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Inside Breakfast’s Record-Breaking COVID Comeback

Plant-based importance

The flavor trends are back, too. The Works Café, a chain of nine locations headquartered in Keene, New Hampshire, recently launched a vegan breakfast burrito.

It features organic tofu and locally smoked tempeh, turmeric, roasted onions, roasted red peppers, baby spinach, and avocado, grilled in a GMO-free locally-produced tortilla. “More and more folks seem to be asking about plant-based and vegan options, and find it difficult to find such items on menus,” CEO and founder Richard French says. If this goes well, he’ll explore more vegan menu items. “Vegan is a small segment but a growing segment,” he says.

It’s reflected in the concept’s organic ancient grains power bowls. The Autumn Harvest vegan optionhas moved way up in popularity, which says something,” French says. Other bowls include smoked salmon and bacon avocado.

Key to The Works’ food and the company’s overall philosophy is food sourced well, and taking care of the planet. Offering seasonal food is “super tricky,” French says, since “it requires local producers and has been difficult for us to have consistency among our cafes, spread out over five states.”

However, he does work with two regional produce distributors and one farm to supply seasonal items. It works best, he says with root vegetables as they store well and have a long season, and local hot house tomatoes. He’s now in early conversations to source local, hydroponically grown greens year-round.

Full-service mirroring

During the pandemic, off-premises dining took off at full-service chain Another Broken Egg. To-go breakfast wasn’t just a quick-serve occasion any longer. The Orlando, Florida-based brand found it could offer its entire menu. Takeout and delivery business grew from 2 percent of sales and settled two years later at 15 percent.

At the same time, says president and CEO Paul Macaluso, who previously worked at Focus Brands and as CEO of Krystal, dining in-house increased regulations were loosened. But since all of the concept’s business occurs between 7 am and 2 pm, offering takeout “has been a way to break through those seating capacity issues. Our kitchens can handle more business with third-party delivery.”

So it’s no surprise Another Broken Egg is seeing record unit volumes, and overall sales up 21 percent last year compared to 2019. “People missed socializing, life and comfort and that’s what our café provides,” Macaluso says.

LTOs are also helping keep business strong. The company is offering 16 seasonal LTOs a year, and recently launched citrus honey and fig pancakes, with a citrus fig compote, fresh strawberries, eggs, bacon and sausage; and a sausage and fennel omelette.

“The LTOs drive business,” Macaluso says. “We have a chef-driven menu that’s pretty elevated but we try to take it up a notch with the LTOs. Some customers come every week and maybe want to try something new. This helps keep it fresh.”

And Scramblers, which has 29 stores in Ohio and Michigan, also observed an off-premises boom—from 3–4 percent of sales pre-virus to as high as 30 percent. As life recalibrated, the figure is closer to 18.5 percent. With dining rooms at capacity, this is additional revenue for the Toledo, Ohio-based company.

“Breakfast is having a very strong comeback,” says Shain Burek, president.

Scramblers’ entire menu is available for delivery, and these off-premises orders appeal largely to a younger audience.

“A younger generation has embraced this and will sacrifice quality of product and even price for the convenience of not having to take off their slippers,” Burek says. In fact, he adds, “we’re seeing a price insensitivity right now. If they can get a product they haven’t had in a while they’re happy to pay a premium for that.”

This growth to younger consumers has worked well for Scramblers, he adds, because his target market is slightly older, people in their 40s, so younger customers expand his audience.

And he’s steered clear of LTOs—until now—“because when we reopened the dining rooms, the people who came in wanted the flavors they had pre-COVID.”

However, he points out, “you have to continue to innovate.” On April 13, Scramblers relaunched its LTOs with lemon raspberry pancakes and a Nashville hot cauliflower croissant. These will run for around three months, then be replaced by the company’s fall LTOs after the summer.

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