The Cheesecake Factory indulging health trends

by Monica Watrous    View Me on Google+
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The Cheesecake Factory added a fresh kale salad to its menu of lower-calorie options.

NEW YORK — In spite of its name, The Cheesecake Factory sees a rich opportunity in offering low-calorie items. The Calabasas Hills, Calif.-based casual dining chain recently added entrees with kale, quinoa and beets to the menu.

“I think we pride ourselves on being something to everyone,” said Doug Benn, executive vice-president and chief financial officer, during a June 10 presentation at the Piper Jaffray Consumer Conference in New York. “If you want to eat indulgently, you can do that at our restaurants. If you want to eat ethnic food, you can do that at our restaurant. We have a gluten-free menu so you can be gluten-free. Or you can order off the SkinnyLicious menu, which by the way is done very much in Cheesecake Factory style.”

Of the more than 200 menu items, approximately 50 SkinnyLicious offerings contain 590 calories or fewer. Options include flatbreads, burgers, salads, pasta, seafood and Mexican dishes. The chain also offers a low-carb cheesecake sweetened with Splenda with an optional topping of fresh strawberries.

“We’ve put on kale and quinoa and beets and things that are just becoming popular but are looked at as being very healthy,” said David Overton, chairman and chief executive officer. “There are really some very delicious salads that we’ve come up with that. So, we’re not falling behind with the trends, and especially with health. I think that’s probably the biggest trend going forward is healthy eating, and certainly we are not going to fall behind there.”

Still, the chain remains true to its namesake indulgence.

“You know, the heart and soul of our business is the gut that we have had for all these years,” Mr. Overton said. “Not everybody is on a diet. Not everybody wants to eat kale. I know I hate kale. I’m not so fond of quinoa, either. … Having said that, there will be something for everyone. And in terms of where the food comes from and preservatives and this and that, we will do our best to get rid of all those things. So, everything will be healthy, but yes, we are going to have a lot of fattening things for a long time.”

Technology represents another important trend for The Cheesecake Factory, which said it is exploring pay-at-the-table options as well as paging customers with a text message when their table is available. While the company is looking at ways to enhance guest-facing technology, tabletop ordering is not on tap for the chain.

“We don’t think that’s right for us,” Mr. Overton said. “We don’t want them playing games. I think that’s right for fast casual and certain restaurants. … But we want to make sure that our guests have a very comfortable dinner without a lot of stuff thrown at them that they have to do.”

But at the center of The Cheesecake Factory’s business strategy lies expansion, both domestically and internationally. The company has four restaurants in three Middle Eastern countries under a licensing agreement and expects to open three to four locations in Mexico and the Middle East in the coming months. Over the next 10 years, The Cheesecake Factory said it will add a minimum of 10 restaurants in Hong Kong, China, Macau and Taiwan through another licensing agreement. The company operates 181 restaurants throughout the United States and Puerto Rico, including 169 restaurants under The Cheesecake Factory mark; 11 Grand Lux Cafe restaurants, and one RockSugar Pan Asian Kitchen restaurant.

“Our opportunity to grow our restaurants domestically and how well the most recent restaurants over the last three to four years have done domestically shows that the power of the brand is still very strong and people in Knoxville, in Detroit, in Puerto Rico, they line up outside,” Mr. Benn said. “I don't know who gets in line at 10:00 in the morning to wait for a restaurant to open at 11:30, but they do in our restaurant. And then the international opportunity; it’s immense. I don’t know what the total opportunity is but the international opportunity is something that we are very excited about.”
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READER COMMENTS (1)

By Patricia Jackson 6/23/2014 10:40:01 AM
What about gluten-free options? If only salads, are the dressings gluten-free? There is nothing more discouraging than going out with friends and finding you can only eat a salad with no dressing!!!