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Q&A with David Burgess, Famous Toastery

How the Famous Toastery COO views the state of better breakfast.

David BurgessDavid Burgess, COO Famous Toastery, Charlotte, N.C. Famous Toastery’s story began in 2005 in Huntersville, N.C., in a small house-turned-restaurant where best friends Brian Burchill and Robert Maynard opened their first breakfast spot. Now this better-breakfast concept has 30 stores across the East Coast and operates primarily through franchisees.

FE&S: Why do you think better breakfast continues to maintain a strong consumer following?

DB: I get asked this question a lot. The more I think about it, yes, the economy is better and things do seem to be trending toward the positive. But I do believe, due to these past few years, people have become much more conscientious of their dollars. Diners have more choices now. When it comes to breakfast specifically, they are very cognizant of how they want to spend their money. What sets Famous Toastery apart, in my opinion, is not only the quality of our food, scratch kitchen and speed of service but also the health and nutrition focus we take. We’re passionate about our food and it’s about exceeding the expectations of our guests. It’s easy to just pull a box of frozen breakfast out of the freezer. However, consumers these days want something more; namely made-to-order, tastes great and is good for them, because they know that value of the dollar.

We’re also happy that breakfast all day is still going strong. We opened 13 years ago with this concept, and the reason behind it was that we don’t want our guests to feel like they can only have part of our menu. Telling people they’re only allowed to order from a certain menu at a certain time of day is like telling theatergoers, “Sorry, you can only see Act Three.” We want our guests to experience the entire show.

FE&S: While brunch is certainly always popular, have you seen any growth in your weekly breakfast sales?

DB: When it comes to full-service breakfast, we have actually seen an increase in Monday through Friday morning sales where historically it has been much more lunch focused. People these days seem to want to be served, even at breakfast. There was a huge trend among QSRs for a faster breakfast, but we think that’s starting to fall away. We cook all of our food to order in an average of just five minutes, so many of our regulars figure what is the point of takeout when I can actually sit down and enjoy the food hot.

FE&S: Have you made any adjustments to offer more takeout or grab-and-go items?

DB: In downtown and urban locations, we have had to adjust our retail and grab-and-go offerings to meet the needs of busy office workers who maybe have two minutes to get food on their way to work. We have installed more hot warmers, cold wells, coffee makers and reach-in coolers in the front of those locations (worth about an extra 200 square feet of space) to allow our guests to pick what they want quickly, pay and leave. We have not seen a drop in food quality here. Utilizing this equipment has allowed us to still meet our guests’ expectations.

FE&S: You mentioned nutrition and wellness is a bigger focus these days. What is your approach to that?

DB: Nutrition is becoming a bigger focus for us, and again, this goes back to the heart of our scratch kitchen concept. People don’t want frozen, premade products or precracked eggs that might have preservatives and additives in them. We only buy ingredients fresh so we can control what goes in our dishes. We even hand-cut fruit for our fruit cups so they are fresh and not losing important nutrients the longer they sit out. We have plans to grow the menu in another direction as far as introducing power bowls and some new salads, but we are still working on that at the moment.

FE&S: How is your kitchen set up to be able to cook everything from scratch but also so quickly?

DB: Our kitchens are all set up the same way to ensure we are able to cook fresh, made-to-order entrees for every guest. We have learned along the way the best flow for our kitchen.

We rely on just a few pieces of equipment: a flattop griddle, a saute range, a salamander, three or four line coolers, a convection oven, a toaster, and that’s pretty much it. We still use ticket printers and the expediter will call out orders as they come in and each station will get to work.

Contrary to popular thought, we don’t use our flattop for eggs because we cook all of our popular omelets and other egg dishes to order in individual saute pans on the range. For our popular Avocado Benedict, we bake the avocado, poach the eggs and melt the cheese on top in the salamander, and that’s it. For the corn beef hash, we slow-roast our own corned beef in the convection oven, hand shred the potatoes and finish everything on the flattop griddle. We haven’t drastically changed our menu, but over the years, we have added new items — like the Avocado Benedict — based on what the guests are asking for. We’ll run new items as specials to try them out, only adding them if they are historically successful.

FE&S: Have you made any changes to your equipment lately? What do you look for in your selections?

DB: We have made some changes to equipment over the years, but more along the lines of service. We have chosen certain pieces based on the type of warranty programs they come with as well as the best service agents and preventative maintenance packages we can get for our dollar. We would rather pay a little more upfront to know that when we need someone to come out and fix a piece of equipment that they will be there the same day. We rely equally on each piece of equipment we have in the kitchen in order to be able to operate, so service is very important to us.

FE&S: What changes come with expansion in the front and/or back of the house?

DB: I don’t foresee any major equipment changes coinciding with our expansion, but it could require us to look at how we organize our prep or build in more space for prep in the kitchen.

Right now, the square footage of our restaurants range from about 2,900 to 5,000 square feet, with the ideal target at around 3,200 square feet. Out front, we have made some cosmetic changes to the dining area, such as using more custom-made furnishings to be able to fit more tables in different types of locations, and changing the color scheme to a brighter, whitewashed look. We also use drop ceilings for acoustic benefits. Some locations have private dining space for morning or afternoon business meetings.

FE&S: What is your approach to expansion?

DB: Though we just opened our 30th location, we take a “disciplined progression” approach to expansion. We grow as we are able to sustain that growth. We don’t open new stores just to open them. We want to make sure they will be profitable and function as expected.

That said, our plans for growth next year could be 1or 30, but we’re currently looking at 18 possible locations. Either way, we’re confident that the “better breakfast”market will continue to remain strong.