2009 February: Pizza for Breakfast?

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Expanding your hours into the earlier part of the day can bring in a whole new customer base: the breakfast crowd. Some pizzerias continue to showcase their pizza recipes with a breakfast-style version, while others stick to the basics (like omelets and French toast). Whatever way you decide, there is a defi nite ability to increase your profi ts and better compete with local restaurants that offer a breakfast menu.

Gabriel Pellegrini, owner/chef at Sagra, a trattoria in Austin, Texas, rolled out a Sunday brunch in June. “A lot of our competitors, other restaurants, have brunch and have been pretty successful,” says Pellegrini.

Turns out it was a good move. Sagra, open since 2007, earned the title of “best brunch” from Citysearch.com readers in 2008. Served on Sundays only, there are 10 items on the brunch menu, including frittatas cooked to order and a few pastas (Tortellini alla Pesto and Lasagnetta Verdura). Two dishes are cooked with a cracked egg on top: Sagra Pizza (tomato, egg, pecorino, spinach, mozzarella and truffl e oil) and Linguini alla Carbonara (house-cured pancetta, fresh peas, egg and Parmesan sauce). “We try to keep the food as simple as possible,” says Pellegrini. “We also try to overlap as many things as possible.” To avoid extra costs on his part, Pellegrini elected to use the same fl atware and plates he’d already been setting out for lunch and dinner. One way he maximizes his brunch profi ts is to charge $5 for side orders (like house-cured pancetta, herbed polenta or roasted new potatoes). Sagra also charges extra for a build-your-own brunch option.

“The best thing is to keep it simple. And not try to overextend it, because it’s only one day per week,” says Pellegrini. While on Friday night he schedules a crew of seven workers in the kitchen, for brunch only two are required, and he ensures setup responsibilities are simple enough that they need only arrive a couple of hours before opening.

In October, Bill Rizzuto, owner of Rizzuto’s Wood-Fired Kitchen & Bar in West Hartford, Connecticut, added brunch to his menu. Because the 5,000-squarefoot restaurant is inside an affl uent shopping center with a gym, boutiques and other restaurants –– and therefore provides heavy pedestrian traffi c –– attracting diners didn’t take much effort.

For $20, diners get access to an antipasti buffet (with artisan cheeses, salami and prosciutto), a dessert buffet and a selection from the menu that’s cooked to order and served tableside.

“The breakfast pizza is the most popular item,” he says. Three eggs are cracked on top before placing the pizza in the oven. The pizza also has smoked pancetta, roasted peppers, thinly sliced potatoes, sautéed onions and mushrooms. “It comes out of the oven looking like a perfect woodfi red pizza. People can tear off the crust and dip it in the egg yolk. It’s so good!” Other breakfast entrées are steak and eggs, French toast and eggs Benedict.

Many pizzerias, however, serve breakfast daily. Of Happy Joe’s Pizza & Ice Cream’s 64 locations, 24 serve breakfast, with the fi rst location launching its early-morning meal seven years ago. A few serve weekend brunch. “Competition with pizza in general makes you get really creative,” says Kristel Whitty, part owner and director of marketing. “The whole idea is offering a solution for the guest that fi ts their lifestyle.” Aside from egg scramblers for breakfast, staff can take orders for omelet pizza.

“We basically build an omelet on top of cheese and bake it in an oven,” says Whitty.

To cope with the problem of being associated as only a place to eat pizza for lunch or dinner, Happy Joe’s began offering morning deliveries to businesses. “Instead of bringing donuts to the offi ce, you can have an omelet pizza delivered,” says Whitty.

For breakfast, Good Pizza, located inside the Good Hotel in San Francisco, serves three types of calzones stuffed with scrambled eggs. The same recipe used to create pizza dough for meals after 11 a.m. is used for the calzones. In one, the ingredients are sun-dried tomatoes, feta, spinach and onion. In another are bacon and fontina. Breakfast staples like granola with dried fruit and organic milk, oatmeal, organic yogurt and pastries are also on the menu, which has a grab-and-go style that appeals to hotel guests and neighborhood residents. Because the hotel’s mantra is very eco-friendly, countertops and to-go products are made of recycled paper, and oregano and basil are grown on site.

The pizza spot’s original mission was to cater to hotel guests’ dinner needs. “But as the only eatery in the hotel, we needed breakfast service at the hotel in the morning too,” says Dave Hoemann, vice president of food & beverage for Joie de Vivre Hospitality. Just one staff person mans Good Pizza, operating both the cashier and the pizza oven behind it. A barista station is also inside, so whether a morning cappuccino or a latte during the afternoon with a slice of pizza, that need can be met.

Consider adding upscale coffee and espresso drinks to the breakfast menu, because a latte can drive up a customer’s bill more than a single cup of coffee will. Sagra chose to offer coffee served in a French press, which yields a richer, more robust taste, “and then we don’t have to deal with refi lls,” says Pellegrini. “With these, we just drop the French press on the table and leave. If they want more, they have to pay more.” ?

Breakfast Menu

How do you promote your new breakfast menu when all your pizzeria is known for are pizza pies for lunch or dinner? To let customers know your options go farther than a meat lovers special or four-cheese pizza, try offering a special promotion valid only during breakfast hours.

For instance, Gabriel Pellegrini, owner/chef at Sagra in Austin, Texas, offers $.75 Mimosas to get people in the door for his Sunday brunch. “It’s kind of a pull to get people in so we can sell people eggs for $10,” he says. Interestingly, he found that the most popular breakfast drink continued to be a Bloody Mary, but the initial pull of Mimosas worked for fi rst-time brunch-goers.

Kristine Hansen is a freelance writer covering food, beverages, travel and green living. She lives in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.