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Snooze an A.M. Eatery: Former night owl now rises early to capture breakfast market

Snooze an A.M. Eatery: Former night owl now rises early to capture breakfast market

Jon Schlegel was thinking of leaving the restaurant industry when an alarm sounded—literally.

Schlegel, a veteran of fine- and casual-dining restaurants and hotel properties, was trying to live his life in the daylight, despite his irregular nighttime hours. One morning as he battled with his ringing alarm, he began pondering the beauty of the word “snooze.” He got up, wrote it out, and considered the potential in the breakfast daypart. Today Schlegel is the owner and host of Snooze An A.M. Eatery.

“Everybody eats breakfast; it doesn’t ostracize anybody,” he said. “It attracts a whole wide variety of demographics, from 80 years old to 16 years old.”

There are currently two Snooze restaurants drawing a broad swath of breakfast lovers in Denver with breakfast potpies, breakfast burritos, upside-down pineapple pancakes and the perennial favorite, three eggs any style.

While the first Snooze will celebrate its fourth anniversary in April, the second opened less than a year ago in July 2009, and a third is set to debut in April in Ft. Collins, Colo.

“People right now are waiting to come in all day, every day,” Schlegel said of the two existing restaurants, which are open from 6:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. daily.

Schlegel points to his luck for his success, but can’t discount the popularity of breakfast. Before the recession, breakfast sales were surging. While the daypart has not escaped the negative effects of the economic downturn, it still is faring better than other dayparts, according to market research firm The NPD Group.

Breakfast traffic, which had been up 1 percent in the fourth quarter of 2008, was down 2 percent in the fourth quarter of 2009, according to NPD. Results were still better than those for the lunch and dinner dayparts. Lunch traffic in the fourth quarter of 2009 fell 3 percent and dinner traffic fell 4 percent, NPD said.

Competition in the daypart remains stiff, as restaurant operators continue to introduce breakfast fare or unveil brunch offerings. Restaurants added more than 460 new breakfast items in 2009, according to Mintel.

Despite the many concepts jockeying for the morning meal dollar, Schlegel sees Snooze as offering an entirely different breakfast experience. He describes the decor as “Happy Days” meets “The Jetsons,” with retro and artistic touches throughout sites that range in size from 2,900 square feet to 3,200 square feet and seat 100.

The energetic vibe attracts those in suits, jeans, pajamas and scrubs. Schlegel said he aggressively markets to area firemen and nurses working the late shift.

Each Snooze has a full liquor license and serves up mimosas and Bloody Marys along with lattes. Liquor sales help to boost the check average on the weekend and some Monday holidays to $10 to $13, Schlegel said. On weekdays the average check falls between $8 and $10.

Schlegel wants to keep Snooze’s ownership in the family, so he has no plans to franchise and has only one investor. His brother, Adam, who cut his teeth in finance, is the concept’s chief financial officer. New openings are funded through bank loans, which even given the frozen credit market are easier to secure now than they once were.

In fact, Schlegel noted, five and a half years passed between the morning the idea for his concept dawned on him and the day the first Snooze opened.

“I had over 17 investor rejections and 20 bank rejections,” he said. “I would shelve the idea and forget about it, and then pull it back out and make the plan better.”

During that time, Schlegel continued to work nights. After stops in San Diego and Las Vegas, the Colorado native and graduate of the University of Denver’s hospitality program had returned home, securing positions at several fine-dining restaurants. His goal was to understand the details that made people line up at some restaurants.

Snooze reflects “the best of the best I’ve been through,” Schlegel said, referring to his years running floors at night.

Although his alarm still rings at 3:30 a.m., he’s now home in the afternoon and able to enjoy happy hours himself.

“Now I promote life balance and taking vacations and fun,” he said.— [email protected]

Snooze an A.M. Eatery

HEADQUARTERS: DenverMARKET SEGMENT: casualMENU: breakfast itemsNO. OF UNITS: 2SYSTEMWIDE SALES: $1.8 millionLEADERSHIP: Jon Schlegel, host and owner; Adam Schlegel, chief financial officer and “consigliere”YEAR FOUNDED: 2006METHOD OF GROWTH/FUNDING: bank loans, private investorNOTABLE COMPETITORS: Le Peep, IHOP, Egg and I, Denny’

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