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How Culinary Piracy Is Shaping The Orange County Food Scene

It’s often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, for food industry entrepreneurs, recipes are created without protection — making original ideas free game for anyone willing to commit culinary piracy and repurpose adopted concepts for personal and monetary gains.

Recently, the topic of culinary piracy, specifically within the Orange County, Calif. food scene, became the focal point of discussion on FOODBEAST’s weekly podcast, The Katchup. Hosted by FOODBEAST Co-Founders Elie Ayrouth and Geoff Kutnick, The Katchup featured special guest, chef, and food personality, Josh Elkin.

If social media has provided anything, it has become a utility — a metaphorical looking glass into the world of food, if you will — that we can use at our disposal to find new and interesting trends.

With that said, now, perhaps more than ever, social media is providing tangible evidence that culinary piracy is thriving within a vibrant O.C. food scene.

Instagram has become a haven of food plagiarism, spawning a new breed of culinary copycats eager to emulate the next trend  — without fear of legal repercussion and void of originality.

‘Pros And Cons’

The Loop, a well-known handcrafted churro spot in Westminster, which opened in 2016, is just one OC-based spot being affected by this blatant example of what Ayrouth has dubbed as “swagger jacking.”

Culinary piracy

@TheLoop/@Churroholic

Churroholic, which opened in June, has striking similarities to The Loop — from the actual shape of their product, all the way down to website aesthetics. Although, it seems doubtful that Churroholic is innocently trying to gain inspiration from their O.C. predecessor, considering their branding is almost identical.

Although, Churroholic doesn’t seem like the only business “swagger jacking”oval-shaped churros. In fact, there’s a place in Kuwait literally called The Loop Cafe, with no official affiliation to either of these Orange County brands.

In some cases, copying someone’s concept for profit is illegal. Just ask Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg. But, when it comes to food, there are few laws preventing businesses from “swagger jacking” their competition.

Shrimp Daddy, a purveyor of Hawaiian-inspired pineapple shrimp bowls, and a regular vendor at Smorgasburg LA, has become an inspiration for the trendy poke chain The Low-Key Poke Joint.

culinary piracy

@ShrimpDaddy/@TheLowKeyPokeJoint

An online debate broke out on The Low-Key Poke Joint’s Instagram page after several users began commenting about the resemblance to Shrimp Daddy’s pineapple bowl.

Though this all might seem like a back alley reproduction of someone’s intellectual property, it can be argued that Instagram has made food ideation and creation extremely territorial.

Kutnick explained that Orange County is in a unique place in the food world, essentially because craft dining is just recently becoming a trend in the area, which might be contributing to the exponential occurrence of copycatting.

“Orange County is in this weird place, because everywhere craft dining is becoming a thing. That’s why there’s so much copycatting here, it’s because there’s this entrepreneurial mindset that’s almost like, ‘I’m an entrepreneur and that’s better than a chef.'”Geoffrey Kutnick, Co-Founder of FOODBEAST

Perhaps that’s why OC-based bubble tea maker Main Squeeze decided to replicate Dominique Ansel’s What-a-Melon Soft Serve. How would the Cronut-creating genius feel about having a recipe snaked about a month after it debuted at his West Village bakery? Someone should tweet him.

culinary piracy

@DominqueAnsel/@MainSqueezeOC

As the “swagger jacking” continues, Birthdae Cake, a small ice cream shop located in Fountain Valley is evidently also a fan of Ansel. Birthdae Cake’s recent posts show off a new s’more creation, that looks exactly like one of Ansel’s Frozen S’mores.

culinary piracy

@DominqueAnsel/@Birthdae Cake

Yet, similarly to the other instances of culinary piracy there is no mention of the S’mores creator. However, Birthdae Cake did manage to photograph their product from the same angle.

It seems like creative ideas must remain locked in a kitchen vault or they are poached and sold for profit. Let’s not forget egregious acts of culinary piracy on the corporate level as well. Burger King swiped the Vulgar Chef’s Mac N’ Cheetos concept and there was nothing he could do.

But, Burger King has no face in the community. The businesses in this article are all a part of a tight-knit foodie community within Orange County — which makes it seem much more deceitful.

Being an entrepreneur is not easy, but there should be ethical standard when it comes to directly repurposing someone else’s idea.

Ayrouth further explains, “A big part about being an entrepreneur is noticing something and capitalizing on it. So, just because you’re not first to do something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try — or do it better — there’s a lot of things you can innovate and do better.”

Business owners can do as they please. Still, creating culinary doppelgangers for the sake of Instagram fame is only inviting ethical dilemmas for the offending copycats.

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You Can Find Mermaid Churros Glistening At This California Dessert Parlor

Nestled in the heart Orange County, California is a magical place filled with mermaids and churros. No, seriously.

The Loop: Handcrafted Churros, located in Garden Grove, just created a mystical dessert that could potentially draw sailors to their bittersweet doom: Mermaid Churros.

A golden fried churro is brushed with a smooth blueberry glaze and topped with mermaid sparkle crystals. Then, a cup of vanilla soft-serve is topped with chocolate pearls and, like the dessert’s mythical namesake, it even features a chocolate mermaid’s tail.

Those two components combined will sing you a hauntingly beautiful siren song of sweetness.

The dessert parlor is also pairing their Mermaid Churros with a hypnotic new Mermaid Lemonade. The drink features a blend of blue raspberry lemonade and butterfly pea flower tea. Once you shake it, the lemonade creates an otherworldly reaction akin to the shimmering sea at sunset.

If you’re in the Orange County area, make sure to get in line for this dessert as soon as The Loop opens at noon. The lemonade sells out pretty quickly.

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FOODBEAST News Restaurants Sweets What's New

PIKACHU CHURRO: Here’s Where To Catch This Adorable Dessert

With the Pokemon GO craze still going strong, a local dessert shop decided to have a little fun with their menu. The Loop, a do-it-yourself churro spot in Southern California, created these adorable Pikachu churros as a gag.

Pikachurro-Cover

That gag got more than 10,000 likes on Instagram between three photos.

While The Loop currently didn’t serve the PikaChurro (the toothpicks used to hold the ears in place are a safety hazard) the owners knew they were onto something big. Co-owner of The Loop, Jed, had this to say:

With the huge response to the PIKACHURRO, we’re developing a way to sell it in store safely sans toothpicks. Our challenge is we get such high traffic, that we need to figure out an efficient way to serve and serve fresh, which we’re working on now. Hopefully, it will be available sometime soon this month.

Since we last spoke to Jed, he and his team have figured out a way to fashion the Pocket Monster Churro without using toothpicks – with Pocky Sticks.

Brilliant. The Loop began selling the PikaChurros on Monday, August 15. They’ll only be available Mondays through Fridays. Because of the insane popularity, the bright-yellow dessert typically sells out within the first 30 minutes of the store opening, said Jed.

We limit it to 25 per day, so they’re rare.

You can visit The Loop to get your churro and Pokemon fix – the place is a well-known PokeStop in the community.

 

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Hit-Or-Miss

Food Instagrammers Are Freaking Out Over This Beautiful Churro Restaurant

Where in the world does the idea for a photo-friendly, customize-your-own churro restaurant come from? In the case of The Loop, a brand new Orange County, CA-based churro store, they have Instagram to thank.

I’m hungry, per usual, so I ask Jed, co-owner of The Loop, to meet me at the pho joint a few spots down from his new storefront. His place doesn’t open for another hour, I figure that’s enough time for some dumplings and blistering hot soup.

Jed sits across from me frenetically checking mentions on his massive foodie Instagram account @DailyFoodFeed. Just over a year old, the account now has 300,000 followers all by jokingly starting the account to “test hashtags for his restaurant PR clients.”

Now, Jed uses his account for various forms of market research — and in the most recent study, it helped him decide that opening up a churro-centric restaurant would be a smart business move.

jed

Anyone who follows @DailyFoodFeed will see a healthy array of photos of Jed’s own clients and restaurants his friends and colleagues around Orange County own, Afters Ice Cream, Slapfish and Bagels & Brew included. All the photos follow a similar, food boner-throbbing aesthetic of cheese-pulls, aggressive color contrasting and carefully curated hashtags that generate an enviable amount of engagement.

Yet, beneath the surface, Jed is expertly surveying the engagement levels that different food items will fetch. Topographical burger angle doesn’t work not getting enough likes? Never posting that again. Not enough colors to catch the eyes of his followers in the busy Insta feed? Better hit it with some bright red Sriracha. Natural lighting is also a must, so Jed never takes photos of his food at night.

“So churro photos got more interaction than other desserts?” I ask between slurps of pho.

Loop-01

“By far. I ate through so many churros for research,” Jed says, putting his phone down to rest and acknowledge the dumplings that just landed on our table. As part of his research, Jed not only ate through whatever churro options were available in Southern California, many of which were soon to become his competition, but he would publish and tag the locations to his Instagram account.

I knew for a fact Jed would not be taking photos of the dishes in the restaurant we were at. The horrible lighting, lack of colors, despite the delicious pho and scrumptious dumplings, they didn’t pass the visual litmus test @DailyFoodFeed has adapted as rules for their own food photography.

A lot of people told Jed he couldn’t open up a restaurant like this, particularly from traditional restaurateurs who warned he didn’t have any experience to open up a restaurant.

“Do you think you’re working backwards?” I ask, making a reference to both his Instagram account, and Instagram accounts of fellow Orange County entrepreneurs Andy Nguyen and Scott Nghiem. Both Scott and Andy utilized their loyal Instagram followings to launch Afters Ice Cream, a line of successful Southern California ice cream shops.

The-Loop-03

“Yeah,” Jed started. “People think we’re just doing a hype product. But we have research, we want lines out the door — the trick is keeping them there. We’re fortunate to have this access to hundreds of thousands of foodies and we can see how they interact online to different food we post about before going into business.”

It’s a genius move — see how people react to food photos of the food you plan to sell, and have that play a large role in the food you create. Since they, along with many other strapped foodtrepreneurs, they want as much organic social marketing as possible, so why not create items worthy of the social platforms you’re hoping to be successful on?

These churros better not suck, I think, as we pay the bill and walk over to The Loop.

life-is-sweet-foodbeast-the-loop

Upon entering, a few front-of-house staff are applying hangtags to bottles of milk tea. The farthest wall from the entrance is floor-to-ceiling grass, mainly because Jed loves taking photos of food against a colorful green background — so he figured his customers would want to do the same. There’s also a brick white wall for the same photogenic reasons. Everything in here is a Food Instagrammer’s wet dream.

Loop-04

The display case you walk into showcases all the different topping options, from Oreos to Fruity Pebbles. On the wall is a soft serve machine, a welcome addition to warm churros. In the back of house, where we promptly head, his team is frying up churros and mixing glazes for the busy day ahead. I dunk my finger in a cup of matcha green tea glaze and put it to my tongue, baller.

I fire up a Facebook Livestream, mainly because my co-workers back at the office probably think I’m jerking off at home by myself and it’s a great tool for self verification of my work. Also, it’s a pretty succinct tour of the location:

The churro was delicious, warm, crispy, a nice mix between the delicious kind you find at Disneyland and the crispier alternatives you might find at the Costco food court. The bed of cold soft serve ice cream is an absolute must. By the time I demolished my churro, drank my Jasmine milk tea and wished Jed the best, a line had begun forming out the door minutes.

Instagram did this guy good — don’t let anyone tell you you can’t upload pictures of food on the Internet and start a restaurant that only serves Churros and cereal.

Thank you, Internet.

The Loop Handcrafted Churros

9729 Bolsa Ave Westminster, CA 92683