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Simple Restaurants Are Big Business

Want to start a restaurant? One ingredient may be all you need.

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This story appears in the June 2006 issue of Start Up.

These days, the name of the game in the restaurant industry is differentiation--if you specialize in one product and you know your stuff, hungry customers will flock to you for a taste. "There are currently about 1 million restaurants in the U.S., representing about $430 billion a year in sales, with [about] $1.3 billion per day [worth of food] consumed in restaurants around the country," says Aaron Allen, founder and CEO of Quantified Marketing Group, an Orlando, Florida-based strategic marketing and PR firm for the restaurant industry. "When you look at that kind of competitive landscape, you have to stand out."

The restaurant industry at large is just now beginning a general movement toward specialization, but some innovative entrepreneurs have gotten a head start. Suzanne Levinson, 40, opened New York City-based Pommes Frites in 1997. Inspired by what she found in Europe, she opened a shop of her own that specializes in authentic Belgian fries--crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside and, most important, fried twice. Staying true to the Belgian experience, patrons can choose from 30 different sauces, including customer favorite sweet mango chutney. Fries may not be such a unique idea, but it doesn't take much more than a nibble to taste the difference. Says Levinson, "I came in with a new twist on an old product. That's what draws people in." Levinson estimates that she goes through 10 tons of potatoes a month and projects 2006 sales of approximately $500,000.

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