Beverages are playing a key role in the plans to drive business at Portland, Ore.-based McCormick & Schmick’s Seafood Restaurants. The 87-unit chain, which will open three locations this year, announced a seasonal cocktail menu in the fall and launched a New Zealand wine and cocktail initiative Jan. 6; the program will run through Feb. 27.
Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc and The Crossings Pinot Noir wines are featured, both of which complement the chain’s seafood menu. Two new cocktails were developed for the program: The Kiwi Meringue Pie combines fresh kiwi with Stoli Vanil, Monin Kiwi, simple syrup and fresh-squeezed lemon juice and tops it with a handmade kiwi whipped cream, while the Kiwi Quencher marries fresh kiwi and strawberries with Cruzan Aged Rum, Monin Kiwi and fresh-squeezed lemon juice over ice, topping it with lemon-lime soda.
To get the scoop on the how and why of the New Zealand program, VIBE caught up with McCormick & Schmick’s CEO Bill Freeman.
VIBE: It appears McCormick & Schmick’s is ramping up its cocktail program overall. How did this program come about and how does this fit with the new seasonal cocktail initiative?
Bill Freeman: It has always been a part of our philosophy at McCormick & Schmick’s to introduce our guests to new flavors and dishes that they wouldn’t be able to experience on their own. Following a year in which many of our guests may have cut back or cancelled travel, we decided to partner with New Zealand Trade & Enterprise to bring a taste of New Zealand culture to the U.S.
At McCormick & Schmick’s, we live and breathe the word “fresh,” meaning everything from the quality of our ingredients to the innovation that goes into our menu development. We will be rolling out new and seasonal cocktails over the course of 2010, and the New Zealand program cocktails were developed using the same philosophy of innovation. Our goal is to feature flavor profiles that our guests will respond to, and we’re confident that a sip of The Kiwi Meringue Pie and The Kiwi Quencher, both featuring the iconic fruit of New Zealand, will do just that.
VIBE: Why New Zealand?
Freeman: There are a variety of contributing factors, but we ultimately decided to feature New Zealand foods and beverages because we feel that the flavors will intrigue and appeal to our guests. In addition, after visiting New Zealand a couple of years ago, McCormick & Schmick’s Vice President of Culinary Development Bill King left very impressed by the quality of New Zealand’s culinary offerings, including the grass-fed beef and seafood. Chef King’s experience in New Zealand helped him guide our culinary team to create an opportunity for our guests to explore some of these unique culinary experiences.
Specifically, we are featuring the following menu items inspired by New Zealand’s culinary culture:
• Greenshell Mussel Fritters served with a cilantro-roasted garlic pesto
• New Zealand Shellfish Stew featuring Greenshell mussels, scallops, shrimp and clams in a Riesling cream broth and served in a sourdough bread bowl
• King Salmon from Marlborough Sounds, New Zealand, prepared simply grilled and topped with a caramelized apple-Sauvignon Blanc reduction
• New Zealand Grass-Fed Filet Mignon served Wellington Style with a Kiwi Blue Cheese-Onion Tart
• Traditional Pavlova, New Zealand’s national dessert of a light, sweet meringue with Meyer Lemon Curd and Kiwi Puree
VIBE: What are the goals of the program?
Freeman: The main objective is to offer our guests the opportunity to experience and explore new and unique flavors — in this case from New Zealand — without actually having to visit New Zealand. Of course we are also providing an opportunity for one lucky guest to visit New Zealand with our online and in-restaurant contest. The grand prize winner will win a trip for two to New Zealand. More details and entry information is available online at www.McCormickandSchmicks.com/ExploreNewZealand.
VIBE: Is this the first time you’ve done a program like this?
Freeman: Yes, this is the first time we’ve done a nationwide regional-focused menu program. Whether we explore additional regional partnerships this year is to be determined. We evaluate every menu program on a case-by-case basis, and are certainly open to executing more in the near future if our guests continue to respond favorably to this type of dining experience.
VIBE: How are the New Zealand wines and New Zealand-flavored cocktails being presented to your guests?
Freeman: We are using a variety of communication vehicles to ensure that our guests are familiar and comfortable with the New Zealand-specific menu and drink offerings. Our approach includes a beautifully designed table-top menu book, posters and guest check inserts with which guests can enter the Explore New Zealand sweepstakes. As always, our servers and entire staff are well-versed in the promotion’s details, following our unmatched commitment to service.
VIBE: Might any of the wines or cocktails make their way to the regular wine list or drink menu after the program?
Freeman: It is possible, but there are no current plans for migration of the New Zealand cocktails and wines to our everyday offering, with the exception of the Nobilo Sauvignon Blanc, which is already on our core wine list. We included it as part of this promotion because it’s a great opportunity to highlight a popular wine from New Zealand that we already offer. The other featured wine, The Crossings Pinot Noir, was brought in specifically for this promotion, and the cocktails were developed specifically for this promotion as well.