Breakfast Gets Custom Treatment

Customers show preference for freshly prepared portable breakfasts.

By 
Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

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.

Egg-cellent Idea

Omelet promotion boosts sales.

About three and a half years ago Deb Jones, director of nutrition services at St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena, Mont., started omelet day on Fridays because it was the slowest day of the week for her department. The made-to-order omelet promotion quickly became a popular—and profitable—program.

“Our Fridays are no longer the lowest revenue day,” Jones says about the promotion’s impact on participation and the bottom line. The omelet is available by itself for $3.95 or it can be paired with hash browns or tater tots for $5.15. A variety of products can be mixed in, including sausage, spinach, olives and cheese.

“Salsa is the No. 1 thing that people want on top of eggs these days. When I was a kid it was ketchup on eggs,” Jones adds.

The egg breakfast has gained so much popularity that Jones regularly sees employees from neighboring businesses come to the hospital cafeteria just to take the meal back to their own offices.

The omelet special is served from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. Jones says the portion is large enough that some diners make it their lunch as well. There’s often a rush at the station around 10, Jones says. The grill cook can make two omelets at a time, but the line is sometimes so long—up to 12 minutes—that Jones added the made-to-order breakfast special on Tuesdays.

Jones attributes the dish’s success to price and customization.

“People are attracted to the great price and value, but I think the key for us is we have that individual on the grill [taking orders] and customers can come up to us and ask for a custom order,” Jones says. “If someone doesn’t want cheese, peppers or whatever, we can do that because we have it all on the side.”

While omelets are a hot seller at breakfast, St. Peter’s cooks also prepare eggs in other forms, such as breakfast burritos made with flour tortillas, cheddar cheese, onions and jalapeño peppers. Pancakes are also available.

“We do classic grab-and-go things like biscuits and bacon or sausage, egg and cheese on muffins and croissants,” Jones says. Most customers eat breakfasts outside of the cafeteria, so she serves her orders in clear plastic containers so cashiers can see what is being purchased and charge accordingly.


Potato Dish Takes Off 

Executive Chef Hector “Tito” Calderon had a good problem. His fajita hash browns with avocado salsa cruda were so popular at 17,000-student California State University-San Bernardino foodservice outlets, which are managed by Sodexo, that students wanted the dish for breakfast, lunch and dinner. So Calderon came up with a solution: He put the potatoes in grab-and-go refrigerated cases so the students could buy them any time.

“Students said that they wanted the potatoes more often. I said, ‘this is kind of hard to make every day, all day.’ So I thought, why not have it in the deli display case so that they can have it whenever they want? The potatoes can be served hot or cold. That’s why we sell it in the deli. Some people eat it cold right out of the refrigerator.

The dish is very popular because people are using it as a breakfast and a side dish. Plus, it is vegetarian. We are looking into different packaging that is microwaveable. On our new container we will provide instructions on how to heat the dish, as well as nutrition information.

Our population is very diverse, so we try to target the population by having a little bit of everything. We have a very big population of Latino students. We were looking for recipes that they like, like this one.

Grab and go has increased tremendously. Because we don’t have a classic meal plan—it’s a declining balance—students can get a little thing like a bagel and they can go outside and have a picnic or take it back to their rooms. Many students are always in a rush and like to grab and go.

Other takeout breakfast items include parfaits, fruit cups and premade sandwiches that can be heated.”

Fajita Hash Browns with Avocado Salsa Cruda

10 to 12 servings

4 oz. olive oil
4 oz. melted butter
2 oz. diced red onion
6 large, Idaho russet potatoes, cut in cubes, cooked, cooled
1 tsp. fajita seasoning (equal parts cumin, chili powder, granulated garlic, paprika, salt, pepper)
4 large California Hass avocados, diced
4 large tomatoes, diced
2 tbsp. minced jalapeño peppers
5 oz. fresh minced onion
2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
1 tbsp. fresh lemon or lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
3⁄4 cup crumbled feta cheese

  1. Put oil on heated flat-top griddle, add butter and red onion. Cook until soft, about 3 minutes. Add cooked potatoes and brown, about 3 minutes. Add fajita seasoning to taste.
  2. For avocado salsa cruda, mix avocados, tomato, jalapeño, remaining onion, cilantro, citrus juice, salt and pepper.
  3. Top potatoes with avocado salsa cruda and feta cheese.

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