The old-school lunch counter is undergoing a rebirth. There’s the nostalgia factor to be sure, but the luncheonette design makes smart business sense in an ever-challenging restaurant economy. The format suits all dayparts, from breakfast to late-night. And the counter-service setup can help limit payroll since one server can handle many diners in a small space. Here’s a look at some of the modern entrants.
Rooster Soup Co.
The luncheonette from MCOs Michael Solomonov and Steve Cook donates all its profits to a local organization that provides food, counseling and other services to the city’s homeless and low-income communities. Solomonov and Cook are also behind Federal Donuts, a fried chicken concept with seven units. Federal Donuts tosses out 1,000 pounds of chicken bones per week, enough to make hundreds of bowls of soup, which is why the restaurateurs settled on a soup focus for their charitable lunch-counter endeavor.
The art deco-inspired luncheonette serving sandwiches and salads opened in May. It was made possible thanks to owner Harper Matheson’s successful Kickstarter campaign, which provided the funds needed to help finish building the restaurant’s lunch counter.
Pittsburgh Lunch & Superette
Opened in February, Pittsburgh Lunch sells a seasonal menu of soups, salads and sandwiches, as well as grocery items and gifts from a shop inside. Owner Una Kim had run a seafood bistro at the same location, but hopes this is a better fit for the area. “It’s part of the future of restaurants ... to make things interesting, to incorporate technology, delivery, retail, art and more,” she told Eater.
Woolworth on 5th
The historical eatery is slated to open near year’s end following a multimillion dollar building restoration by owner TomKats Hospitality. The original lunch counter was the site of protests by black student groups against Woolworth’s whites-only policy during the 1960s. The menu at the new 80-foot counter will focus on soul food and fountain drinks, some with alcohol.
Some of the more senior members of the team smile at the junior staff who are excited to uncover an interesting trend in “eatertainment” or the latest single-ingredient concept. We try not to be condescending when we suggest they do some research by looking at past issues of Restaurant Business or old Technomic top chain reports before calling it the next big thing.