American diners are used to nibbling on a roll or a piece of bread as they peruse the menu in a full-service restaurant. In fact, many have grown to expect that free basket. Some casual-dining chains have turned that expectation into a craving: The Cheesecake Factory’s brown bread—known internally as wheat bread—is so popular with diners, the company is now selling it at retail. And many patrons of Red Lobster satisfy their passion for the chain’s Cheddar Bay Biscuits by making them at home from a packaged mix.
Some fine-dining concepts are taking consumers’ bread obsessions to the next level and profiting from it. Instead of serving bread gratis, operators are offering chef-crafted rolls and loaves on the appetizer list—and charging $5 or more for them. Here’s how five restaurants are building incremental sales with signature bread items.
1. Potato bread plus
The baked potato bing bread at Parachute restaurant in Chicago combines Korean and American flavors for a starter that is recommended as a “must-order” item by almost every online review. The soy-glazed yeast bread is baked with roasted potatoes, cheddar, bacon and scallions, and comes to the table crisp and warm in a cast-iron skillet. A housemade sour cream butter accompanies each order. Parachute’s bing bread sells for $4 for a half order and $7 for the whole round loaf.
2. Building buzz with butter
At Chicago’s Bellemore, the Hawaiian rolls have gotten a lot of social media buzz since the restaurant opened in late 2017. At $7, they are the least expensive item on the menu—and one of the most popular. The slightly sweet, shareable rolls are baked in-house and served with ham-infused butter topped with smoked sesame seeds, crisp ham bits, saba (grape must syrup) and chives. The house-cultured butter turns the humble rolls into a signature.
3. Bruschetta 2.0
The toast trend has been going on for a while, and bruschetta is nothing new. But Sauce Pizza & Wine—a concept originally developed by multiconcept operator Sam Fox’s Fox Restaurant Group, with locations in Arizona, New Mexico and Texas—differentiates the combination with rotating seasonal ingredients. Currently on the Light Bites menu is sopressata and asparagus bruschetta ($6) piled on toasted Tuscan bread.
4. Steakhouse signature
Steaks are the focal point at Michael Jordan’s Steak House, but the garlic bread appetizer at each of its locations is also a draw. In Chicago, it’s billed as warm garlic bread with Wisconsin Roth Käse blue cheese fondue, while the New York version comes with gorgonzola fondue and the kitchen at Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut serves it with Maytag blue cheese fondue. Each version sells for $9 to $10, depending on location, and is the lowest-priced and longest-running appetizer on each list.
5. Banking on heritage
Sunday in Brooklyn is equipped with a 560-degree wood-fired oven, and the kitchen uses it to create its roasted and house-baked specialties. On the Small Snacks section of the menu, this Brooklyn, N.Y., restaurant offers buckwheat sourdough with salted beer butter for $7. The bread is made from a 100-year-old sourdough starter from Alaska and requires a lengthy rising process. It’s then sprinkled with buckwheat grain and baked in the wood-fired oven, which infuses it with a smoky flavor.