When Jeff Miller was growing up in Kenmore, his uncle owned the Dickie's Donuts chain. But his ambitions went beyond doughnuts; as an intern in the kitchen at Pranzo, in the former Radisson Hotel, he decided to pursue culinary school.
But maybe the call of the crullers was too strong. Miller returned to Buffalo this week on business, as an employee of Dunkin' Donuts. Now a trained chef, Miller leads the team that develops new "savory" products -- as opposed to doughnuts -- for the menu of the world's biggest "baked goods and coffee chain."
He returned to Buffalo this week for the roll-out of Dunkin' Donuts' new line of afternoon soups and sandwiches in the region's 34 stores. They include a roast beef sandwich with horseradish sauce and cheddar, and a turkey-bacon sandwich with ancho chipotle sauce.
At the company's Canton, Mass., headquarters, Miller heads a squad of 20 chefs and food scientists who sort through a hundred sandwich, soup and baked goods prototypes a year to find a handful to place in stores.
How do you decide what new items to start selling?
"We ask customers about ideas. 'Is this something you'd buy from us?' If it passes some of those screens, we might make it on the bench here in Canton. Once we make it on the bench we might involve a larger team, the team of people who are really going to take that idea and make it replicable in almost 7,000 restaurants nationwide."
What do you learn from test marketing?
"What you might learn is that the customer thinks a product is too messy, it's not easy to eat on the go. The American consumer is always looking for something that's fun and easy to eat on the way to work. Maybe you learn that a product is too expensive. Maybe the texture's not quite right."
What else are you looking for?
"It's got to be portable, it's got to be able to be prepared in a quick manner. One of our brand promises is that we're going to make it for you when you order it. So it's got to be easy to make."
So you figured out how to be a chef without working nights and weekends?
"It was really too good to pass up, the opportunity to work on something that potentially millions of people would try."