Jun 16, 2016

A Juicy Story: Sage Restaurant Group’s Zero-Proof Offerings


June 22, 2016   |   By Jack Robertiello

Excerpt courtesy of

Time for Tea_v1


2Kachina - Agua Frescas

When it comes to appealing to contemporary consumers’ taste for more creative, refreshing and interesting non-alcohol beverages, Denver-based Sage Restaurant Group developed a few savvy solutions.

“To develop beverages that meet those demands, operators need to be more tuned into what it is that appeals to today’s customers,” says Sage Restaurant Group’s Vice President of Culinary Operations Michael Carr-Turnbough. “The landscape of the non-alcohol beverage category is really changing. It’s getting fun but also challenging, with some great opportunities,” he says. “Our guests are much more informed than they ever have been, and, as smart consumers, are also health conscious. It’s driving guests to demand new, healthier and fresh alternatives to the standard non-alcohol beverages like soda and tea. This trend to fresher is really growing outside the restaurant business, and those healthier items have forced the industry to put new items on the menu.”

Kim Haasarud, whose Phoenix-based company Liquid Architecture consults with operators and suppliers on beverage development, says consumer demand is higher than ever for fresh juices, including when it comes to cocktails. “You can’t create as good a cocktail program without fresh juices, period. It’s just allowing for a better cocktail program all around.”

Fresh juices are a good start, but a little creativity goes a long way. For example, “aguas frescas,” the Mexican and Central American refreshers made with fresh fruit, water, sweetener and served traditionally from glass jars, have started making an impact beyond mom-and-pop restaurants.

“They are a great way to incorporate a fresh factor into non-alcoholic drinks. They’re refreshing and hydrating and perfect for lunch as well,” says Haasarud. Two of the Sage Restaurant Group units, Kachina Southwestern Grill in Westminster, Colo., and Hello Betty Fish House in Oceanside, Calif., feature aguas frescas.

“They’re just delicious, fit very well with the two concepts, and are not readily available to a lot of our guests,” says Carr-Turnbough. “They’re easy to make and fairly inexpensive, depending on the fruit you use, so they provide an opportunity for diversity, flavor and profit.”

They also help add personality to the businesses, he says, as the jars are prominently displayed and marketed to stimulate interest. Of equal importance, they provide a way to increase check averages while offering something unusual and perceived as more wholesome.

1Hello Betty - Agua Fresca Floats1

Kachina lists three to six flavors of aguas frescas, mainly in the warmer months, and the restaurant features a blueberry mint agua fresca made with blueberries, fresh lime juice, sugar and mint. Hello Betty offers aguas frescas with sorbet added: pineapple agua fresca with mango sorbet, or watermelon with lemon sorbet, for example. “Guests can get something with great flavor, and we’re adding a new twist and an American touch,” says Carr-Turnbough. The float also allows the drinks to double as desserts.

Several non-alcohol drinks are offered by Kachina and include A New Found Passion, made with passion fruit, fresh lemon juice, simple syrup and ginger ale; and Mango Tropical, made with mango, strawberry, fresh lime, honey and club soda.

Fruit-flavored lemonades have also become more common. Kachina serves one flavored with prickly pear that started off as seasonal only. Now, when prickly pears aren’t available or the flavor needs adjustment, purées are used to guarantee consistency in flavor. “We try to stay as seasonal as possible, but the purée gives us a way to be consistent,” he says.

A number of the Sage Group’s restaurants have revived their non-alcohol beverage list beyond fountain soda and lemonade, using not only fresh juices but also dry sodas, fresh fruit and more savory ingredients. At Chicago’s Mercat a la Planxa, non-alcohol cocktails include the Menta Cidro Virgen, with mint, fresh citrus juice and soda; and La Mora Virgen, with blackberries, mint/citrus syrup, cranberry juice and soda. Denver’s Second Home Kitchen + Bar features “Mocktails” – the Palomina, made with blood orange soda, lime, agave nectar and salt; and the Ginger Mule, made with ginger beer, simple syrup, lime, candied ginger and fresh mint. The offerings at the Urban Farmer in Philadelphia are even more creative. There, guests can select the Darjeeling Old-Fashioned (strong Darjeeling tea, Demerara syrup, old-fashioned bitters and lemon oil), and the Son of Saz (Sazerac syrup, soda, lemon oil and an anise mist.)

Given current issues of health, safety and choice, offering well-made, non-alcohol beverages is a smart decision. It’s also potentially lucrative, as most customers willingly will pay more for something special and handmade, with alcohol or without.