Drew Jackman and Jeff Warne opened the first Burger Republic burger bar in Nashville four years ago. A second opened in downtown Nashville and a third, in the Mt. Juliet area, is in the works. The concept’s menu is focused on Certified Angus Beef burgers (a brisket, chuck and short rib blend) and locally sourced foods and beers.
Last weekend, the two Burger Republics opened an hour early at 10 a.m. with a “BRunch” menu that includes a BRunch Burger (a seasoned sausage-and-beef blend patty with country sausage gravy, Vermont white Cheddar, an organic egg and applewood-smoked bacon), Hangover Hash (golden tater tots covered in fondue cheese, onions, peppers, bacon, seasoned sausage and beef, all topped with a fried organic egg), Chicken Sliders with country sausage gravy, and Maple & Cinnamon Sweet Potato Tots with Vermont maple syrup. Drew Jackman spoke with BurgerBusiness.com about brunch.
So you survived the first brunch weekend?
We did and it was a lot bigger than we expected. We probably prepped for three-quarters of what we were doing, so we scrambled a little at times to get everything out but we did fine.
The Breakfast Burger was especially big. I know during the first hours of service it was the big seller, and it was probably our No. 1 or 2 best seller for the whole day.
Burgers always win the day, don’t they?
How long was brunch in the planning?
We’ve been thinking about for bout a year. You think people won’t want burgers at 10 in the morning but they will if you give them an excuse to come in. And those who don’t can have tots!
It helped a lot with our bar, too. A different crowd comes for brunch than comes at noon on a weekday.
Was bringing in new faces one of the goals?
Yeah, it was. And it was giving something new for the regulars, too. What we hoped would be successful for us, and it was, was that we started our [customer] pattern a little earlier. The restaurant was maybe half full at 11 a.m. when we normally open as opposed to our being bum rushed at 11. It made the flow of business throughout the day a little easier. The kitchen was never overwhelmed because we had that trickle in start, as opposed to having 120 people show up in the dining room all at once.
The extra hour of revenue didn’t hurt either.
Which day was stronger?
Saturday’s first hour was stronger, but we have a little higher base on Saturdays anyway. But for the day, Sunday won. So ee got more incremental business on Sunday for the day, but more incremental business from 10 to 11 a.m. on Saturday.
How long did you work on the menu before deciding on items and the number you thought you could handle?
About four months. We’ve developed another four or five items that will probably trickle onto the menu in the next five or six months. But what we’re starting with is easier because we didn’t want a whole lot of new items coming into the kitchen. We made the sausage gravy, which went on all three main items, with ingredients we had in house.
And your gravy got a good response?
Fantastic. You’ve got to make a good gravy if you’re in Nashville, Tenn. You can’t mess that one up. And I’m from Boston, so I needed some help with that.
What’s the opportunity you see in expanding the menu?
I think we could appeal with more tastes, more traditional brunch tastes. But when you’re adding three new dishes and you’re opening an hour earlier you don’t want to totally disrupt the kitchen at first. These were three fairly simple items. We might add a little complexity, but we’ll still try to keep it fairly simple because while brunch is a great piece for us, but it’s not the main focus of our business.
Do you think you handled staffing for brunch correctly?
Well, we over-staff. We staff for the business we want. But based on the initial response, I’d say we staffed correctly. We’ll take a look at it in a few weeks and see how it goes. If we don’t have a full restaurant by 11 a.m. we may pull back a little bit.
How did you train kitchen and FOH staff?
We trained for three weeks. We did sampling [of brunch items] with our bar regulars who come in on Saturday or Sunday to watch hockey or whatever. We tried a few things out and that allowed the kitchen to prepare them a few times. And everyone got to taste it all a few weeks in advance.
Did you price it right?
We tried to keep prices in line with the rest of our menu [The Brunch Burger is $11.25, comparable to burger prices at lunch and dinner.]. Brunch was designed to maybe make a little bit extra [on margin].
But we definitely noticed that the check average at brunch is a lot higher. We also introduced a Brunch Shake [with glazed bacon], a couple of Bloody Marys and a few of brunch cocktails. We did more alcohol business between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. those days than we did from 1 to 4 p.m. The brunch people definitely like a cocktail with their brunch burger.
As far as staffing, really the only place we might have missed was having a second bartender on earlier than we normally do. Usually people who come in at 11 a.m. have a beer and sit at the bar. But it was busier in the dining room.
Did anything else surprise you?
Really just how well it went. I thought it would be a four- to six-week process before we got people to give it a try, but it was quick. We did a little social media but we didn’t do any advertising. A bit on Facebook and Twitter and we had people there waiting for us.
What’s the timetable for opening location No. 3?
No. 3 should open in October. It’s coming up out of the ground, so fourth quarter for sure.
Are you looking beyond Nashville for expansion, too?
We’re starting to look around. Nashville’s becoming very expensive. And we don’t crowd it with too many Burger Republics. We might do one more here but we’re starting to look regionally.