By Flavor & The Menu
July 20, 2021
In an ideal world, our editorial team could sit across from our readers and, over a good cup of coffee, discuss topics from the latest issue. We’ve distilled that ideal scenario into a more practical format, where Katie Ayoub, managing editor of Flavor & The Menu, asks one reader to filter a few of the topics explored in the pages of the magazine through their brand’s perspective.
We’re thrilled to kick off this new department with Robert Okura, VP of Culinary Development and Corporate Executive Chef of The Cheesecake Factory, Inc., which includes both The Cheesecake Factory and The Grand Lux Café. Okura’s career includes more than 30 years helming a brand that successfully executes around 250 menu items across 220 locations, offering that impressive variety to a devoted customer base. Our “conversation over coffee” homed in on three themes: burgers, salads and carriers.
KA: We pinpointed three categories in the burger universe where we’re seeing exciting menu play: sliders, stuffed burgers and smashed burgers. How do burgers fit into the menu mix at Cheesecake?
RO: Last month, we sold over 600,000 various burgers across the country. So, we do well with burgers, and they’re not the cheapest thing on our menu. We run 10 burgers on the menu if we count the Impossible Burger.
KA: George Motz, an authority on burgers, says Cheesecake is one of the few places in the country that serves authentic sliders. Tell me about the success of the Roadside Sliders.
RO: We’ve had sliders on our menu probably from the beginning, and the restaurant’s been up and running for 40 years. They’re not mini burgers. Sliders are supposed to be prepared like a smash burger: You top mini portions of the meat with shaved onions, salt and pepper, and you literally smash them onto the grill. Our guests love them.
KA: There’s a lot happening in the salad category: smashed cucumber salads, creative plant-forward builds and so on. What is Cheesecake doing in this space?
RO: We sold close to half a million salads last month—our guests have their long-time favorites, like the Chinese, the Santa Fe and the Barbecue Chicken. Our Vegan Cobb is the newest edition and was a surprising hit to me. It’s super popular with a select group of our guests. Interestingly, we probably sell more of those Vegan Cobbs with guests adding protein to them, like chicken, salmon or shrimp, so the salad doesn’t stay vegan, but it’s totally delicious.
KA: Have you developed anything recently using a global carrier?
RO: We are introducing a bao bun, featuring it two ways. We have a traditional pork belly bun with a spicy Korean accent of gochujang, but you know, we’re in Middle America, so we also came up with a Fried Chicken Bao. They both turned out great.