While breakfast has become a lucrative daypart at many fast-food concepts and is, of course, a mainstay among family-dining brands like IHOP, Denny’s, Bob Evans, Waffle House, and Cracker Barrel, very few full-service brands in the casual-dining or upscale-dining segments have embraced morning menus.

Chef Anthony Russo of Houston-based Russo's Restaurants believes many brands shy away from brunch for fear of waste or extra cost. However, Russo says this is a mistake. The company’s brand, Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen, which has 25 locations in the U.S. as well as international franchisees, has witnessed significant growth since adding a weekend brunch menu. Russo says the key to avoiding waste is simply using ingredients already in the kitchen.

“We have a great variety of Italian entrées that use zucchini, squash, Portobello mushrooms, Feta cheese, and goat cheese. These are staple items that we already have on our menu,” Russo explains. “There's no additional food cost there, we're just using what we have and being creative with our menu items.”

Russo uses these ingredients to create one-of-a-kind Italian omelets, frittatas, and breakfast pizzas. Applying already-in-stock ingredients, the kitchen is able to offer between 20 and 25 items on its brunch menu. Russo's Coal Fired Italian Kitchen also offers mimosas to complement the breakfast dishes.

“Really the only thing that went up [cost-wise] was buying the eggs,” Russo says. “We do mimosas [because] a little Prosecco with orange juice is pretty simple to make, and that's something we already carry.”

Russo also notes the importance of fresh, never-frozen ingredients. Consumers can tell the difference between a meal cooked fresh, exclusively for them, and one that is heated up.

Overall, Russo says consumers respond positively to brunch menus because it gives them greater variety.

“We have two menus—our Saturday-Sunday brunch menu and our dine-in menu—that we give out at the same time so they have a choice,” Russo says. “They like the variety of choices when they come in.” 

A suitable, thoughtful location is essential for making brunch cost-effective. Russo strategically places restaurants with a brunch possibility. For instance, he likes to establish the store in a neighborhood of churches or other organizations that foster a brunch crowd.

 “Start with seven or eight items,” Russo encourages. “Then you can go from there. See if your market supports it.”

 Marlee Murphy

Casual Dining, Chain Restaurants, Industry News, Russo's Coal-Fired Italian Kitchen