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Emerging Brands

How a boozy breakfast concept is winning by refusing to ignore lunch

The Toasted Yolk is growing with a robust midday menu, classic cocktails and signature churro doughnuts.
Photograph courtesy of BubbleUp

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The concept: The Toasted Yolk Cafe

The details: An 11-unit breakfast-and-lunch concept based in Spring, Texas, outside of Houston. Six locations are corporate-owned and five are franchised, with a sixth franchise unit slated to open later this month and another two scheduled to debut in April. Eighteen franchises have been sold. Most units are about 4,500 square feet, with patios, and are located near shopping areas and other spots with high foot traffic.

The backstory: Chris Milton, a veteran of several other restaurant chains, co-founded the concept in 2010 after noting a lack of variety in the breakfast space. “It seemed they were all kind of the same country-themed, rooster-on-the-wall breakfast place,” Milton says. “We thought we could do something different.”

Why it’s worth watching: The brand launched franchising in 2017 after taking several years to get its operations in place. It is boosting check averages with its alcoholic beverage menu, and also via its churro doughnut, which has become a surprise hit as a breakfast appetizer at many tables. Units frequently have long wait times, especially on weekends, so the chain recently started employing an online waitlist, allowing customers to get in line from home.

the toasted yolk

Photograph courtesy of BubbleUp

HERE ARE FIVE GROWTH-MINDED QUESTIONS WITH CHRIS MILTON, CO-FOUNDER AND CEO OF THE TOASTED YOLK CAFE:

  1. There are more concepts now offering alcohol at breakfast than when you started. How do you differentiate The Toasted Yolk?

A lot of our breakfast competition, especially when you get to the lunch side, they do four or five lunch items and it’s an afterthought for them. Our lunch menu is just as big as our breakfast. I have several locations where our lunch business is just as big as breakfast. When you’re out there and you’re dining with four or five people and not everybody wants breakfast, it gives them more options.

  1. Did you always intend to serve cocktails?

Our first ones started with beer and wine. We knew we wanted to evolve into more boozy cocktails. … The first [location] was really small. It didn’t have the ability to have a bar. Our third location, the bar is the center of the restaurant. The center bar is kind of what creates the vibe in our restaurants.

  1. What percentage of your sales are from alcoholic beverages?

8% to 10% of our business is alcohol normally. … But how many people wouldn’t come to eat with us if they couldn’t have a bloody mary or a mimosa? We put our locations in more of a destination place. We get the moms who want to drop the kids off at school and have a mimosa.

  1. Your stores open at 7 a.m. and close at 3 p.m. Has that been useful in recruiting and retaining employees?

Yes, in getting employees and franchises. They can do this and have quality of life. Currently, I don’t have any locations that are hiring. I’ve had managers cry about how it’s changed their life. It’s one shift, you get ready for it. … When we first opened our original one, we did wine dinners and nighttime catering events. We tried to open one of our locations and do dinner, the whole piece. It doesn’t fit our model. You lose the selling point.

  1. What have you learned since you started franchising?

When you first start out, you get guys that have a lot of money and a lot of passion and they don’t have a lot of restaurant experience. We’ve tried to bring some of those guys through the system, and they can’t do it on their own. [Now], if you come in to us and you don’t have any restaurant experience, you need to bring on an operator.

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