Keeping Your Franchise Hot During the Winter

Exclusive Insights

Brand Executives share ways to keep guests coming in during winter, regardless of the cold weather. 

By Mary Hanula

As the temperatures continue to drop throughout the winter months, consumers often turn their backs on fresh, light dishes in favor of more hearty, warm and comforting foods. While some restaurant concepts, rooted in fresh summer flavors, might look at this time as the "slow season," others use it as an opportunity for innovation and evolution. 

To learn more, I sat down with executives of two brands leading the way in menu innovation. Kevin Hsu, Co-Founder and CMO at Pokeworks, and Ashley Morris, Owner and CEO of Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop shared valuable insight into each brand’s strategic additions to menus during the winter months to ensure winter sales stay hot. Here are three key takeaways:  

1. Expand Your Menu 

Try spicing up your menu with variations of spice and heat, or changing the way an item is cooked, to coincide with consumer taste for warmth. Searing a cut of meat over a wood-fired grill adds a robust, smoky flavor, or using a flavored broth to warm up and enhance a dish are simple, yet effective, ways to add a seasonal alternative to your menu. This keeps the brand relevant and evolving —something that will keep guests coming back for more.  

For example, Pokeworks is heating up its winter menu with a new, warm bowl called Poke-Zuke. Embracing the Japanese meal concept of “chazuke", the Poke-Zuke features flame-torched poke, with customer choice of chicken or salmon, over a bed of rice, with a pour-over creamy chicken broth. By offering a warm, heavy menu item, Pokeworks is staying true to its roots while innovating to satisfy consumers’ winter-cravings.  

Another example is how Capriotti’s testing the grilling the Impossible plant-based meat and featuring it in the brand’s famous Cheese Steak sandwich, not only adding a warm menu item, but also leveraging customer interest in the growing plant-based category. On top of this innovation, Capriotti’s is testing warm side items like french fries and tater tots topped with the brand’s fan-favorite sandwich ingredients including cheese steak and Capastrami, to name a few. These warm side items create the perfect winter-friendly addition to its robust sub menu.  

2. Work Comfort Food Into Your Menu  

Try incorporating comfort food into your menu to draw in consumer interest during the cold months. Adding warm, hearty flavors to your menu gives customers the comforting taste they are looking for while giving restaurants a chance to stay relevant throughout the ‘slow season.’  

Capriotti’s offers, warm, filling subs that complement the cold weather. Make sure to have that perfect meal during the winter months to warm customers up from the inside out.  

Pokeworks adds comforting flavors in a completely different way — with spices! The brand’s innovative menu features collaborations with the award-winning alumnus of Bravo’s Top Chef and owner of Tin Roof in Maui, Chef Sheldon Simeon. Doing so keeps the menu fresh and season-relevant in addition to keeping Hawaiian inspired culture and cuisine at the forefront of menu innovation. 

3. Take a Cold Staple and Serve it Warm 

Capriotti’s offers its winter staple, the Bobbie, warmed up to create a ‘hot’ sandwich — perfect for a chilly day. Pokeworks has recently evolved its menu to offer guests the option to flame-torch any poke (a traditionally cold dish) to add a touch of heat to any meal. 

Seems simple enough, right? By adding the option to heat up any traditionally cold item on the menu or offering warm sides to add to a meal, you add variety to the menu and show a commitment to the guest’s wants and needs. Toasting a sandwich, serving a salad as a warm grain bowl, or adding warm ingredients such as broths, spices or sides are all ways that a restaurant can offer winter-relevant dishes.  

Ashley Morris is the CEO of Capriotti's, the nation’s fastest-growing sandwich franchise. Ashley started as a franchisee of Capriotti’s and ended up buying the entire brand with his friend and business partner. Together, they’ve grown the brand to 100 locations — with an additional 100 units in development — predicting to open 500 locations by 2025. Find out more about Capriotti's here

Kevin Hsu is the Co-Founder and CMO at Pokeworks, the nation’s fastest growing Poke franchise. Kevin grew up working in his family’s restaurant, which has allowed him to successfully navigate the industry, co-founding Pokeworks and pushing the restaurant to reach over 40 locations open and more than 130 under development.