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Ethnic-flavored breakfast items drive sales

Operators tap into global flavors as they seek to drive traffic in the earliest daypart.

Who knew that beans could mean so much to so many people? 

These days restaurant breakfasts are featuring authentic ethnic dishes that are anything but traditional red, white and blue fare. Everything from Latin and Mediterranean to Asian flavors are tempting millennials, college students and baby boomers alike.

But when it comes to breakfast, Mexican cuisine is out in front.

A case in point is the breakfast offerings of 388-unit, Cheyenne, Wyo.-based Taco John’s. The chain's most popular burrito is the Meat and Potato Breakfast Burrito, made using Potato Olés, nacho cheese sauce, a choice of bacon or sausage and eggs in a flour tortilla, says Bob Karisny, vice president for menu strategy and innovation.

“We do a scrambler burrito that has the same ingredients as our Meat and Potato version with the addition of roasted poblanos, fresh onions and tomatoes,” he says. “We also have a Spicy Chorizo Burrito containing eggs, chorizo sausage, jalapeños, and spicy salsa.”

Amy Myrdal Miller, president of Farmer’s Daughter Consulting, says Mexican breakfasts are especially popular in California. “Here in California I see a lot of Mexican offerings including breakfast burritos, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles,” she says.

Personal and customized

Aside from changing demographics and a growing Hispanic population, Miller sees other reasons to offer Mexican breakfast choices. “Ethnic breakfasts like burritos offer the ability to personalize the order based on a guest’s preferences, which makes the item a great fit for operations that like to offer customization. Additionally, huevos rancheros and chilaquiles offer savory alternatives to more typically sweet breakfast fare like pancakes.” 

Daniel Tellez, executive chef for Copita Tequileria y Comida, a highly rated Mexican restaurant and tequila bar in Sausalito, Calif., says the public is hungry for brunch items with an ethnic flair. Tellez menus such favorites as Enfrijoladas — scrambled egg fried tacos with black bean sauce, housemade chorizo, pickled red onion and cilantro; and Xalapa Eggs — scrambled eggs with cured bacon and jalapeño peppers in tomato and oregano sauce, black bean puree, sour cream and cilantro.

“I think that guests are looking for different options, especially for breakfast/brunch, which is also a great meal period to take the time to enjoy the dishes and the delicious flavor profiles,” Tellez says.

Thirteen-unit Famous Toastery began as a breakfast spot in 2005 in Huntersville, N.C., and has evolved into a franchise system that offers two breakfast burritos: the Burrito with Homemade Salsa featuring eggs, tomatoes, onions, peppers and cheddar wrapped in a flour tortilla; and a Sunrise Burrito with homemade salsa, egg whites, brie, avocado and tomatoes wrapped in a flour tortilla.

“We like to get creative and try new combinations, so we currently have an egg dish with pico de gallo and meatloaf,” says Famous Toastery chief executive and founder Robert Maynard.

Maynard says ethnic cuisine appeals to all demographics. “There are so many cultures that make up the world today and everyone wants to try the different flavors of different countries.”

At UMass Dining Services, which caters to more than 19,000 students on various meal plans, Chinese breakfast is commonplace. “We serve rice congee [rice porridge] daily and dim sum weekly at our all-you-care-to-eat dining centers and at our catering events,” says Ken Toong, executive director at UMass Auxiliary Enterprises.

Each day the congee comes with plain rice and a meat variety — either chicken, pork or fish — as well as a self-serve selection of toppings such as spring onions, peanuts, sliced Chinese crullers, cilantro, light soy sauce and fried dry shallots.”

Another Asian offering is front and center at Anzu, a Japanese restaurant in San Francisco. The restaurant serves a diced tofu and ginger scrambled egg dish. 

Trending on menus

Not surprisingly, about 68 percent of chefs surveyed by the National Restaurant Association say ethnic-inspired breakfast items are trending for 2016. In fact, both “ethnic-inspired breakfast items” and “traditional ethnic breakfast items” made it to the list of top five trends for breakfast.

Even Southern-inspired, Atlanta-based Flying Biscuit Café, which has 14 units, is getting into breakfasts with an ethnic twist. “We work to differentiate ourselves from the standard breakfast restaurant, and the Meggxican wrap and the Eggceptional Eggs offer some unique flavors to our guests,” says Brent Fuller, brand leader/vice president of operations with the Flying Biscuit Café.

The Meggxican Wrap features a spicy scramble of eggs, cheddar cheese, onions, serrano peppers wrapped in a flour tortilla, topped with a warm tomato salsa and a dollop of sour cream; while the Eggceptional Eggs features two eggs over medium on black bean cakes topped with oven-roasted tomatillo salsa, feta cheese and sour cream.

Tony Fialho, director of culinary innovation for Chalak Mitra Group of Companies, parent of 24-unit, globally inspired, casual-dining Elephant Bar, touts breakfast influences from around the world.Gooey, buttery French Toast, Pork Tomatillo Omelet, Sunrise Breakfast Tostada, and Philly Cheesesteak Frittata, which is a call out to Italy, are all part of the chain’s breakfast offerings.

At Union Square Hospitality Group’s Maialino in New York, chef Nick Anderer’s rustic Roman cuisine permeates the menu — breakfast included. Maialino, which anchors the Gramercy Park Hotel, features dishes such as Salsiccia, which includes chicken and pork sausage, housemade English muffin, provolone, mustard and fried eggs; Ricotta Pancakes; and Porchetta — pork roast and ciabatta 

Maeve Webster, president of Menu Matters and trends analyst, says Italian influences are indeed gaining traction in the U.S. just as Asian dishes are coming onto the culinary scene.

Myrdal Miller also says to keep an eye out for quinoa breakfast porridge that is widely popular in South America. “The operations that are now menuing oatmeal may start to venture into more ethnic versions of breakfast porridge,” she says. “Since quinoa has such a strong health halo, it’s poised to get some play on American breakfast menus.”

Millenial influence

Clearly with millennials becoming more influential in the marketplace, ethnic breakfasts will only gain traction. As Webster points out, “There’s no denying that younger consumers — millennials, Gen Z and so on — are exposed to an increasingly diverse array of ethnic cuisines at an even younger age, so their breakfast habits could look significantly different than the boomer generation within the next 10 years.” 

Famous Toastery’s Maynard agrees. “Millennials want to try everything new, so now it is the norm to order something that was once considered different,” he says. “They no longer just want meat and potatoes. They want what is new, tastes great, but also different from menu items that they can get elsewhere.”



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