Tuesday, May 31, 2011

No Proust, Just A Mexican Mudslide.

It is a literary cliché that whenever something triggers a string of memories, you're supposed to reference a certain pastry. I've done it a million times and I'm through. If you are appreciative, thank Chi-Chi's.

I received a press release today from Sazerac about their new Chi-Chi's Skinny Margarita (just in time for summer!). It's only 95 calories per serving, is sweetened with agave nectar, and contains no artificial colors, flavors or added sugars, making it an all-natural product.

I have no interest in this product but the press release got me thinking about several other things.

Such as was Beam crazy to pay real money for the Skinnygirl drinks line? Yes, authentic Skinnygirl comes with brand founder and reality show performer Bethenny Frankel, but the product recipe is so easy to rip off and so is the name.

'Skinny Margarita,' which is perfectly generic and thus can be used by anyone, is just about as good.

I can't decide if the Skinnygirl line has no legs or if they're just very, very thin.

Then I thought about how Mark Brown, president of Sazerac, has his office at Buffalo Trace in Frankfort and how I rarely talk to him about anything except whiskey, so it's easy to forget there's a lot more to Sazerac than bourbon and rye, such as Chi-Chi's, which is a line of pre-mixed cocktails.

Press releases always end with an 'about' paragraph or two. This is for background and is usually not included when the releases are picked up in the media. Sometimes I find them more interesting than the releases. It was, for example, significant when Fortune started to list Knob Creek alongside Jim Beam in their standard 'about' paragraph.

Here's the one from today's Chi-Chi's release. "The Chi Chi’s family includes Original, Gold, Mango, Strawberry, and Skinny Margarita; Strawberry Daiquiri; Long Island Ice Tea; Raspberry Long Island Ice Tea; Pomegranate Martini; Cosmopolitan; Appletini; White Russian; Mojito; Mexican Mudslide; Mai Tai, and Pina Colada. Chi Chi’s is produced and bottled by the Sazerac Company. Sazerac is one of New Orleans’ oldest family owned, privately held companies and has operations in New Orleans, Louisiana; Frankfort, Bardstown, Louisville and Owensboro, Kentucky; Fredericksburg, Virginia; Carson, California; and Baltimore, Maryland. For more information on Sazerac, please visit www.sazerac.com."

I suppose the name 'Mexican Mudslide' could be considered offensive by anyone who has ever been injured or lost property in an actual mudslide in Mexico.

That got me thinking about Chi-Chi's restaurants. The company was based in Louisville when I lived there (1978-1987). I did a little bit of marketing work for them. At the time, Chi-Chi's was being run by an ex-KFC guy, which is also based in Louisville. Louisville was and I guess still is unique for a town its size in having so many headquarters of companies that buy lots of advertising, marketing, PR, and design services, which was good for people like me who do that kind of work.

What's amazing is how successfully the Chi-Chi's brand has survived the restaurant chain's demise. Chi-Chi's was a sit-down chain restaurant that served 'Mexican' food. I use quotes because the menu was Tex-Mex and very Americanized even for that.

According to Wikipedia, the last Chi-Chi's restaurant in the U.S. closed in 2004, but there are a few left in Belgium, Luxembourg, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Indonesia and Canada. I also learned that Chi-Chi's corporate parent, which licenses the name to Sazerac and also to Hormel, which makes Chi-Chi's chips, salsa, and other foods, also owns the Tumbleweed restaurant chain.

When I lived in Louisville, Tumbleweed was a one-off, and the best Mexican restaurant in town. I dined and drank there often. It was on Mellwood Avenue between downtown and Zorn Avenue, close to the Fischer Meats plant. (Wikipedia tells me that unit, which became the flagship, was actually #2. The original was across the river in New Albany, Indiana.)

I ate in one of the chain versions once. It did not trigger any memories.

If the press release triggered any other memories, I've since forgotten them.


sku said...

What does Sazerac do in Carson, California? I had no idea they had an outpost in my backyard.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Bottling and distribution at least and maybe some things like mixing up gin, flavored vodka, and liqueurs. Also they're an importer, so they may be receiving and distributing imported products from there. All that is stuff you would normally do at a bottling plant and finished goods warehouse.