Ron E. Green was an engineer for the Department of Energy working to develop a superconducting supercollider when budget cuts forced him to reconsider his options.
For Green, that meant opening the Broken Egg Café, a full-service restaurant specializing in breakfast, brunch and lunch. During the last 14 years, Green has learned that running a restaurant company, while simpler than rocket science, is nonetheless demanding. Still, he’s taken his idea and parlayed it into a 14-unit chain generating more than $18 million in annual sales.
“That [superconducting supercollider] was a huge science project to develop electromagnetic energy,” he said. “It started during the Reagan administration, and President Clinton cut it in 1996.
“I spent 16 years in California and used to go on weekends to quaint little restaurants,” he continued. “I was transferred to Louisiana in 1993 and searched for favorite restaurants like the ones I’d found in California. I kept going on the weekends for brunch but was totally dissatisfied with what was there. I started wondering if I could bring something there that would mirror the wonderful places I’d found out West. When [my] project got cut, I decided to do it.”
Headquarters: Destin, Fla.
Market segment: upscale casual dining
Menu: breakfast, brunch and lunch items
No. of units: 14
Systemwide annual sales: more than $18 million
Check average: $13
Leadership: Ron E. Green, founder, president and chief executive
Year founded: 1996
Method of growth/financing: private, franchising
Notable competitors: The Egg & I, First Watch
Knowing he had to learn how to run a restaurant before opening one, Green sent letters to the operators of his five favorite eateries in California asking if they would teach him the business.
“I got three positive responses,” he said. “A guy called me the Monday after I sent out the letters and asked if I was sure I wanted to do it. I said yes, I was ready to embark on this new journey. We made some agreements, and I went to San Diego for 10 days to train at his restaurant.”
He returned to Louisiana and bought an old house near Lake Pontchartrain in New Orleans. It would become Broken Egg’s first location.
Today, the company is incorporated as Another Broken Egg of America Inc. and is based in Destin, Fla. Each restaurant is about 4,000 square feet, has around 135 seats, an average check of $13 and annual unit volumes of approximately $1.3 million.
Ron Paul, Technomic’s president and chief executive, marveled at Another Broken Egg’s success.
“Breakfast is the least costly meal compared with what you’ll spend for lunch or dinner,” he said. “I don’t know how he can get that check average. That’s a big number; you can almost eat dinner at an Applebee’s for that price. He must be doing something right — actually, a lot right — in the stores to get that.”
The first unit opened in November 1996, offering such menu items as Bananas Foster pancakes and a “Floridian” crabmeat omelet and experiencing two-hour waits.
But the wait wasn’t due only to Broken Egg’s popularity; speed of service was also a problem.
“I was building my business by making friends with everyone,” he said. “I spent a solid year making sure I touched all the tables, played with all the kids. But three months into it, a guy — he was a chef — came in and remarked that we had great food, but it took too long to get it. He said, ‘Hire me and I’ll improve your ticket time.’ Within the first weekend, we went from 225 to 400 covers in a seven-hour period.”
After fixing Broken Egg’s operational kinks, expansion was the next logical step, he said.
“What happened was, one day — it was a busy Sunday — a lady came up to me and asked if I would please open another Broken Egg in New Orleans,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wow, I like that. I can call it Another Broken Egg.’ Then, someone suggested Destin, Fla. We opened about 18 months after opening that first restaurant in New Orleans. Then we opened in Tallahassee, [Fla.] We proceeded to open five locations over the next seven years.”
And Green plans to open units in Mississippi, South Carolina and Atlanta within the next year.
Green’s instincts about breakfast have proven to be on target. The segment is currently the fastest growing in the industry. A Technomic study last December found one in four consumers goes out for a traditional breakfast on the weekend.
“When I opened the doors, I had $1,500 to my name, was $40,000 in debt and had a payroll due in five days,” he said. “It was succeed or fail, but I just didn’t think it would fail.”