Kirk Biondi, director of menu development and corporate chef at Huddle House, knows how much guests at the family-dining chain love their comfort food. But he also knows that today’s customers may be craving slightly more adventurous flavor profiles.
“I can never take signatures like our omelets, hash browns and sausage gravy off the menu,” he said of the Southern favorites that have gained the Atlanta-based chain a following. “But my goal is to build layers of familiar, craveable flavors on different platforms.”
As the dad of four children, Biondi is very family-oriented, he pointed out, which makes him a good fit for a family-dining chain. “I use my family as inspiration to identify the flavors and formats that everybody craves,” he said.
Bowls and wraps are the latest platform to showcase craveable flavors. The category goes into test on Aug. 29, and features both homestyle Southern ingredients in the classic version and bolder flavors in the Southwestern-style items. The latter includes the same bacon, eggs and skillet potatoes as the classic, but pepper jack cheese in place of cheddar and the addition of peppers and onions amp up the flavor.
A proprietary Southwest sauce also differentiates the second version—an ingredient Biondi perfected in the R&D kitchen but worked with a supplier partner to scale up.
The bowls and wraps are launching as an LTO, but if they prove popular, they can turn into a permanent menu category, he said.
The chef is also creating additional sauces and condiments to enhance burgers, focusing on sweet, smoky and savory flavor profiles. Bacon jam is a good example of taking familiar flavors to the next level, while Carolina barbecue sauce gives guests a smokier, mustard-based sauce for burgers. Also in the works is pimento cheese, a Southern specialty with a Huddle House twist.
In every case, Biondi cross-utilizes ingredients on hand and is adept at adapting to current supply chain challenges.
“During R&D for the bowls and burritos, I decided on a certain product, but the supplier couldn’t get it at this time,” he said. “Rather than delay the launch or take it off the menu, I worked with another source to spec something similar.”
He also is adept at introducing global and regional flavors without calling them out and possibly turning off more conservative customers. Biondi will create a sweet-and-sour profile, for example, but won’t call it Asian on the menu.
“Most of our 300 restaurants are in smaller towns in Alabama and Georgia,” he said. “Our customers count on Huddle House for all-day breakfast and comfort foods. We want guests to feel like they can come in a couple of times a week and find familiar foods.”
Nevertheless, he sees palates in that region evolving, with TikTok and other social-media channels promoting unique cooking techniques and dishes.
Biondi also sees Huddle House evolving as a concept. During the pandemic, he pivoted the menu to off-premise and he will continue to innovate in this area. A few of the units now have takeout windows and drive-thrus—a trend that will continue to drive locations, even in the family-dining segment. Digital ordering and third-party delivery is now an expectation, even in small towns.
But Biondi will stay true to the chain’s roots. “I love the idea that we can offer scratch-made comfort food at a great price,” he said.