Chef John Currence infuses the tastes of his childhood with pieces of local communities at New Orleans-based Big Bad Breakfast.

James Beard Award-winning chef John Currence can’t think of a place with a more abundant breakfast and brunch scene than New Orleans. Growing up, he would pick up his grandfather from the train station with his dad and grab a greasy spoon breakfast at a diner called Allgood’s. On special occasions, like after First Communion, they would have a high-end brunch experience at Commander’s Palace in the Garden District.

“I’m so deeply embedded [in breakfast], it means everything to me,” Currence says. “We’re told our entire lives that it’s the most important meal of the day, but it seems to be the meal that gets the least amount of intention.”

Throughout his career, Currence lived in a world full of accomplished chefs with landmark restaurants, consistently hashing up ways to improve lunch and dinner. This same attention was never paid to the breakfast segment, so launching his own breakfast concept was a no-brainer decision.

  • Established: 2008
  • Founder: John Currence
  • HQ: Oxford, Mississippi
  • Units: 19

Currence introduced Big Bad Breakfast in 2008 with the mission to share pieces of his New Orleans childhood with others: scratch-made biscuits, jellies, bacon, and sausage, freshly ground grits, and a flavor palate unchanged by the harsh processing of preservatives.

The restaurant name is derived from the book title “Big Bad Love,” written by Currence’s late best friend, Larry Brown. While Brown’s favorite meal of the day was breakfast, his writing schedule kept him asleep most mornings.

Menu favorites include the Cathead Chicken Biscuit, classic flapjacks, and the Big Bad Breakfast Plate, which features two eggs, a choice of meat, bread, and one side. Unique additions include the Oyster Poboy and the Mother of All Biscuits. The menu also includes an expansive array of brunch cocktails and freshly squeezed juices.

By 2013, the restaurant was drawing steady crowds and regular waits. Currence partnered with his long-time friend Nick Pihakis, and together they opened the second location on the outskirts of Birmingham, Alabama. The two worked together on streamlining operations and increasing the customer experience as the fledgling concept took off and grew into more than what Currence had ever planned.

“I was thrown into the driver’s seat … suddenly, in my early 50s, the doors swung open and I’m staring at a learning curve that looks like Everest,” Currence says. “And that couldn’t be more exciting. I love the challenge of learning.”

With what he calls a “ragtag band of little rascals,” Currence pieced together a corporate team and surrounded himself with a network of intelligent individuals to expand Big Bad Breakfast.

Using technology was a key piece of the puzzle while expanding that allowed for ease of operations in the back office, accounting, food inventory, and ideal scheduling. Technology also helped maintain a better quality of product than is available in most chain offerings, says Currence. In all restaurants, ingredients are monitored daily for freshness. Every meal is cooked to order, and the aid of technology lightens the load on his staff, who are constantly quality-checking.

As Big Bad Breakfast has grown to 19 units and counting, each restaurant has curated offerings specific to its location. For example, the Louisville, Kentucky, menu highlights the Big Bad Hot Brown, which is made with black pepper buttermilk biscuits, white cheddar mornay, roasted turkey, tomatoes, and house-cured tabasco brown sugar bacon.

Another pillar of Big Bad Breakfast’s culture is its dedication to building partnerships with local artisans and producers. This, according to Currence, is the brand’s way of marketing itself as the “anti-chain chain”—by looking and feeling like an integral part of the community.

This comes to life in the shape of local grits millers, local beekeepers, and local micro-roasters for espresso. The Louisville restaurant sources its coffee from Safai Coffee, who has been in the Kentucky area since 1998.

“To further the 100-percent-from-scratch model, the thought from the very beginning was to find things in the community that we could use,” Currence says. “I hope to telegraph to folks that we want to be a party of the community generous enough to give us the opportunity to make a home there.”

Big Bad Breakfast is in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Florida, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Kentucky. A fifth Alabama location in Huntsville, a second Arkansas location, and a breakthrough unit in North Carolina are coming down the pipeline.

The second Arkansas space, situated in downtown Little Rock, opened on October 17 and is the 19th restaurant in the brand’s growing portfolio. As Big Bad Breakfast approaches 25 restaurants, Currence is preparing for 50.

But he’s careful where the brand goes; he says the concept won’t work on just any interstate exit, and is more successful in second-tier markets like Charleston, South Carolina, and Louisville. He looks to where the whitespaces for breakfast are; markets that aren’t heavily saturated with brunch concepts already.

“We want to go as far as we can, building a brand as big as we can get it, while executing everything from scratch every day,” Currence says. “It is an incredible challenge … but it is what our model is built on. We aren’t a franchise.”

Currence wants to grow with individual operating partners through joint-venture operations. He says these partners should be like-minded, dedicated to the quality of Big Bad Breakfast, and give the brand the ability to accomplish what it is meant for: to bring a piece of Currence’s childhood across the nation.

As the brand continues to expand, Currence stands behind his vision of providing ample opportunities for his team to grow. “We truly are dedicated to improving the quality of life [of our team],” Currence adds. “We don’t lose people to money. They can grow with us if they’re on board. If they believe in us, they can help us carry that banner forward.”

Chain Restaurants, Feature, Menu Innovations, NextGen Casual, Big Bad Breakfast