Caught Between Two Donuts

I thought it was a sign of the apocalypse when McDonald’s started serving breakfast sandwiches between two griddle cakes several years ago — but in our modern culture, the envelope is always being pushed farther and farther.

kfc-donuts-sandwich-1568731314So I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised to read that KFC is now offering various chicken and donut combinations at selected locations in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Norfolk and Richmond, Virginia.  At those test locations, you can get a basket of chicken on the bone or chicken tenders served with one or two doughnuts, or you can order a sandwich made of a boneless piece of Kentucky Fried Chicken positioned between two glazed donuts, all of which is then served hot.  The donuts apparently will be delivered to the test KFC stores already cooked, and when a customer orders them, they will be dipped into fryers and glazed with vanilla icing so they are served hot.

KFC has explained that it is conducting the test to determine whether customers are craving chicken and donuts on a national scale.  I don’t think any kind of test of that sort truly is needed.  When you combine the statistics on the growing American obesity epidemic (no pun intended) with the known fact that most people are powerless to resist donuts that are made available to them, it seems very likely that the KFC chicken-and-donut sandwich will be a smashing, calorie- and carbohydrate-laden success.  Fortunately, I’m not going to be going near Pittsburgh or Virginia in the near future, so I won’t be tempted to give the sandwiches a try.

If the sandwiches are adopted on a national scale — and I have no doubt they will be — KFC or a competitor will have to figure out a way to push the culinary/calorie/carb envelope still farther.  I’m guessing we’ll see bacon, cheese, and honey drizzle added to the combination next.

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Off-Brand Brands

When you go to the grocer, you’re likely to see at least two options for whatever product you buy.  One option — and often more than one — will always be a major, national brand that is a familiar name that you see advertised on national TV.  The other option will be the off-brand product.  That’s the product that doesn’t advertise on TV and is typically sold for a significantly cheaper price than the major national brand.

I often buy the off-brand alternatives.  Why not?  If I’m buying non-dairy coffee creamer, it really doesn’t make any difference to me whether I’m getting whatever mixture is put together by the national brand or the combination developed by the alternative.  In my experience, the off-brand is often just as good as the brand, and I feel I’ve prudently  saved a few bucks on my grocery bill.

Plus, I like checking out the names of the off-brand product producers.

Typically, the off-brand alternatives are regional in scope and are affiliated with grocery store chains.  You’ll see different off-brand names and options in Columbus than you would in, say, Boise, Idaho.  And often the names are clever plays on words that also are a bit defensive in nature, and geared toward convincing you that the products are really just as good as the national brands — or at least reasonably close.

For example, in Maine off-brand options have names like Heluva Good (as in Heluva Good cheddar cheese), Shur Fine, and Best Yet.  Heluva Good suggests that it will exceed normal off-brand consumer taste and quality expectations.  Shur Fine doesn’t make quite so bold a promise, but still conveys that it will provide ultimate user satisfaction.  But Best Yet is a bit curious.  It’s not addressing consumer reactions, it’s comparing the current product to predecessors.  It suggests that the producer is still tinkering with the formula, experimenting, and coming up with marginal improvements over last year’s offering.  Best Yet is hedging, rather than staking out a clear position.

I’ve been using the Best Yet non-dairy coffee creamer, and it’s perfectly fine.  Now that I think of it, Perfectly Fine would be a heluva good brand for an off-brand product, too.

 

Franchise Free

One of the great things about Stonington, Maine is that it’s far off the beaten path.  So far, in fact, that it’s totally franchise-free.  You won’t find a McDonald’s or a Starbucks here.  In fact, you’d have to drive dozens of miles into the mainland before you hit your first  franchise fast food restaurant or coffee shop.

Located at the tip of Deer Isle, out in the middle of Penobscot Bay, Stonington is just too small and too remote for the big franchise chains.  That means if you’ve got to start your day with some kind of Starbucks brand caramel-topped pumpkin spice latte grande, this just isn’t the place for you.  (It also means that you won’t find a discarded Starbucks coffee cup or a McDonald’s wrapper around town, either.)

inn-on-the-harbor

That doesn’t mean that Stonington lacks for coffee or the other amenities of modern life.  Instead, locally owned businesses have filled the niche that would otherwise be filled by the big chains.  There’s a great coffee shop called 44 North where you can get your java fix, and there are really good restaurants, ranging from the classic home-cooked offerings offered at the Harbor Cafe (pictured above, where the haddock chowder is addictive and you have to save room for dessert) and Stonecutters Kitchen and the Fin and Fern to the more high-end fare found at Acadia House Provisions and Aragosta.  The other businesses in town are locally owned, too — and some of them are employee-owned co-ops.

The local ownership adds a certain indefinable quality to the buying experience.  There are signs around the island noting that buying from local businesses means local jobs, and that’s clearly the case.  It actually makes you want to shop at the local options and support the local economy, in a way that just doesn’t apply to stopping at a national chain operation.

It’s all a pretty old school approach.  There’s nothing wrong with the big companies and their franchises, of course, but it’s nice to be reminded of what America was like before large-scale national brands took hold and unique local businesses lined the sidewalks along Main Street.

Strong Combination

I admit it — sometimes I buy products on name alone.  It sounds shallow, but some names are just so evocative and intriguing that I’ve got to tip my cap to the company that came up with the moniker and buy their goods in acknowledgement.

So, when I ran across the Cushnoc Brewing Company Lawyer Up Coffee Porter at the beer cooler of the local grocer, I had to give it a shot.  A porter that combines coffee and lawyers?  That’s got to be a pretty darned strong brew!

In fact, now that I’ve bought the Lawyer Up, I’m a little intimidated to even try it.  What’s the right time to sip a beer that sounds the heady notes of coffee and counselors?  Probably not late at night, because this beer clearly packs a wallop and might keep you up, besides.  Noon, when your system maybe best suited to withstanding a coffee and legal advice jolt?  Cocktail hour, when your system might need the kind of kick that only a lawyer and a cup of coffee can bring?

In The Public Domain

A few days ago we went to buy groceries.  In the coffee aisle I found a bag of ground coffee sold by a local company that was called the “Einstein Blend” and featured a drawing of Albert Einstein sipping a cup of coffee.  The slogan under the drawing read:  “An intelligent, medium roast blend of African and Costa Rican coffees.”

Albert Einstein, that unique, world-changing genius, probably the most famous scientist in history, on the cover of a coffee packet?  What’s the world coming to?

The value, and price, of being famous is that your image has value.  But at some point your image and likeness is no longer your own.  When a notable person dies, the clock starts ticking, and ultimately the right to publicity expires and the famous person’s image and likeness slip into the public domain for anyone to use.  That’s why it’s not unusual to see Abraham Lincoln, stovepipe hat and all, in TV ads for car insurance and other products of the modern world.  In the case of the Discoverer of the Theory of Relativity, who died in 1955, a 2012 court ruling concluded that his post mortem publicity rights had expired.  As a result, Albert Einstein’s grandfatherly likeness, with that familiar halo of hair and wise, kindly look in his eyes, is now fair game for advertisers.

At least coffee is a product that Einstein actually used (and enjoyed), unlike Abe Lincoln and car insurance.  And by the way, I bought a pack of the Einstein Blend — how could I not? — and it’s pretty good coffee.  Drinking it, I feel smarter already.

 

Watching The Lobster Pot Boil

Yesterday our next door neighbor brought us a very Maine gift — four freshly caught lobsters– and last night we cooked lobsters at home for the first time. It’s not difficult.

First, find a big pot with a lid and fill it about halfway with water. We had bought a big pot at a yard sale that was perfect, so we were set on that front. Second, add some salt to the water. Third, toss in the lobsters and turn on the heat. (This isn’t easy to do — or at least, it wasn’t easy for me. But if you want freshly cooked lobster, you can’t be squeamish. That’s where having a pot with a lid is helpful.) When the water finally heats up to a boil, give the lobsters another 10 minutes and you’re ready to fish them out of the pot.

The lobsters came out bright red and succulent– just like you’d get from a local restaurant. They were delicious.

Now that we’re no longer lobster virgins, we’ll have to try steaming some clams next, so we can treat our guests to a “shore dinner.”

Walking Past The Drive-Thru Line

I’m on the road again, staying in one of those generic hotels that is located in a busy commercial area, right next to a Chick-Fil-A and a Carl’s Jr. restaurant.  It’s one of those places where you walk out of the front door directly into a parking lot for a bunch of other businesses in a strip shopping area.

Let’s just say it’s not exactly a bucolic hotel setting.

But, the hotel location does have the advantage of requiring me to walk past the drive-thru lines of those two fast food emporiums on my way to and from meetings.  It always brings a smile to my face, because hearing the interactions between the customer in the car and the employee working the intercom as I walk by is pretty hilarious.  It makes me think that fast food drive-thru lanes are probably the worst communications systems known to man.  In fact, you could argue that they are consciously designed to avoid effective communication, rather than promote it.

Start with the generic message that you get, asking if you want to get the new menu item the place is featuring, which causes the customer to wonder whether they are talking to a real person or hearing a recording.  Then there’s a long pause, while the customer wonders whether they’re supposed to go ahead with their order or wait.  When the employee finally says go ahead, the flustered customer proceeds with the order, and there’s inevitably one or two questions from the employee that the customer doesn’t understand.

Squawk — “Do you want to Super-size that?”

Squawk — “What?”

Squawk — “DO YOU WANT TO SUPER-SIZE THAT?”

Squawk — “No.”

Squawk — “Would you like to make that a meal?”

Sqauwk — “What?  No.”

And then there’s the awkward pause at the end, where the customer wonders whether the employee is done firing questions and the conversation is finally over and they can just drive ahead and get their food.

We’ve grown accustomed to this kind of stuff in the drive-thru line, but hearing it from a distance makes me wonder whether it wouldn’t be better to just stop, park, and talk directly to a real person when ordering food.