Panera prepares a stinging for Nettles: Want to see what happens when big chains collide? Keep watch of this one.

St. Louis-based Panera Bread is claiming former executive Michael Nettles breached his non-compete agreement when he left the fast-casual chain in July and started working for Papa John’s. For one, Panera deems the 4,000-unit pizza company a competitor, which I think will be hard to prove since both brands operate in completely different spaces.

But there is that crucial overlap in delivery, and that’s where Panera is most peeved at Papa and on the verge of stinging Nettles. Panera claims the technology it uses to serve delivery customers is baked with loads of proprietary ingredients, such as “big data” customer information that it doesn’t want Papa to pilfer.Web PJs Logo

According to court documents, Nettles took trade secrets that were shared with Papa John’s and, as he exited the company, he reset his Panera computer equipment to factory settings–which isn’t quite the same thing as cleaning out one’s desk. It’ll soon be determined whether Nettles acted alone or in collusion with Papa John’s, and if Papa John’s knowingly used any Panera information, you can bet the flour will fly.

For Papa John’s, that offense will look particularly hypocritical given how it sued the garlic knots off Pizza Magia in 2000 for theft of trade secrets. Back then, Papa John’s determined that a handful of former lower-level executives were using trade secrets contained in employee handbooks to grow the upstart Pizza Magia chain.

Back then Pizza Magia was a 20-odd-unit company that, to Papa John’s defense, operated a whole lot like Papa John’s. And it didn’t make Papa John’s any happier that Pizza Magia was owned by Dan Holland, a former Papa John’s president who was instrumental in leading PJ’s initial public offering. It was determined that Holland committed no wrong doing, but that his lieutenants did. The comparably puny enterprise went out of business not long after.

Chain restaurant closures, bankruptcies foreshadow industry reduction: Remember how wrong the term “right-sizing” sounded if you were laid off in the most recent recession? Fact is it’s the perfect term for what’s happening in this overbuilt industry. Analysts call the increasing pace of restaurant closures nationwide a “market correction,” so choose what you like. It all means the same thing: Closures will continue apace for a good while.

Here’s a look at what’s going on nationally. From Nation’s Restaurant News reporter Jonathan Maze’s excellent “On the Margin” blog:

  • Ruby Tuesday will give 95 locations Friday walkin’ papers this year. (FWIW, Ruby Tuesday calls this reduction a “Fresh Start Initiative Asset Rationalization Plan.” Sort of stumbles off the tongue, right?)
  • The parent company of Old Country Buffet, Ryan’s and HomeTown Buffet filed for bankruptcy earlier this year and dried up the steamtables at 174 sites.
  • Thirteen Max & Erma’s restaurants “called” in closed, while Bonefish Grill beached 14 locations. Bagger Dave’s sacked eight in December, while over the course of this year and last, Joe’s Crab Shack threw 15 restaurants back into the water. Logan’s Roadhouse just filed for bankruptcy and announced it will kick 18 locations to the curb, and Bob Evans, which closed 20 restaurants last year has earmarked another 27 for the sausage grinder in 2016.

As Maze summed up tidily, “closures on this scale are indicative of an industry that is basically full.”ChileFest-Hatch-Chuysweb

Hail the Hatch chile at 28th Chuy’s 28th annual fest: I’ve written it before and I’ll write it again: Chuy’s gets too little respect from restaurant cognoscenti. According to my palate, the food is delicious and never better than when it holds its annual Hatch Green Chile Festival each year. The three-week event runs from now until Sept. 4. Check out this year’s menu so you know what to expect. The roasted chile margarita (listed at the top right) is delicious, but I advise you to bump up the tequila to a better blanco than El Jimador. Its far-better sibling, Herradura Silver is preferred, and even Altos or Milagro are super suitable.

So what’s the big deal about the Hatch chile? To me and many, it’s the perfect balance of chile flavor and mild heat. When roasted, the heat can climb a bit, but so does the flavor. It’s the best way to feel the burn this summer, and you can even order some on the side to boost whatever you order.The Eagle restaurant Web

If you haven’t been, Chuy’s in Louisville is located at 104 Oxmoor Ct., 40222.

Eagle plans November landing in Highlands: Remember El Camino? Owners of The Eagle, a Cincy-based fried chicken restaurant, pledge to feather the nest at that Highlands location (1314 Bardstown Road) to the point it’ll look nothing like it did when it was a hip tequila and taco-centered restaurant. According to Business First, the building will require a 12-week makeover to get all eaglified.

Speaking of El Camino, at present, the concept esta muerto since its planned Germantown resurrection hasn’t been announced. I’m betting its owners are right that it’ll do well there. I’m ready to see the redo.

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