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Posts from the ‘Corporate Culture’ Category

Chains of Love: Who Needs Tinder When You’ve Got Olive Garden?

So, Olive Garden has decided to get into dating advice because millennials. Just #AskAlfredo and you shall receive.

The real question, though, is who am I going to coerce into a date at Olive Garden before the Never Ending Pasta Bowl offer disappears this year?

Two’s a Trend: Guacamole

Avocado toast’s trickle down effect appears to guacamole appearing at non-Mexican-ish chain restaurants (Taco Bell has long served avocados blended with water, tomato, onion, jalapeño, salt, cilantro, lemon juice, ascorbic or erythorbic acid, xanthan gum, and sodium alginate) as if this exotic import just arrived in America circa 2015.

Ok, I’ve only seen two commercials in two days. That’s evidence enough by today’s standards. No, really, it is–USA Today wrote about guacamole going “mainstream” based on these two new product introductions.


Dunkin’ Donuts:

Bonus USA Today content because it’s Cinco de Mayo: get Chipotle’s (pronounced Chipoltay according to the millennial platform producer/journalist voicing the video) never-revealed-before guacamole recipe.

Now That’s a Sizzle Reel

This promotional Sizzler video from 1991 has been making the rounds the past few days (even the New York Post has gotten into the act) and has ended up on my timeline enough that it needs a dedicated blog post even if only to say: yes, here it is. I think this is called bearing witness.

What nerve is this creation, coated in a naturally occurring Adult Swim sensibility, touching/soothing/stimulating? It’s the naked 1991-ness at work.

I can’t say this was my 1991. It probably wasn’t anyone’s except for the sea captain, lip-licker, brick phone-gabber and the couple toasting with a carafe of Chardonnay (or was that White Zinfandel?).  I appreciate how it captures those cusp years where the softer pastels and country quilt fonts of the 1980s have yet to give way to the dressed-down yet more exxxtreme ’90s. (That tweener quality is one of the reasons I believe The Americans is so good.) You don’t know what this still newish decade is going to be yet. This tame Sizzler commercial feels more ’90s, which probably means that is from 2002.

We’re smack in the middle of the 2010s, and I still don’t know what to make of them. All I know is that I would like to be the go to person for all things Sizzler. Please think of me in the future for any Sizzler-related needs.

Counting down the days til we get an oral history of the making of the 1991 Sizzler promo…

Would You Rather? Boutique Edition

Shop at a Club Monaco inside of Noma that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?


Drink Rwandan coffee at the TOMS cafe opening in Nolita this week that looks like an Urban Outfitters in Williamsburg?

My Only Nod to Super Bowl

Seahawks Frappachino anyone? #Seattle #seahawks #football #SuperBowl #starbucks #frappachino #yum #love

A photo posted by Kate Johnson (@kakelynsunshine) on

I have no horse (or bird or patriotic person) in this race, I just like making snacks, drinking a lot of beer and watching TV with friends.

And I always will love a nice limited edition food item in an atypical color…so, I’m feeling this blueberry blue (lavender, really) and green Seahawks Frappuccino from Starbucks. Matcha whipped cream? So on trend.

This seems like a missed opportunity for Dunkin’ Donuts, no?

(As an aside, people assume that because I’m a Northwesterner inside that I’m a Seahawks fan, but no. Portland and Seattle are very different cities, and pro sports were no part of my upbringing.)

Newborn: Red Velvet Oreos

red velvet oreos

Like Argentina’s dulce de leche Oreos or China’s green tea localization, Oreo’s newest domestic flavor couldn’t be more quintessentially American. Yes, that would be red velvet.

Unlike the pumpkin spice and caramel apple limited editions released in fall, this special has one unique claim and that’s that the cookie itself is new, not just a reworking of the traditional or Golden Oreo with different fillings.

How does it taste? The stuffing, meant to resemble cream cheese frosting, is the most noticeable difference. It’s good, a little cupcakey, and not overpowering. Chocolate is chocolate, though, and isn’t red velvet just dyed devil’s food? I haven’t eaten a standard Oreo in some time, so I would have to taste the old and the new side by side for comparison. I could’ve been imagining a lighter, more cocoa powdery flavor with the red velvet simply because of the color.

And frankly, it’s the color that gets me. I’ll try anything rebooted into an unnatural shade.

You’ll be able to judge for yourself when these become widely available February 2. (And yes, this was a freebie.)


The First Rule of Neverending Pasta Bowl Is: You Do Not Talk About Neverending Pasta Bowl

“Why?” I was asked on Facebook where all great questions originate. Well, because the Neverending Pasta Bowl has become a tradition, one I must heed despite little interest in flour and water formed into shapes, reconstituted (in unsalted water, of course) and coated in thick tomato sauces during my day-to-day life.

Pizzas may continue being overstuffed, or rather, turned into full-course meals, and burgers may blacken and pinken, yet some things stay staunchly the same. With the fate of autumn novelty, the McRib, up in the air this year, at least you can count on Olive Garden offering all-you-can-eat pasta for a price that still starts a penny shy of $10 some time toward the end of summer, usually August–this year it fell unusually late (and lasts through November 9).

olive garden nepb receipt

Each of my experiences have gotten progressively weirder. I’m not really sure what the promotion costs in reality, despite scrutinizing the receipt. Small print on the website threatens the usual higher prices may apply in NYC garbage, but the base price appears to be $9.99 like anywhere else. As in previous jaunts, if you live in NYC the only clue that this deal exists may be if you catch a commercial on TV. There are no menu inserts or advertisements, no lent cheat sheet as in years past, just a quick verbal description with no prices given.

I suppose one could follow Olive Garden’s millennial-baiting Twitter account for NEPB alerts. Weird Corporate Twitter has become the social media standard. The newish website is designed in that tiled Pinterest style with links to things young people care about like “culinary innovation” and “nutrition,” the redesigned logo curling like reassuring text on the packaging of an eco-friendly feminine hygiene product.

The thing is, the restaurant had no wifi, which won’t do for its intended demographic. I couldn’t even get a signal on my own, and I desperately wanted to Instagram the shit out of my progressing bowls (and ultimately typed bowel later while hastily trying to upload a picture before Gone Girl started because my biggest fear is becoming a during-movie texter, followed by an on-plane barefooter) and ping the brand for attention, but obviously no hashtags were displayed on signage because this NEPB is a stealth campaign of the highest order.

And the plan worked. Not a single diner in the eerie side room that was initially uninhabited, neither the young boy with a father who only ate a bowl of soup, the obvious tourist family of four, the solo lady who gave me faith, nor the girls’ night out crew, was partaking in the deal, and not out of any sense of dignity, I like to believe.

Olive Garden finally convinced me to spring for an extra topping because for the first time in history it wasn’t all sausage or meatballs, but also shrimp fritta a.k.a. breaded, fried shrimp ($4.99 surcharge). Every year two new sauces are introduced, and for 2014 that would be Spicy Three Meat (anyone’s guess which three) and Roasted Mushroom Alfredo, which I only know because of the very informative website. These too, come at a price in select locations. Maybe a dollar in Chelsea? Maybe someone would tell you if you asked? I’m not convinced anyone would know.

olive garden nevereding pasta bowl roasted mushroom alfredo

Cream sauce, penne and fried seafood? Yes, one bowl is plenty.

olive garden nevereding pasta bowl spicy three meat sauce

Bowl two is the size bowl one should probably be but would break the convivial spirit of NEPB. Scale is hard to parse–this meat sundae is roughly the serving of one generous scoop of ice cream.

olive garden black tie mousse cake

Bowl three was forgone in favor of shared chocolate cake. Black Tie Mousse Cake, to be precise, which frankly doesn’t scream young and fresh at all and sounds like something from The Silver Palate Cookbook. If I were an 18-to-34-year-old I would’ve obviously ordered the “dolcini” because small desserts for sharing and health is where it’s at now.

Brace For Bhut Jolokia Mayo

There’s no doubt that Americans are increasingly into spicy food. Look no further than the mainstreaming of Sriracha and chipotle everything. How many decades has that stat about salsa outselling ketchup been floating around?

Food service research firm Technomic solidifies this with figures showing that last year the number of Americans who prefer their food “very spicy” tipped over to the majority (54%) for the first time.

The Wall Street Journal provides some examples of packaged food brands getting into the spicy food game like Kraft going beyond pepperjack with Hot Habenero cheese and Bumble Bee adding jalapeños to its gourmet line of canned tuna, but the premise that spicy food creates loyalty is sort of bizarre (as is lumping in Cracked Dijon Mustard Ball Park hot dogs when really the story is about heat, not strong flavors).

I did learn one thing, and it’s that young people and Latinos aren’t the only ones to blame in this crusade against blandness. Old folks and their deadening taste buds must also take some responsibility.

Save Your Brioche Buns and Asiago Cheese For Someone Who Cares

Restaurants can try wooing diners all they like with exquisite millennial buns, Satisfries and Italiano burgers, but according to research firm NPD only 30% of Americans ordered a new-to-them item on their last restaurant visit. And among that group, 73% of the never-tried foods were already on the menu, neither new nor  limited-time promotions. One can only wonder how that new and scary pizza by the slice thing will work out for Pizza Hut.

You Won’t Believe the 11 Things That Only Olive Garden-Lovers Will Understand

It was disappointing to see that BuzzFeed Business covered the possible Darden splitting of Red Lobster and Olive Garden without a single animated gif or numbered list. The summary of a Barrington Capital presentation, titled simply “What Went Wrong For Olive Garden And Red Lobster,” pretty much reproduced screenshots.

red lobster escalator

What I can’t understand is how there is not a single Olive Garden in the UAE (bear with me, I’m going to be talking about Dubai until I get it out of my system) while Red Lobster is rampant. Pasta? Cheese? Breadsticks? Everyone except the gluten-avoidant can eat it.

eataly dubai mall

It’s not as if locals eschew Italian food. The Dubai Mall houses a newly opened Eataly that sells no wine and has some pretty lame salumi. If you don’t like bresaola, you’re out of luck.

chicken mortadella mexican la fontaine

Mortadella is also not what it seems.

texas roadhouse dubai

Also, Texas Roadhouse serves veal ribs, which doesn’t seem right. There appears to be an interest in American-style barbecue, despite the baby back conundrum. Chili’s uses beef with the bastardized tagline, “I want my BBQ ribs.”


The oddity is Claw BBQ, a relatively new homegrown pork-licensed restaurant that appears to sell pulled pork, Kansas-style ribs and is hyper-conscientious about keeping the pork confined.

cafe habana dubai

Claw also just got a liquor license. Sadly, too late for me. I had a pretty bad over-priced Hemingway Daquiri at the same shopping complex’s Cafe Habana, the NYC chainlet inspired by a Mexico City Cafe. Now in Dubai (obviously).