If Arizona is the birthplace of the breakfast/lunch restaurant concept, the 21-year-old U.S. Egg Restaurant is one of this segment's pioneers.
"We were one of the first eateries of this type," says George Gebran, who owns and operates four restaurant locations with his father and three brothers. "We see these types of operations all over the West, but not so much in the East or Midwest. I'm not sure why this concept started or took off here, but it is becoming more prevalent across the country."
Along with its original location in Tempe, U.S. Egg opened a restaurant in Scottsdale two years ago, expanded to Phoenix in 2010 and just launched a site in Chandler this year. All eateries have identical menus, pricing and décor. "We wanted to stay consistent with our brand," Gebran says.
While the physical restaurants may be identical, they each serve a customer base with a considerably different demographic makeup. The Tempe location attracts the area's college students from Arizona State University, while the Phoenix and Scottsdale sites bring in more retirees. "The fact that our locations are so diverse shows that this concept can work anywhere," Gebran says. "This is a place people can eat at five days a week."
FE&S spoke with Gebran about the limited-service egg-based restaurant segment as a whole as well as his own business.
FE&S: What are the trends in the egg-focused restaurant segment?
GG: Consumers are more health conscious. Ten years ago, 90 percent of our customers requested hash browns as a side, with the remaining 10 percent asking for fresh fruit. Now, 40 percent of our customers are choosing fresh fruit over hash browns. In the past, only about two percent of customers would substitute egg whites or egg substitutes. Now, 80 percent of our business is regular eggs, while 10 percent is egg whites, and the remaining 10 percent is egg substitute.
FE&S: What are the biggest challenges in running an LSR egg-based concept?
GG: There is increased competition now that everyone, including chains like Subway, Chili's and Starbucks, sells breakfast. It can be difficult retaining guests that are on the go, because they have more options. There also are challenges and constrictions due to our shorter hours. We can't make up for not having dinner, so we need to make sure our locations are conducive to breakfast and lunch business. These sights need to have a lot of commercial traffic.
FE&S: What is unique about this segment?
GG: We are different from traditional restaurants because we operate on an eight-hour shift. In this business, it is unusual for staff to have much downtime outside of work, but our employees are free after 3:30 p.m.
FE&S: Describe your operation.
GG: We are a 5,000-square-foot restaurant with approximately 180 seats. Our décor simulates a cottage and includes pastel colors and warm lighting. We offer an all-American breakfast and lunch menu that includes half-moon omelets, burgers, sandwiches and salads. Our signature items include a protein pancake made with whole wheat, granola, almonds, blueberries and cinnamon, in addition to our jalapeno burger.
FE&S: Describe your kitchen.
GG: Our 2,000-square-foot kitchens, which all have the same equipment, include a 22-cubic-foot cookline. This area features a range, two six-foot grills for pancakes, deep fryer, charbroiler, custom six-foot-long cheese melter, six-burner stove and an open-face grill. We also have a walk-in refrigerator and freezer and a double-wide dishwashing machine. Our grills are most integral to our operation.
FE&S: What are the most important aspects you look for when purchasing equipment?
GG: We look at the history of the manufacturer and the warranty. Also, durability and reliability are key. We have no problem spending more money on a piece of equipment, if it will last longer, rather than having to continually replace cheaper units. We have found that much of the equipment today, especially refrigerators, is built to be more disposable. If I could create a piece of equipment myself, it would have an auto-cleaning feature.
FE&S: Has your operation undergone any changes recently?
GG: Our Tempe location underwent a $150,000 remodel last year and will serve as the prototype for our new builds. In the kitchen, we expanded the line to 22 feet, adding a dedicated sauté grill. This has really speeded things up for us. We no longer get complaints that our pancakes taste like onions, since our food is segregated. We also installed new flooring, fiber-reinforced plastic walls in the kitchen, changed out the booths and gave the bathroom a facelift.