Huddle House, the 400-plus chain largely focused in the South and Midwest, will not have organic Greek yogurt or turkey bacon on its menu anytime soon.
“As a brand we know who we are—we are not trying to be all things to all people,“ says Michael Abt, CEO of Huddle House, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.
Known for its 24-hour breakfast fare, Abt is spearheading a menu and “brand evolution” to propel growth of the family-restaurant chain.
Huddle House’s first location opened in Decatur, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta, in 1964, and corporate recently inked deals for eight new restaurants in Alabama, Georgia, and Illinois. The company, which has restaurants in 21 states, is looking to add 135 new sites over the next four years through franchise offerings in the Southeast and Texas.
Much of the new menu offerings are presented as seasonal limited-time only promotions. All align with the brand’s core concept of providing Southern comfort food.
“We are trying to strengthen the brand, not dilute it,” Abt says. “We will innovate in those areas where we have credibility and stay true to our roots.”
Famous for its breakfast fare, Huddle House’s culinary innovation manifests itself in bolder flavors and more interesting flavor profiles, he adds.
For instance, its Low Country Southern Griddles are built with red potatoes, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, and Andouille sausages.
“We’ve take a basic dish of scrambled eggs and breakfast potatoes and made it a more contemporary, interesting, and flavorful dish,” says Abt. “It might not be ‘trendy,’ but it’s a craveable product our customers love. We’ve given it some real Southern flair.”
The LTO Stuffed Hash Browns are also extremely popular, notes Abt. They feature a layer of crispy hash browns, topped with scrambled eggs, sausage patties, and crumbled bacon, and then another layer of hash browns topped with some cheese sauce and sausage gravy.
“These hash browns are indicative of what Huddle House is doing,” explains Abt. “We are turning a breakfast accompaniment into a real flavorful line of entrées.”
He adds, “It’s all about very indulgent Southern comfort food.”
Huddle House has also developed a new line of bold Chop House Burgers, a menu mainstay, which will not be served with avocados or other fashionable ingredients, says Abt. Instead, these burgers have smokehouse bacon and cheddar cheese, and are topped with jalapenos and chipotle mayo. Or, they are served with mushrooms and melted Swiss cheese and topped with deep-fried crispy onions.
“We are going for the very flavorful and indulgent, in line with what our customers crave,” says Abt.,
Huddle House is also remodeling many of its locations, again with the idea of supporting its brand mission. The new prototypes feature flexible, plush seating, more vibrant lighting, and a more colorful look.
“Our roots harken back to when families shared stories around the dinner table," Abt says. “Mr. and Mrs. Sparks, the concept’s founders, remain the inspiration for Huddle House. They wanted to provide a gathering place for families and friends after the local high school’s Friday night football games. The idea is to provide a comfortable, but contemporary setting, where family and friends can relax with each other. The seating encourages conversation and socialization, which people in the South tend to enjoy.”
By Joann Whitcher