Ten years ago, we were two young chefs dreaming of culinary greatness while opening our first restaurant, Amuse Bouche Bistro. My husband and I had a vision that everyone who came to eat there would ‘share and delight’ in or dream. How could they not? The menus would feature a Bistro lunch filled with adorable little French accents, such as quiche, Parisian sandwiches, and creamy puréed soups, while dinner would be the traditional expensive proteins. We would have a changing menu and keep the place small and intimate. The fact that we only had one bathroom restricted us by local license to a BYOB operation. Turning this into lemonade, we featured it as one the few such restaurants in the Phoenix area. Good for attracting a different clientele if not for making extra money. So, two French-trained chefs opening a bistro in a strip-mall in Surprise, AZ. Totally sounds like a recipe for success!! It was complete with a patio view of the parking lot and overhead lights that would force even the most hardened criminals to confess.
To our dismay the snow-birds found it outrageous that we charged $24 for scallops (without a potato or salad) and the younger clientele were pissed that we didn’t have $10 designer martinis with which to ply and gouge them. Lunch service was barely making rent and paying the employees, while dinner service was unpredictable and expensive to stock ingredients (trust me when I say that throwing out scallops is heartbreaking.)
It was our own egos that drove us to showcase what we could do for breakfast. People tend to classify cooks as, ‘’He cooks Italian’’ or ‘’She makes pastries.’’ Not Snir and I. No way were we going to be put into a box. We were trained in France. The French invented the cooking techniques that yielded consistent, extraordinary results. We wanted to prove that we could take those techniques and apply them to any meal of any culture. Could that even apply to breakfast (one of my favorite meals of all time)?
Even as a child my mother would occasionally reward us with a choice for dinner. Strangely, my brother and I would yell ‘’puffed up pancakes!’’ This was a treat from our Norwegian heritage, and now made me think it could work at our restaurant. It seems to be a comfort meal around the world and here in the US of A, that syrup isn’t just for the morning. Who made that damn rule anyway? In France it’s not uncommon to have a slice of quiche with a green salad for dinner. Eggs for the evening meal? How outrageous!
So one year after we opened our doors, Amuse Bouche opened for Sunday breakfast. Typically, it’s the day that families eat together, the day that most people are home from work, and most importantly, the day that half your customers have just gotten a healthy dose of God, kindness, and a clean slate. This is the glorious day that everyone is less apt to complain about the high price of their poached eggs and more likely to tip, even if the service was slow. Don’t get me wrong, the crowd was still full of entitled complainers. “I want to sit at that table by the window.” “I’m sorry but we have a reservation at that table in 15 minutes.” “Well then, we’ll never come back.” “Uh, ok.” Boy we’ve had a few of those stories over the years, but we’ll save that for another blog!
So with only ten thousand left in our bank account, we added another menu and more work to our lives. Looking back now, the decision probably saved our business. I imagine my father is eternally grateful to everyone who supported breakfast and saved him from loaning us more money. Leave your name and address in the comment section and he’ll add you to his Christmas card list.
So what’s so great about breakfast you ask?
- Low cost of ingredients – How much does a restaurant charge for a single side of eggs? In my experience it’s around $4 for two scrambled eggs. That’s $2 per egg. How much does an egg cost? No more than 15 cents an egg! Same for a side of toast, $4. The restaurant needs to charge 225% of cost to be profitable. I’m no Einstein, but this is clearly surpassing that goal. Have 40 leftover poached eggs? No big deal, it’s not like throwing out scallops.
- Fast turn-over of tables – People tend to be starving by the time they get up, get ready, go to church, and finally stumble through our doors. This translates to getting in fast, ordering fast, and eating fast. The only time we had a problem with this model was when a large party of people showed up without a reservation. Large parties tend to be celebrating and maxing their table time. They also tend to drink alcoholic beverages which extends the time. As a foodie, whose main enjoyment is eating out, I totally understand this! As an owner who has a line out the door, it’s aggravating. This was particularly hard for us as we were a BYOB and were clearly not making any money of the endless champagne toasts.
- Limited menu – Have I mentioned eggs? Eggs different ways, eggs with protein, eggs with vegetables, eggs with cheese, eggs baked into flour and topped with syrup.
- Ability to predict volume – Breakfast crowds are fairly constant and can be calculated by day of the week. All roads lead to Sunday.
- Generally happier attitude of the customers (my opinion) – As mentioned previously, off work, time with the family, absolved of sins. Amen! Our motto in the kitchen was Sunday Funday!
- Early in, early out (Sunday night dinner with my own family!) – The most delightful day of the week for a restaurant owner. High profit and still back home with your own family at a reasonable time. Dinner, cocktails and Sunday evening cigars.
I think there are many reasons that breakfast is so darn satisfying. It is the first meal of the day after breaking your sleep fast, it reminds people of time with their families, savory and sweet are both welcome at the table, it can be decadent and remind people of being on vacation, and there is always the possibility of having a drink before noon (yay brunch!)
My husband and I are so convinced that breakfast is the way forward for a restaurant owner that we would consider nothing else for our next venture. I mean reasonable hours, satisfying food, happy customers, all rolled into maximum PROFITABILITY!
So why isn’t everyone doing it? Have you tasted our hollandaise sauce? Skill level required HIGH.
Here is the breakfast menu were served at Amuse Bouche:
As always, happy to hear your comments and answer your questions.