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Behind the Line: Sourcing knowledge
Specialty Restaurants Corp. doubles seafood menu mentions
by Lauren Kramer
April 05, 2012
When David Tallichet founded Specialty Restaurants Corp. (SRC) in 1958, the World War II veteran purchased seafood for his restaurant group much like any other restaurateur at the time — by engaging in bidding wars to get the best price. “There was a lot of pressure back then, and if you weren’t bidding your product out, you probably weren’t getting the best price,” reflects his son, John Tallichet, who became president of the 22-restaurant company in 2002.
Those days are gone, and seafood procurement for the Anaheim, Calif.-based group, which has restaurants in six states including Brady’s Landing in Houston, Templeton Landing in Buffalo, N.Y., Rusty Pelican in Miami and Tampa, Fla., and Guaymas Restaurant in Tiburon, Calif., began changing in 1998.
“Today we rely on our relationship with Santa Monica Seafood and other vendors in each of our markets who understand our specs and the quality we’re looking for,” Tallichet says. “We work together in a partnership and they educate us constantly.”
The reason for the transition to a relationship-based seafood procurement strategy has to do more with knowledge gained from a trusted source, rather than with price, says Andrea Delao, VP of purchasing.
“Our seafood vendors are a tremendous resource for us in terms of finding out which items are sustainable, which are local and what’s in season. They’re out there looking and sourcing it for us, rather than bringing in a haul and giving us whatever they happen to catch that day,” says Delao.
Chefs at SRC restaurants rely on input from their seafood vendors on sustainably harvested species, supplementing that information with input from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program. For the past 18 months the company has placed increased emphasis on sourcing more sustainable species and many of the restaurants feature a sustainable fish special of the day.
Bringing chefs around to the idea of sustainable seafood can be challenging, she adds. There are times, though, when sourcing sustainably harvested seafood hurts the bottom line, particularly when Delao scrutinizes the numbers.
“When we buy sustainable seafood, we have to be careful that it’s not so unaffordable that we end up sitting on beautiful fresh fish but can’t move it because of the price. It’s a balance, a fine line that we have to maintain.”
Sunday is a big day for SRC restaurants, which feature a weekly Sunday brunch with a wide assortment of seafood including oysters, crab legs, salmon and tilapia. Increasingly, Tallichet and his team are finding that guests prefer wild over farmed seafood, particularly in those restaurants with a seafood focus. There’s also an increasing emphasis on sourcing seafood locally than there was two decades ago.
“We purchase 30 percent of our seafood regionally and the rest might come from places like Alaska and Canada,” says Delao. In Florida the company sources local grouper, snapper, yellowtail and sea bass, while halibut, sea bass and swordfish are the local favorites in California.
Seafood consumption at SRC restaurants has doubled in the last 20 years and the company has become increasingly seafood oriented as guests are choosing less meat and opting more for leaner, healthier proteins like fish.
“At one time we were pretty heavy on steaks and menued a variety of different cuts. These days we don’t offer as many different [meat] cuts in our seafood restaurants,” says Tallichet.
All the restaurants host events such as corporate meetings and personal celebrations, which constitute 35 percent of overall business. While the economic recession knocked the company down 10 percent in sales, the event business helped out, Tallichet says. “There’s a lead time in the event business that results in a six- to eight-month delay on whatever we’re feeling in the dining room,” he explains.
Right now, the feeling in the dining room is that sustainable, wild and local seafood is the first choice, despite its price tag.
Contributing Editor Lauren Kramer lives in British Columbia