order, restaurants were allowed to operate for takeout and delivery beyond 9:30 p.m., but were not permitted to remain open for indoor or outdoor dining.

While restaurants and other businesses are no longer beholden to curfews, 25 percent capacity caps remain in place until at least February 8. The same rules apply to restaurants and businesses in Boston. (The city and state have sometimes diverged in their approaches with regard to business guidelines and restrictions during the pandemic.)

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker announced the new guidelines at his January 21 press briefing, and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh followed suit a day later.

In his January 25 press briefing, Gov. Baker said the state is able to continue with its reopening plan because public health data is trending in a positive direction. “We hope to be able to continue the reopening process, but obviously we need to continue seeing positive trends to make that happen,” he said.

According to the state’s COVID-19 dashboard, there are currently 1,946 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in the Commonwealth. 409 patients are in intensive care units, and 286 are intubated. Massachusetts currently has an estimated 91,507 active cases, with a seven day average percent positivity rate of 4.85 percent. According to Gov. Baker, it’s the first time since late November 2020 that the seven day average percent positivity rate has dropped below 5 percent.

Gov. Baker also announced additional vaccination sites, including sites with so-called “mega capacity” in Danvers (opening February 3 at the Double Tree by Hilton; 50 Ferncroft Rd., Danvers, MA 01923), Roxbury (opening the first week of February at the Reggie Lewis Center; 1350 Tremont St., Roxbury, MA 02120), and Springfield (opening January 29 at the Eastfield Mall; 1655 Boston Rd., Springfield, MA 01129).

The state expects to stand up 103 publicly accessible vaccination sites by January 29, with the capacity to administer 242,000 vaccine shots per week. The number of publicly accessible vaccination sites is expected to grow to 165 by the middle of February, with the capacity to administer 305,000 vaccine shots per week.

Gov. Baker and his administration have come under fire recently for the state’s slow vaccine rollout. According to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 vaccine tracker, Massachusetts has only administered about 49 percent of its available vaccine doses, one of the lowest rates in the country. Massachusetts currently lags behind every state in New England and New York in terms of vaccine doses administered per capita.

Phase 2 of the state’s vaccination program is set to begin on February 1. Phase 2 will prioritize individuals who are 75 or older who weren’t already prioritized in Phase 1. Individuals who are 65 or older, and those who have multiple comorbidities that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19, will become eligible for vaccination in the second part of Phase 2, which will begin in late February. Restaurant workers are among the cohort of “other workers” who will become eligible in the third part of Phase 2. The vaccine should roll out to the general public in April.

To find out when and where you can get the COVID-19 vaccine, visit the state’s website here.

• Gov. Baker Removes 9:30 p.m. Curfew on Restaurants [EBOS]
• Mayor Walsh Says State’s New Restaurant Rules Apply to Boston Too [EBOS]
• Mass. Should Be Nailing The Vaccine Rollout. Why Are Most States Ahead Of Us? [WBUR]
• Bloomberg COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker [B]
• Massachusetts Lagging Behind Most Other States in COVID-19 Vaccination Rollout [BG]
• Phase 2 of the Massachusetts Vaccine Rollout Begins Next Week. Here’s Who that Includes. [BOS]

Straddling the invisible line to satisfy the seller’s needs, while appreciating the position of the buyer - 

Why hasn’t my business sold?” For the most part this question is asked not only of restaurant brokers but also of general business brokers, and as well of other commercial brokers.

The scenario is that an owner seeks out, what he feels is a competent professional to help him exit a business that has provided him with the luxuries of success or the pains of failure. In either case, if we take on the responsibility of accepting the listing, we’re promising the seller, and therefore morally obligated, to do everything in our power to extricate the owner from his business with the best price and most favorable terms.

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It’s amazing how many food and beverage businesses dot the landscape. If it’s true that “small business drives our country”, then restaurants are the life-blood of our society. No matter where you go, look to your left, look to your right…convenience stores, liquor stores, fast food, slow food, pubs, full-service, nightclubs, function facilities, ad naseum. Then you can break them down into chains, into ethnic subsets…every downtown, every shopping center, most office complexes. “my God, they’re everywhere.”

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"RESPECT THY NEIGHBOR" "MASK UP" ITS THE LAW"

As of March 1, restaurants in Massachusetts will no longer be subject to percentage-based capacity limits, as the state enters Phase 3, Step 2 of its reopening plan. Gov. Charlie Baker announced the news in his February 25 press briefing. Restaurants will also be allowed to host musical performances.

The course change eases restrictions that were put in place on February 8 that capped restaurant capacities at 40 percent. (Capacities had been capped at 25 percent before that.) Other restrictions will remain in place, including current rules around masking — everyone must wear a mask at all times unless they are in the act of eating or drinking, or unless they are unable to due to a medical condition or disability — and social distancing — all tables must be placed at least six feet apart. All seated table service will still be limited to 90 minutes, and party size will still be capped at six diners.

Baker cited encouraging trends in public health data as well as continued vigilance by residents in the state around masking and social distancing as reasons for dialing back restrictions.

“I think most people remember that in November, in response to an increase in new COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, we implemented a stay-at-home advisory and several closures and restrictions on businesses,” said Baker. “And we understand that all of those closures and restrictions are enormously difficult for businesses and workers. Today, thanks to everyone’s commitment ... to stop the spread, we can move forward with our opening plan.”

The decision marks the third significant easing of restrictions on restaurants and other businesses in the past month. In addition to increasing capacity caps from 25 percent to 40 percent, Baker lifted the state’s stay-at-home advisory and early business closure order that required restaurants to close by 9:30 p.m. (All this despite the fact that restaurant workers still aren’t eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine — and there are still very real risks associated with dining out, the bulk of which are shouldered by, you guessed it, restaurant workers.)

Indoor performance venues (concert halls, theaters, etc.) and recreational facilities (roller skating rinks, for example) will also be permitted to resume operation come March 1. Capacities on those businesses will be capped at 50 percent, with no more than 500 people permitted inside.

Baker also said that, as long as public health data continues to trend in the right direction, the state will enter Phase 4, Step 1 of its reopening plan on March 22. At that point, large venues, stadiums (think Fenway Park and Gillette Stadium), and arenas (TD Garden) — which are all currently closed — will be permitted to reopen at 12 percent of normal capacity.

The vast majority of workers who staff the state’s concert halls, theaters, roller skating rinks, stadiums, and arenas are not yet eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ghost Kitchens: A New Era of Restaurants

Already, an estimated 100,000 virtual kitchen concepts exist on third-party apps.

Aiming to help independent restaurants, Kitchen United offers shared kitchen space, back-of-house labor, and technology that works with delivery providers and ordering platforms.

2-21-21

The pandemic has accelerated delivery trends, as restaurants were forced to comply with occupancy restrictions, limited operations, and in some cases, closed locations. Even before the virus, online delivery trends were revolutionizing the restaurant industry. As a result, restaurants are looking for ways to capture more off-premises business, directing national chains and mom-and-pop restaurants to ghost kitchens.

Recent Popularity

Restaurateurs view ghost kitchens as an incredible value-add that boosts sales and reach. Depending on the company that operates a ghost kitchen, they focus solely on fulfilling online orders and delivery. For the most part, virtual-only restaurants operate out of a space that consists of a single kitchen. Sometimes a restaurant serves an assortment of menus from different brands, but all the food is prepared in the same space.

Ghost kitchens allow restaurants to deliver straight to customers at home that otherwise wouldn’t have the capability. In a sense, the restaurant wouldn’t even have to physically exist so long as a ghost kitchen is licensed with the restaurant brand. Food establishments that had to close during the peak of the pandemic referred to these virtual kitchens as a means to continue sales.

Some Key Players

Already, an estimated 100,000 virtual kitchen concepts exist on third-party apps, according to the CEO of Chowly, Sterling Douglas. These tech-based delivery companies are equipped with valuable data that illustrate popular cuisine and target geographic areas with the most demand, operating similarly to Amazon or Netflix. Here are the key players in the shared kitchen industry.

CloudKitchens

Uber’s former CEO Travis Kalanick started CloudKitchens, which subleases delivery-only kitchens through monthly memberships. This concept avoids the upfront costs associated with equipment, monthly rent, and the lengthy ground-up construction process. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company has been quietly building an empire, buying more than 40 properties across the country over the last two years.

Kitchen United

Aiming to help independent restaurants, Kitchen United offers shared kitchen space, back-of-house labor, and technology that works with delivery providers and ordering platforms. Kitchen United focuses on off-premises sales beyond delivery, so their locations allow customers to pick-up their orders. Garnering a lot of attention even before the pandemic, Kitchen United raised $50 million in investments.

Postmates

New to the ghost kitchen game, Postmates launched its first dark kitchen concept in Los Angeles. Their model assembles a three-way partnership between top-performing food brands, caterers, and its marketplace. Postmates is responsible for hiring employees, managing inventory from the brand’s suppliers, operating the business, and the kitchen, while the brands receive a royalty of its sales. Postmates’ fast-track momentum and penetration in the virtual kitchen market has garnered so much interest that Uber bought Postmates for $2.65 billion in late 2020.

DoorDash Kitchens

DoorDash Kitchens debuted in the Bay Area in 2019 and operated out of a facility as a third-party deliverer. As the largest delivery provider in the U.S., it naturally transitioned into the virtual restaurant space. Pick-up options extended to 13 suburban markets and allow customers to mix-and-match menu offerings from different brands. Their goal is to help food merchants discover effective ways to reach customers more efficiently. DoorDash is responsible for logistics, marketing, and delivery.

Advantages & Disadvantages

Advantages

Pseudo-branding: Operating under a different brand allows established food brands the opportunity to test new menu offerings and entrepreneurs to focus solely on the food.

Lower overhead costs: Ghost kitchens typically charge a monthly membership fee or rent to utilize their equipment and services.

Optimized space: Ghost kitchens are often around 200 to 300 square feet or less and utilize employees more efficiently through optimized kitchen workflows.

Disadvantages

Misleading customers: Some customers expressed their shock in discovering that big-name chains owned the no-name mom-and-pop restaurants they were ordering from. 

Data-driven insights: While this is advantageous for tech companies, as they are given the upper hand with algorithms and data, it could lead to undercutting prices to fight off the competition.

High tenant turnover: While virtual-only restaurants boast affordable rental costs for their services and equipment, the brand is charged around $250,000 and would need to generate at least $650,000 to break even.

Outlook for Ghost Kitchens

Ghost kitchens were initially viewed as a short-lived trend when first introduced, but they are likely part of the post-pandemic life and beyond with the new demand for delivery. As consumers shift priorities to accommodate the new norm, foodservice operators turn to new revenue sources, such as delivery-only concepts. Ghost kitchens are helping revive the restaurant industry in navigating new consumer preferences that include delivery logistics, technology, and branding. Dark kitchens will affect how restaurants operate, redefine the leasing environment, and refresh restaurant concepts.

01-29-21

Historic Bianchi’s Pizza Will Return to Revere Beach (Again) This Spring

The pizzeria closed its original location in 2018, but remained in operation at nearby Renzo Pizzeria through November 2020

A beloved Revere Beach pizzeria that closed its original location in 2018, relocated and reopened, and then closed again in 2020, is reopening yet again, this time on a permanent basis. Bianchi’s Pizza will reopen sometime this spring at 381 Revere Beach Blvd., in the space formerly occupied by Renzo Pizzeria (and, for a time, Bianchi’s Pizza itself). The restaurant recently announced the news on Facebook.

“Construction has already begun,” the post states. “We don’t have an exact date yet but when we do you’ll see it here.”

According to the post, Bianchi’s will be operated by the same owners, and will be making the same pizza (in the same ovens) Revere residents and Revere Beach tourists have grown to love over the years. Bianchi’s first opened its doors in the early 1950s, and has been operated by the Bianchi family ever since.

Bianchi’s existence was initially thrown into question in early 2018 after the Revere city council approved a special permit for the development of a 145-unit apartment complex at 320-327 Revere Beach Blvd. Before construction could begin, several buildings would need to be demolished, including the building that housed the historic pizzeria. It was unclear at the time if Bianchi’s would close for good, close for a little while and reopen somewhere else, or close for a little while and reopen on the ground level of one of the newly constructed buildings.

Owner Robert Bianchi told the Boston Globe at the time that the planned restaurant space on the ground floor of the new building at 320-327 Revere Beach Blvd. could become the new permanent home of his shop, but the lease, timeline, and other details were still unsettled.

Robert Bianchi’s uncle Anthony Bianchi opened the pizzeria when he was just 17 years old. Robert Bianchi told the Globe in 2018 that he’d “hate to lose it, especially on my watch.”

Bianchi’s eventually moved its operation into nearby Renzo Pizzeria. The agreement was supposed to be temporary, but Bianchi’s remained open inside Renzo Pizzeria until November 2020. Renzo Pizzeria has since shuttered, and Bianchi’s Pizzeria will return in its place. Alas, Bianchi’s is not lost after all.

• Bianchi’s Pizza Closed Its Doors Over the Weekend [EBOS]
• Bianchi’s Pizza Says Farewell to the Renzo’s Space at Revere Beach [BRT]
• Bianchi’s Pizza to Reopen in the Former Renzo’s Space at Revere Beach [BRT]
• Council Approves Special Permit for Beach Development [RJ]
• No One Seems to Be Sure What Will Become of Bianchi’s Pizza [EBOS]
• Bianchi’s Pizza Uprooted by New Revere Beach Apartments [BG]

02-04-21

The pandemic has been a boom time for pizza sales. Consumers stuck at home hungered for delivery-friendly comfort food, and pizza is right on the mark. Plus, it’s easy to share, offering great value as a family meal.

 

Pizza has been the staple of profitability, ease of management, and the easiest to grow volume. Few operators net less than $100,000 per year with $200,000/yr easily attainable.

 

But according to Technomic Ignite  consumer brand metrics data, certain chains did a better job than others in creating a craveable pie. In data collected from July to December, consumers chose these 10 chain pizzas as their top picks. Here’s why.

 

 Marco’s Pizza

Pies from Marco’s Pizza scored high for craveability by 48.6% of consumers surveyed. Respondents liked the flavor and style of this pie, and the wide choice of toppings—ranging from a garlicky, cheesy white pizza to chicken and pepperoni with several different types of pepperoni. Another fan pointed out that “the portion sizes are great when feeding a family of five.”

 

Photo courtesy of MOD Pizza

 

MOD Pizza

This concept was rated as the having the most craveable pizza by 49.2% of consumers. “An extra thin crust with all the toppings I crave,” was the reason given by one respondent. MOD’s crust earned praise from several consumers for its quality and brick oven bake. The menu also offers options for custom pies, gluten-free crusts and vegan toppings, a perk that consumers appreciated.

 

Pizza Hut

Veteran chain Pizza Hut was preferred by 50.1% of those surveyed. Hearty eaters seem to gravitate toward these pies, as the meat lovers’ pizza, cheeseburger pizza and stuffed crust pie were cited for their craveability and “right price.” The heart-shaped pizza was also a favorite. 

 

Photo courtesy of Godfather's Pizza

 

Godfather’s Pizza

The unique flavor of this pie was the reason 52.1% of consumers gave for choosing Godfather’s Pizza. Comments also pointed out the craveability of the special sauce mix and the meaty toppings, which include barbecue chicken, sausage, hamburger and bacon cheeseburger. One respondent said “their sausage pizza is the absolute best of anybody. I wanted their pizza for my 60th birthday and it did not disappoint.”

 

Sbarro

Almost 56% of consumers—55.9% to be exact—crave Sbarro pizza. “Their pizza has a different taste than other pizzas,” said one of the fans, while several liked the “New York-style” of Sbarro’s pizza. The chain also offers a personal cheese pizza and stuffed pizza, which appealed to others in the survey.

 

Cicis

Cici’s pizzas got high marks from 57.1% of consumers. Craveability was linked to the chain’s unusual toppings, such as honey barbecue, Buffalo spicy chicken, taco and spinach Alfredo. “I’m not aware of any other restaurant with an Alfredo pizza,” commented one respondent. 

 

Uno Chicago Pizzeria & Grill

Deep-dish specialist Uno was a favorite of 58.1% of consumers surveyed. People liked the “real Chicago pizza” generously filled with toppings. Deep dish pizzas that stood out as particularly craveable include potato skin, pesto, sausage and cheese and chicken with extra cheese, meatballs and peppers—the latter a pie “I can only get at this restaurant,” said one consumer.

 

Papa Murphy’s

Take-and-bake chain Papa Murphy’s was the most craveable choice of 58.4% of survey respondents. Consumers liked the build-your-own pizza format and the gluten-free crusts, which one respondent said “are among the best I’ve had at any of the places I have tried.” They were also drawn to the topping options, which include garlic sauce, veggies, a three-cheese blend and chicken-bacon-artichoke. 

 

Photo courtesy of Mellow Mushroom

 

Mellow Mushroom

While purists may prefer a simple pizza topped with cheese and sauce, fans of Mellow Mushroom find its out-of-the-box toppings very craveable; the chain was the pick of 59.4% of consumers. “Special pizzas with toppings not available at other restaurants” is a draw for Mellow Mushroom, as are the “gourmet toppings like caramelized onions, feta cheese and portobello mushrooms.” Consumers also go for the quirky names, such as Thai Dye pizza, Kosmic Karma and Holy Shiitake.  

 

Jet’s Pizza

Coming in at first place is Jet’s, the most craveable pizza in the opinion of 61% of survey respondents. Jet’s differentiates its menu with square Detroit-style pizzas, and consumers find the thicker, crunchy crust especially craveworthy. “The crust is the best part, and they make pizzas specifically so you can get more crust,” said one fan. The chain offers a four- and an eight-corner pizza that provides extra crust with each bite. The toppings were also singled out, particularly the barbecue chicken, pepperoni and pineapple.

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