Snooze, an A.M. Eatery breakfast dish.
Ashley Davis Photography

Off-premises orders now take up about 15 percent of Snooze's business.

Fifty Locations Later, Snooze is Just as Recognizable as Ever

The breakfast brand has never lost sight of its purpose.

CEO David Birzon’s first thought when he encountered Snooze, an A.M. Eatery, was that nobody had shaken up breakfast in three decades. Yet here was a brand capable of creating a new platform for the morning daypart. “That is pretty exciting,” he says.

Snooze was designed on an ethos of “breakfast, but different.” To Birzon, this meant high-energy, creative, and innovative in every angle—a mantra that stretches from operations to sustainability to employee culture. The Denver-based brand, founded in 2006, opened its 50th domestic store on September 1 in West Midtown Atlanta.

While the brand hasn’t been the fastest grower in the industry, Birzon says, it has never drifted over the years.

“Every new location is not some diminished copy of the previous one,” Birzon says. “We really strive to make all of our restaurants unique. We think the biggest compliment we can get is when people are surprised to find out that we're actually a chain.”

“I used to joke around, ‘guys, we can't afford to have a lousy restaurant till we hit 25,’” he adds. “Now that we've hit 50, I say we can't afford to have a lousy restaurant until we hit 75. So the goal is hopefully never.”

Even throughout COVID, Snooze managed to open up six units over the past year and plans to unveil 12 in 2022, including in fresh markets like Las Vegas and Nashville. The pandemic was the worst thing to happen to the industry, Birzon says, but it revealed some silver linings.

"When businesses and things get tough, it allows you to get very creative,” Birzon says. “So we made all the necessary pivots and leaned into a bunch of new opportunities that we really believe are moving the direction of our business.”

Dealing with COVID enabled Snooze to revisit the core of its brand. “I've always said that we're not in the business of growing restaurants,” Birzon says. “We're in the business of operating restaurants. COVID, again, was this reminder that we're really good at operating restaurants.”

Snooze, like concepts across the country, pivoted to takeout when it had to. For a breakfast concept, it was moving into relatively uncharted territory because of the assumption that it was hard enough to get eggs from the kitchen to the table. But, as Snooze learned, breakfast food travels well if done right. And elevated takeout became a permanent part of the business.

Snooze additionally turned toward cocktails to-go, including bottles of champagne with cold pressed orange juice for mimosas and Bloody Marys. With canned cocktails, a shift to outdoor dining and an investment in technology, Snooze made it through, Birzon says. Currently, the brand is participating in a test of its virtual concept, Bodegga, which offers chef-inspired egg sandwiches, breakfast wraps, and coffee.

In all, COVID was not a reason to curb Snooze’s growth. Instead, it’s an environment for Snooze to pull forward in, Birzon says.

Leaning into off-premises orders, which now take up around 15 percent of business, required an internal analysis of Snooze’s contribution to waste. On Earth Day 2020, Snooze pledged to offset the carbon created by deliveries and pickup orders, partnering with Native Energy and Medford Springs Grassland. Sustainability has been a Snooze hallmark since the beginning.

“It was there at restaurant No. 1, and just the idea around it is we want to leave the planet better than when we found it,” Birzon says.

Ashley Davis Photography
Ashley Davis Photography

Sales are up 20 percent over 2019 levels of late at Snooze.

Since the outset, the chain developed a set of rigorous “Snooze approved” standards for food and sourcing partners. As of 2021, 95 percent of Snooze’s ingredients meet these standards. Additionally, all Snooze restaurants divert 90 percent of waste from landfills.

Taking its sustainability promise a step further, each Snooze restaurant has a “Green Captain,” someone appointed to ensure the unit maintains its corporate social responsibility functions. One of these is giving back a percent of sales in cash or in-kind donations to the local community. Having employees committed to the same environmental and community impact is integral in making sure sustainability is not just corporate speak. For Snooze, sustainability isn’t merely a buzz word thrown around, it’s something Birzon says runs deep in the DNA of the brand.

Snooze is also proving that operating in a sustainable way does not have to come at the expense of a brand’s success. Sales jumped beyond where they were in 2019, up 20 percent in volume.

This success should carry over to easy growth, Birzon says. Still, expanding a restaurant requires people, and subsequently a positive culture to attract them. In the middle of a hiring crisis, Snooze draws a labor force in part because of the community and sustainability-focused partnerships that make up the brand’s identity. Before opening, every Snooze restaurant completes three community partner days with local nonprofits in each area. These days have collectively donated more than $500,000 to nonprofits.

“Not only are they making great money for themselves, but they're working at a business that makes it easy for them to be involved in community and sustainability endeavors and to really feel like they're making a difference in society,” Birzon says.

Raising wages is inevitably another key part in attracting great workers at Snooze. While a $15 minimum wage was once frightening to most restaurant companies a few years ago, it’s now barely an entry point to draw in high quality employees, Birzon says.

Snooze, an A.M. Eatery
Snooze, an A.M. Eatery

Snooze's culture has kept it insulated during the hiring shortage. As has it's early shift structure as a breakfast/brunch brand.

While many employees dislike the irregular hours that often come with a restaurant job, Snooze can offer people more traditional days since it is only open during the morning and afternoon daypart for breakfast. It's something First Watch often touts as a "one-shift" business.

“Some of the real difficult, scary parts of working in restaurants, meaning giant alcohol exposure, late nights, long shifts, those simply don't exist in our business and it really is a competitive advantage,” Birzon says.

Snooze will continue to invest in markets where it’s already established a presence, like Colorado and Texas. Markets like Atlanta; Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina, meanwhile, will see steady, responsible expansion. And, of course, there will be new markets Snooze hasn’t even touched yet. There’s a clear difference between a restaurant company that grows, merely trying to avoid mistakes, however, and a restaurant growth vehicle that carefully plans its expansion, Birzon says.

Part of Snooze’s strategy is to avoid franchising, as Birzon believes the business model is strong enough to carry a corporate-only fleet. Throughout Snooze’s development, social impact will remain at the heart of its path.

Today’s guests are more educated, enlightened, and savvier than ever. They are aware of the food supply chain and Snooze’s role in it, Birzon says. Early on, national landlords were surprised to hear Snooze’s requirement for compost space, but now the importance of such a practice is factoring into some consumers’ decisions. In the future, Birzon hopes every restaurant and retail company engages in similar sustainability practices “because it’s the right thing to do,” he says.

“The day before was yesterday, and we want to make tomorrow better, not just for ourselves as a business, but for our people, for our planet,” Birzon says.

On the menu front, Snooze created more comfort food items during the pandemic while spending the last few years fostering a health-driven breakfast.

“We think that brunch is an exciting place to be,” Birzon says. “We really do believe and give ourselves credit for creating the ‘better brunch’ space. There's a lot of whitespace out in front of us, and we just need the ability to take advantage of it.”