Food Fella: Food Council beefs up lobbying efforts with seasoned political staffer

By Damon Riccio
New Jersey | Feb 11, 2020 at 4:15 am
Food Fella

Fresh off its 50th anniversary celebration, the New Jersey Food Council has named Connor Schmiegel, an experienced political organizer, as its new associate director of public affairs.

“We are very impressed with Connor, as he has extensive, bipartisan experience in politics and communications in New Jersey,” said Linda Doherty, CEO and president, NJFC.

Most recently, Schmiegel completed his role as field organizer for the reelection campaigns of Assemblymen Vince Mazzeo and John Armato (both D-Northfield). Over the summer, he served under the director of government affairs at Camden-based Campbell Soup Co., where he analyzed state and federal policy affecting the company’s operations and managed the internal social media platform. His background encompasses grassroots organizing, communicating with state and federal offices, social media management and policy analysis.

Doherty noted that Schmiegel helped reform the Rowan University Democratic Organization and later interned for U.S. Rep. Donald Norcross (D-N.J.). He also spent two years working in Rowan’s Office of Government & External Relations, in which he organized events, prepared testimony and tracked legislation.

Doherty stated the NJFC has an aggressive political agenda in the upcoming legislative session and beyond, and is eager to have Schmiegel advocate for issues of critical importance to the food retail and distribution industry. Some of those issues include the disposable bag ban, workforce issues, weights and measures reform, and readoption of the State Food Code.

Schmiegel holds degrees in political science and communication studies from Rowan University, where he served as a research assistant to Ben Dworkin, director of the Rowan Institute for Public Policy & Citizenship.

We wish Schmiegel and the NJFC much success as they navigate through some of these important issues facing New Jersey’s retail food industry. 

Conversation Starter

Reach Connor Schmiegel at: cschmiegel@njfoodcouncil.com.

Say (mac &) cheese! Franchise coming to North Jersey

Another Florida-based franchise has announced it is ready to take on the New Jersey market.

I Heart Mac & Cheese announced a two-store franchise development agreement with Vikram Bir to bring the brand to New Jersey. The first location will open next year in Hoboken, with a second to follow in 2021, in Jersey City. Bir already owns and operates two 7-Eleven franchises, in Hamburg and Sparta.

I Heart Mac & Cheese
Maine lobster, muenster cheese and scallions, finished with lobster cream and white truffle oil.

“I Heart Mac & Cheese is a fun, attractive concept and an affordable franchise model that is easy to operate, with support systems in place to help our partners be successful,” says Stephen Giordanella, I Heart Mac & Cheese CEO and chairman. “We are thrilled to bring our popular concept into the state of New Jersey.”

I Heart Mac & Cheese is known for custom, build-your-own macaroni and cheese bowls and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

Here’s how it works: guests select a pasta, bread, quinoa, broccoli or cauliflower base, along with seven different proteins, vegetables and cheeses. Most recently, the brand unveiled a new vegan menu featuring plant-based options through an official partnership that was launched with Beyond Meat. Gluten-free options are also available. 

Check out these bowl flavors … sesame ginger, mango habanero, buffalo, BBQ and pesto are a few of the delicious dressings and sauces available to mix in or top off each dish. In addition to customized options, the menu also includes specialty chef items like baked chicken parmesan, baked meatball parmesan, the Cuban, pepperoni pizza, and Lobster & White Truffle Mac, among others. Guests can pair their meal with a side of tomato soup and finish it with a selection of desserts such as mini chocolate chip cookies and marshmallow treats. 

This unique franchise concept in the restaurant industry has no fryers, grease trap systems or hood systems, requires a low investment and can be opened in a small space, such as a mall kiosk or food court. Shopping malls, sports venues, areas close to colleges and universities, and high-traffic pedestrian areas seem to be the ideal locations for I Heart Mac & Cheese. With a home office in South Florida, some of the benefits the franchise offers are franchise owner training, marketing support and ongoing development opportunities to ensure each location’s success. 

Earlier this year, I Heart Mac & Cheese was ranked by Entrepreneur magazine as one of the top new franchise opportunities in 2019. Several other locations have recently been announced around the country, with upcoming openings in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, New York and Texas.

Good luck to the people at I Heart Mac & Cheese and Vikram Bir as they look to revolutionize pasta in the Garden State.

Conversation Starter

For more information, go to: iheartmacandcheese.com.

Jollibee buzzing to open in Edison

Another Asian-inspired eatery will soon open its doors in the ethnically diverse enclave of Edison. Jollibee, a fast food restaurant with American-influenced items as well as casual Filipino fare, is taking over the former Roy Rogers location on Route 1 North. 

The popular chain was founded in the Philippines in 1978 but, to date, has not pushed too far into the U.S. market. The first New Jersey location opened on Jersey City’s west side, on Danforth Avenue, more than seven years ago. There are roughly 37 stores over several states; however, the fast-food chain is an absolute sensation in the Philippines, handily beating McDonald’s and Burger King in popularity and local market share. Jollibee Foods Corp. has more than 750 stores and is a dominant market leader in the Philippines. The franchise operates a total of about 1,200 Jollibee outlets worldwide, with presence in Southeast Asia, the Middle East, East Asia (Hong Kong, Macau), Europe and North America.

Now, the chain is hoping to win over more Americans, with plans to grow to 150 stores within the next five years. And there’s been progress on that front, with each new store opening attracting crowds of fans and the curious, who are interested in seeing what all the fuss is about! On another note, one key factor to Jollibee’s growing success is that the brand naturally resonates with the young, social media set, as noted by several business analysts.

In a recent article from CNBC, Jeff Fromm, president of millennial-trends marketing consultancy FutureCast, told “CNBC Make It,” “Modern consumers curate their identity, in part, through social channels.” 

The menu consists mostly of chicken and burgers, along with pastas and pies, but with very traditional Philippine flavors. For instance, Jolly Spaghetti has a sweet red sauce on the noodles, which is made from banana ketchup (a Filipino staple), and the concoction also has ground meat, hot dog slices and cheese, which add a tangy flavor.

Among the establishment’s best sellers are its Yumburger, which is the house hamburger.

This unique mosaic of flavors spread throughout their menu have won over a loyal Asian customer base, but will it win over the traditional American consumer who normally flock to McDonald’s, KFC and others? We will see in 2020!

Wishing the Jollibee family, both franchiser and franchisee, a successful opening.

Conversation Starter

For more information about the company and its menu, go to: jollibeeusa.com.

Damon Riccio | driccio@roi-nj.com | @damonriccio