The problems hitting the restaurant industry—labor woes, competition from outside forces, real estate challenges and more—are affecting national brands and single-unit independents alike. Meanwhile, consumer preferences are shifting. While most operators aren’t looking at entirely new models, innovators are finding ways to win by improving at least one part of their business. Here are 10 concepts breaking ground, from menu to technology and more.
TAILORED MENU WITH SMALL-SPACE OPS
WHERE: NEW YORK CITY
Top-earning MCO manages mini fast casual. Full-service chains aren’t the only concepts looking to differentiate with a faster, lower-ticket alternative to their high price-point offerings. What happens when a nightclub brand—known for pricy, over-the top opulence—pairs up with an ultra-basic, inexpensive bodega staple: the bacon, egg and cheese sandwich? You get Egghead, a fast-casual spot from Tao Group inside the Moxy Times Square hotel in New York City that’s elevating the classic breakfast handheld.
Part of the reason Egghead, with its lower check averages, is able to survive in the high-rent Times Square area: Tao Group runs all of the foodservice inside the Marriott property, from the rooftop bar to the upscale seafood concept and the lobby lounge. The hotel doesn’t offer room service, so there is a built-in, automatic audience. “There was a real need to answer the question of what guests will have for breakfast,” says Lauren Menache, the restaurant group’s director of public relations.
The hotel had a glass-fronted, 800-square-foot space, just off 7th Avenue, that became Egghead’s home. “You can see right into it and can see the grill,” Menache says of the small storefront that allows the brand to capture traffic from passers-by as well as hotel guests. “You can see what’s being cooked from the street.” Sandwich buns are prepared on-site, in one of Moxy’s kitchens.
Even though Egghead offers approachable breakfast and lunch sandwiches until 5 p.m. daily, it still demonstrates Tao Group’s signature flair in its side dishes, which are driving up check averages and generating viral buzz. The restaurant’s pecorino-stuffed hash browns, for example, have become an Instagram sensation. “We have so many influencers come in because they want to do the cheese pull,” taking a picture while pulling apart the cheese-stuffed hash browns, Menache says. And model Chrissy Teigen posted on social media about ordering Egghead’s Non Sandwich: eggs baked in a jar with ham, cheese, kale and spinach.
As the weather warms up, the restaurant plans to add late-night hours. Egghead also recently launched a catering program, complete with specially designed to-go packaging that holds 25 sandwiches individually and securely wrapped in protective sleeves.
“BASED ON THE SUCCESS OF EGGHEAD, IT’S PROBABLY LIKELY THERE WILL BE A SECOND LOCATION.”
—LAUREN MENACHE, EGGHEAD