If you’ve ever lived in Southern California, chances are good that you’ve at least heard of Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles. Even if you haven’t personally ducked under the neon-lit sign on Hollywood’s Gower Street for a chicken plate with a side of greens or macaroni and cheese or potatoes smothered in gravy, you most likely know someone who has – someone who insists that you really need to try it someday for yourself.
In a way, Bert Muñoz is that friend. As the co-owner of family business Dolores Canning Co., home of the iconic Dolores Chili Brick, Muñoz has been entrenched in the Los Angeles food production industry for his entire life. As head retail product developer and marketing manager for Roscoe’s at Home, he’s putting those production skills to the test in a bid to spread the gospel of Roscoe’s House of Chicken and Waffles far beyond the confines of the restaurant’s six LA-area locations.
Research and development for Roscoe’s at Home retail line started with a thorough assessment of the Roscoe’s menu.
“You can’t look at that menu and say: ‘what sells more than the other?’ because everything moves equally,” says Muñoz. “So we methodically went with what we felt were obviously the top sellers, but also are a part of Americana.” That assessment led to the first three items in the Roscoe’s at Home line: macaroni and cheese, chicken chili mac, and southern collard greens, all of which hit store shelves late last year. With the initial success of its first launch, Roscoe’s at Home is now planning the next phase of development with new items to be released in the upcoming months – chili and rice, gravy, and Roscoe’s famous waffles – by sticking to simple items that are iconic to the brand but also offer broad retail appeal.
“Roscoe’s is very southern cooking – but macaroni and cheese is everywhere, chili mac is everywhere, chili by itself is everywhere,” notes Muñoz. “As far as what we’re coming with next, who doesn’t like a waffle or some gravy? So that’s how we serve it. We looked at it by saying: if we start with the side dishes, those are the most familiar across the board nationally, so why not start with those items?”
But as universally appealing as the dishes may be, bringing a cult classic restaurant’s flavors to supermarket shelves is no simple task. There are a lot of factors and challenges that come into play, many of which get ironed out in the research phase.
“The number one challenge is making a product come out exactly like it is at the restaurant,” Muñoz explains. “That takes months of work. A company like ours is excited to build a brand, and we can roll out a product tomorrow morning – but is it going to have enough shelf life? Is the packaging going to be right? Are the microwave instructions correct? It has to have all sorts of appeal.” While the brand recognition may be there, making sure that the finished product lives up to that brand appeal – as well as the expectations of long-time fans – is crucial.
“Another challenge that we faced was having enough items done where we could present two, three or four items at any one time to retailers,” adds Muñoz. “It would be very easy for me to go to Superior or Vallarta or even Unified and say: ‘here I’ve got the first item, some mac and cheese –I’ll be back six weeks later to bring you some chili mac, and I’ll be back a month after that with some greens. As excited as we were to launch everything that we could – the challenge there was to break it down to three or four at a time that we could present in phases.”
That gamble has paid off well: already Roscoe’s at Home is available in a host of Southern California grocery stores including Vallarta, Superior, and Cardenas – and in July the brand scored a major coup when it was picked up by distributor Unified Grocers, a development that will put the brand on every Ralph’s and Food 4 Less shelf and in the view of nearly every grocery chain and mom-and-pop shop in the region. But there’s a lot more work to be done.
“Our next step is to complete the second phase –the waffle, the gravy, the chili and rice – and while we’re doing that phase two, we’re going to continue to be very aggressive with the brand at retail,” says Muñoz. “We do our demos, we do events, we do our social media through Twitter and the Roscoe’s at Home website, and when different shows come up, we’ll participate and continue to expand the brand. Even though we’re focusing on southern California, we’re still going to take our shots at national exposure.”
With such determination to expand, one can’t help but ask: is a retail version of Roscoe’s iconic chicken in the works? Muñoz laughs – it’s a question he gets a lot, and it’s certainly a pressing issue on the table.
“We want the experience of any item with the Roscoe name to be identical to you coming into any one of the Roscoe’s locations and dining with us there, and what’s cool about doing this interview now rather than at the beginning [of the first retail launch] is that we’ve seen just how much of a standard our loyal fans hold us to,” says Muñoz. “They’re not going to buy something frozen if it’s not exactly the way it is in the restaurant. That chicken is something that’s going to take a lot of work, but Roscoe’s fans internationally want it just like they have it at the restaurant, and they hold us to it. Sometimes it takes us months to get it just right.”
Muñoz hints that good things just might come to those who wait. But whether it’s a bowl of savory beans and rice or the perfect unlikely combination of crispy chicken and butter-topped waffle, the priority is engineering an experience that will make consumers in their own kitchens feel like they’re in a booth at their favorite restaurant. That is, after all, the heart and soul of the Roscoe’s at Home mission.
“It just became so apparent, through social media and through the restaurant,” he says. “Folks were always writing in by the thousands saying: ‘hey, why don’t you put a Roscoe’s up over here? Why don’t you put one in Florida? Why don’t you put one in Vegas? I’d do anything to have one, is there a way I can get your products?’ That was the cool part about doing this: we’ve figured out a way to have all of our fans from an international standpoint be able to have their love for Roscoe’s satisfied.”
For sales or distribution information regarding Roscoe's at Home or Dolores Canning Co., contact Bert Muñoz at (323) 855-0147.