This peach breakfast pizza from Sullivan University is a
sweet start to the day.With busy customers of all ages, grab-and-go might be the standard, but that doesn’t temper diners’ desire for customized orders, especially at breakfast. Operators are responding by creating made-to-order breakfasts that diners can take with them during the morning rush.
Jeffrey Taddeo, foodservice director with Whitsons Culinary Group, reports great success with breakfast dining carts at three of the 12 schools he oversees in the 11,000-student New Britain School District in Connecticut. The carts, which are eight feet long by three feet wide, are rolled out to the hallways in the morning. The carts have a warming unit to keep food hot. Custom-made breakfast burritos and egg white omelets are two of the items offered. About 800 breakfasts are served from each cart each day.
“The program is going over very well, so well that we want to expand it to some of our other schools,” Taddeo says. “The participation is there.”
Feeding students is especially important in New Britain, the state’s largest district, since “a lot of the students come into school in the morning starving. They don’t all get a meal at dinner,” Taddeo reports. “They need to fuel their minds.” The carts, Taddeo says, help him to feed more students in the morning.
It’s a bit more expensive to serve students from the cart than it is in the cafeteria, but Taddeo explains that the increased participation he gets from the carts evens out the added expense of offering the service. “The district is not really concerned about the profit on it,” he adds. “We really just want to get kids fed.”
Having chefs working the carts adds to the appeal, according to Taddeo. “The students get a great nutritious hot meal and see a little bit of culinary,” he says.
Another way Taddeo has increased student participation is to solicit input from customers on menu items. For example, egg white omelets flopped when they were introduced, so Taddeo asked the students for ingredient suggestions to add to the dish.
“They wanted jalapeño. Some wanted corn, olives and then, oddly enough, they started hitting the vegetables. They wanted peppers and fresh tomatoes,” Taddeo says. “I was so impressed I went to a local organic farm and I started getting some organic veggies. I told the students about [the farms] and they loved it.”
Catering to the district’s large Hispanic population, the chefs also assemble breakfast burritos made of whole-grain spinach tortillas, sausage, eggs, cheddar cheese and salsa at the carts. “We like to spice it up with a little salsa and get lycopene in students’ diet,” Taddeo says.
When Taddeo receives government-funded fresh fruit and vegetable grants, he adds fresh fruit to his breakfasts. Whole-grain organic blueberry pancakes with honey syrup and banana were served when the grant was available.
Another addition Taddeo plans to add is fresh juices. “This year I have been into juicing for myself and I said, ‘If I’m doing it for myself, why not do it for the kids,’” he explains. “I’m going to try beet, apple and ginger, things students wouldn’t necessarily try.”
Taddeo also works on appealing to his students’ visual senses with packaging. He offers microwavable clamshells for those students who wish to heat their meals at a later time, as well as a box made out of recycled cardboard with a paper handle. “The kids love the box because it looks like a Chinese takeout container.”
Packaging sells: Also playing up packaging is Chef Eddie Childers from The Bakery at Sullivan University in Louisville, Ky. Childers packages to-go items in brown boxes tied with a gold ribbon, topped with a sticker that has The Bakery’s logo. Childers has developed a new line of savory breakfast baked goods to fill those fancy boxes. Caramelized onion-bacon biscuits and wild mushroom and potato strudel are two products available on the new line, both of which play off familiar comfort foods.
For an unusual sweet choice that is typically savory, Childers offers a breakfast pizza with fresh peach and cranberry compote, vanilla bean custard and streusel crumbs. At Sullivan, which offers a professional culinary program, students prefer creative twists on recognizable dishes, says Scott Stromer, executive director of food and beverage operations.
The new line offers convenient, trendy options for students, Stromer says. “They are looking for comfort foods that they are accustomed to at home and quick grab and go because of their schedules.”
Playing up the white: Omelets do well at Dress Barn’s corporate headquarters in Suffern, N.Y., according to Foodservice Director Anthony Schepis, who is employed by Gourmet Dining, based in Madison, N.J. The most popular omelets these days, however, have no yolks.
“We’ve seen a marked increase in egg white omelets,” Schepis says. “There’s a transformation going on here toward a healthier product.”
Each morning Dress Barn’s 300 employees can also select instant oatmeal, breakfast sandwiches and pastries, including a new addition of yogurt-based muffins. Schepis says about half of the company’s employees purchase a meal each day. He adds that most customers eat their meals at their workstations.