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Sikeston area restaurants match menus to diet trend

Tuesday, March 2, 2004

(Photo)
Sahun Bell, Rodchester's Deli assistant manager, makes a Low Carb Platter.
SIKESTON -- Whether on the Atkins, South Beach or any other low-carb diet, those watching their carbohydrate intake have plenty of options when eating on the run.

Since the beginning of the year, national and local eateries have offered low-carbohydrate items off their menus. And two months into the promotion, restaurants are still seeing success.

"It's been unbelievably overwhelming," said Gabbie Hodgkiss, manager of Subway in Sikeston. "It's even more popular than when the Jared (ads) came out."

"Jared," of course being Subway's initial spokesperson of weight loss when he dropped 245 pounds by eating two Subway sandwiches a day. This time around Subway partnered with Atkins International to offer two Atkins-friendly wraps beginning Jan. 1.

In the wraps first week of sales, Sikeston Subway's business went up 24 percent, Hodgkiss said. The next week it was 40 percent, and throughout January and February, sales averaged a 50 percent increase, she said.

Hodgkiss admitted January sales are always big because everybody's on their New Year's resolution diets, but usually people start to stray from their diets soon after, and it may be March until Hodgkiss sees the customers again. But this time, it's different, she said.

"I've seen the same people over and over again," Hodgkiss said. "And the wraps are more expensive than the normal 6-inch sandwich -- about a $1 more --but people on the diet are really sticking with it. It doesn't seem to bother them."

And at the request of its customers, locally-owned Rodchester's Deli has created a low-carb menu.

"A lot of people have been asking what kinds of low-carb food we have so we put together a list," noted Shaun Bell, assistant manager of Rodchester's Deli.

Rodchester's new low-carb menu consists of the Rodchester's chef salad, which is made of garden greens, tomato, cheese, egg, bacon bits, ham, turkey and roast beef; a low-carb platter loaded with generous portion of meat, lettuce, tomato, cheese with dill spear and boiled eggs; a garden salad; and a tuna or chicken salad plate.

National fast-food chains like Hardee's are also finding success with low-carb items and offering bunless hamburgers.

"It's selling really good," said Danny Hicks, general manager at Hardee's in Sikeston. "We average, in this particular store, about 30-40 low-carb burgers sold a day, and we started advertising a week or two before New Year's."

Hardee's "low-carb thick burger" is a meat patty with the regular toppings and wrapped in lettuce so customers can eat it like a sandwich, Hicks explained. Beginning March 15, Hardee's will sell a low-carb breakfast item, too, he added.

Since November, Ruby Tuesday has offered over 30 menu items geared for diners who are limiting their carbohydrate intake. But not all restaurants are catering strictly to the low-carb dieters. Applebee's Bar and Grill will offer a Weight Watchers menu beginning in May.

And while Bo's Bar-B-Q and Grill has low-carb items on their menu, such as steaks and salads, general manager Joe Werts noted the restaurant doesn't have a specific low-carb menu. However, he said they'll make substitutions.

"We've got to go with it," Werts said about low-carb items. "It's a big seller. You can't turn people away just because they don't want the bun."

Although Bo's has plenty of low-carb items, Werts said customers shouldn't look for a low-carb menu anytime soon.

"It's possible, but tough to say," Werts said. "There's never really been any diet that sticks."

Changing the menu would also mean spending more money to reprint new menus and other things, Werts said. The best option is to make any changes customers want to their order rather than change the entire menu, he pointed out.

Meanwhile, the Atkins-friendly menu at Subway is making plans to expand again. Next month, it will launch its new Atkins-friendly salads.

Hodgkiss doesn't think the low-carb diets will disappear anytime soon. She said, "It seems like the nation is really in it for the long-term."