The ageless meatball is the new menu trendsetter

Dec. 12, 2011 | by Darrel Suderman

How could Meatballs, one of the oldest comfort foods, become one of the leading menu trendsetters? Simple ... they offer unlimited flavor and menu versatility to creative chefs looking for ways to spike customer menu interests, and make a handsome profit at the same time. Chances are you'll tell someone about those great tasting meatballs you ate at 'The Meatball Shop' ( in New York City, than discuss a pasta dish everyone has eaten already

Carey Jones, the editor of the food blog 'Serious Eats New York,' (one of my favorite blogs) said "In New York and across the country, people are more and more focused on comfort foods and doing them really well. I think meatballs are along that line, something everyone has fond memories of that are really appealing on a gut level." Jones added that the meatball, like the cupcake, is a versatile recipe. We may think of them as an Italian-American specialty, but they can easily cross cultural boundaries with the addition of a few choice ingredients.

The March 31, 2011 blog posted by The Serious Eats Team listed 15 mouthwatering New York City meatball recipes at the following restaurants: Polpette Napoletane at Motorino ($9), Helga's (Swedish) Meatballs ($15) at Red Rooster; Polpettine al Limone at Bar Stuzzichini ($8); Duck Meatballs at Perilla ($14) (topped with a raw egg); Lamb Meatball Sliders at Locanda Verde ($12); and Meatballs at Apizz ($23) to name a few.

Restaurant CFOs, take note of the $23 menu tab and let your mouth water over that fat profit margin.

But give credit to "Top Chef" finalist Dave Martin who opened The Meatball Factory in New York City's East Village this past October. Dave believes meatballs are the new "cupcake-like trend in the foodie world." His delectable meatballs each contain between 12 and 18 ingredients. In November, he told Jo Piazza from, in an article titled "It's Raining Meatballs," that he spent upwards of 25 hours just negotiating the flavors – so they would be different!

The original meatball restaurant in New York City called 'The Meatball Shop' was just opened in 2010. It is one of the most frequently searched meatball restaurants on the web.

And what about meatball pizzas? Well, they have been around, but no one has taken them mainstream. Google meatball pizza images, and you will find innumerable product pictures. But like I have blogged so many times before, most innovation starts from a small entrepreneur with nothing to risk. Although many large pizza chain CMOs hide behind low risk line extensions, I predict an explosion of meatball pizza products, and other meatball products on QSR and fast casual restaurants over the next few years – probably not with a $23 tab, but a handsome profit nonetheless!

Please contact me at or follow the Food Innovation Institute website ( for more information on our 2012 Food Innovation Workshop listing at Johnson & Wales University in Denver, Colo.

Topics: Business Strategy and Profitability , Food & Beverage , Operations Management , Pizza Toppings

Darrel Suderman / Darrel Suderman, Ph.D., is president of Food Technical Consulting and founder of Food Innovation Institute. He has held senior R&D/QA leadership positions at KFC, Boston Market, Church's Chicken and Quiznos and led KFC’s development team of “Popcorn Chicken”, now a $1B international product –invented by Gene Gagliardi.
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