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SCV grill adapts to veggie customer base

Next-generation owners of meat-based restaurant bet on health options

Posted: May 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: May 18, 2014 2:00 a.m.

The Caprese sandwich, made with ciabatta bread, wild arugula, homemade pesto, smashed grape tomatoes, balsamic vinegar, olive oil and mozzarella cheese from the new spring menu at Stonefire.

 

As the second generation of Stonefire Grill owners came of age, and became involved in the Harrigan family’s management of its seven restaurants, the youngest members made a daring move.

Justin and Kyle, sons of the founders Mary and Maureen Harrigan, began reshaping a menu well known for its tri tips and ribs by adding dishes geared toward vegetarian and vegan diners.

The risky move could have resulted in the loss of Stonefire’s core customers, but the opposite happened.

Sales of the new items quickly outpaced many of the favorite items that had been on the menu for years, and the restaurants now are attracting a broader market share, including many vegetarians and vegans.

“By offering both types of food, there is really something for everyone now,” said Justin Lopez, a vegetarian himself and the son of Mary Harrigan.

While it’s too early to know the final sales numbers, Lopez says, the new dishes are contributing to the overall success of the family business.

“We’re seeing more and more people come in as a result,” he said. “We’re attracting people that before would have considered us a meat-and-potatoes-type business. We’re just thrilled to have these items on the menu for everyone to enjoy.”

There were 7.3 million vegetarians in the United States in 2013, according to data gathered by a research firm. One million consider themselves to be strictly vegan, and another 22.8 million people say they lean toward a vegetarian diet.

More women, 59 percent of them, than men prefer vegetarian meals. Men comprise 41 percent of those who declare themselves to be vegetarian.

Forty-two percent of people aged 18 to 34 claims the vegetarian moniker and 40.7 percent of those 35 to 54 do so, meaning the trend is growing.

While the majority of self-proclaimed vegetarians do so to improve their overall health, the study found that 54 percent of the vegetarians changed their dietary habits out of concern for animal welfare. And 47 percent claimed environmental reasons for the switch in diets.

“We saw growing number of people looking to experiment with some healthy alternatives,” Lopez said.

“We didn’t want to detract from what’s made us so popular, but we saw a growing number of people looking to experiment with some healthy alternatives,” Lopez said. “We felt we had room to expand our menu.”

Stonefire Grill started off with some new salads at first, but created sandwiches as well, now offered on its new spring menu, using ingredients like smashed frappe tomatoes, homemade pesto, fresh mozzarella, wild arugula, roaster cauliflower, lemon tahini and more. Key ingredients in other dishes include kale, quinoa, chickpeas and red cabbage.

Lopez also introduced one more twist to the casual restaurant’s offerings — guests can have any one of their 16 salads served as a wrap.

Not all of the new items are vegetarian, however, according to spokesperson for the chain. Lopez also added more lean protein items like turkey and shrimp. And the restaurant is open to guests customizing their own dishes to a degree, he said.

The appeal of vegetarian, vegan or gluten-free dishes is growing in the restaurant industry, Lopez said. There’s a move toward more healthy alternatives in general.

While the staple items that have been a hallmark of Stonefire Grill are still available, radically changing the menu is still a process of testing the market for the family.

“We’re just keeping our fingers crossed that the general public will accept it,” Lopez said.

jana@signalscv.com

661-287-5599

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