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SSC031124_CMPhoto_J8A5962v2.jpeg Sunny Street Cafe
The breakfast segment is expanding and so is Sunny Street Cafe.

How Sunny Street Café is achieving over $1 million in AUVs across its 22 restaurants

President Mike Stasko believes the restaurant brand is benefitting from the boom in breakfast

Breakfast has always been around in the restaurant industry, but for years it was relegated to big chains and independent diners. Over the past 40 years, that’s slowly changed, and a new group of emerging chains has revolutionized the breakfast industry.

The first new-wave breakfast chain you probably think of is First Watch, which has a menu that stands out from brands like IHOP. The restaurants that were created in First Watch’s wake take that food to a whole other level.

Consumer demand has also increased, not just for innovative food offerings, but for breakfast. As dayparts have evolved post-COVID, consumers are eating whenever they want, and some are bringing their computers to these chains for all-day work.

“The first thing we recognize is, there was some whitespace [in breakfast]. When you think about it, nothing really comes to mind,” said Mike Stasko, president of Sunny Street Café, a 22-unit Columbus, Ohio-based breakfast chain.

Among the litany of breakfast chains, Sunny Street Café stands out.

“For breakfast, you have to be able to execute the traditional breakfast favorites that people expect, right? I mean, eggs, bacon, and hash browns,” Stasko said. “But that being said, you really need to have those ‘wow’ concoctions and those tasty items that maybe people weren’t expecting, and they’re looking for a splurge item on for brunch on the weekends.”

For Sunny Street Café, those “wow” items include LTOs for its signature pancakes, as well as menu staples like the Cinnamon Roll Pancakes, which have a “cinna-sugar” swirl, tres leches, and cinnamon butter and the Loaded Hash Browns, which are hash browns topped with two eggs, sausage gravy, cheese, and sautéed onion, served with toast.

“We have to fight the urge to get too crazy,” Stasko said. “That being said, I think people are pretty adventurous these days. Customers’ palettes have really evolved, they’re interested in spicy flavors and are interested in trying things that maybe they haven’t heard [of] and haven’t pronounced.”

One of the recent LTOs was a barbacoa taco. Stasko admitted that it wasn’t revolutionary, but it was adventurous for his customer.

The 17-year-old brand has seen success since the breakfast and lunch segment has grown tenfold over the past ten years, so much so that Sunny Street Café saw AUVs in 2023 of $1.26 million across its restaurants, a high for the brand.

Part of that, Stasko believes, is due to the changing American culture.

“Back in the day, [we] did that traditional route — Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday — then on Saturday and Sunday, it was a full house,” he said “You know, you’re on a wait the whole time. The Saturday and Sunday thing hasn't changed… the Monday-through-Friday build-up thing has kind of turned itself upside down.”

The other key to success is that consumers are ready for experiences after the long pause during COVID.

“Breakfast is nostalgic,” Stasko said. “It’s a comfort for people. Folks still value the experience of going out and dining out, and they’re putting a priority on breakfast.”

Like many of its peers, Sunny Street Café offers a low cost for entry for franchisees.

“We’ve had folks who have been successful in other walks of life but haven’t necessarily had restaurant experience,” Stasko said. “But you know, if [they] have the drive and [they] have the entrepreneurial spirit, if [they] have the interest and desire to get into the restaurant industry, we’ve been able to take those folks and show them how our system works.”

Sunny Street Café, to attract new franchisees, introduced a new incentive program in 2023 that reduces the franchise fee and offers 0% royalties, increasing over the first 18 months of ownership.

It’s designed to give operators not only a more cost-efficient store, but also a way to get into the space and start their American dream through restaurant ownership.

Stasko said this breakfast concept helps employees as well.

“At our store level, our turnover is just not what the industry norm is,” he said. “You get out at three o’clock and you pick your kids up after school or you have the rest of the day to do what you want to do. So [we offer] that quality of life, which is big for people, particularly in the restaurant industry here recently. We afford a different path for people.”

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