Or wrap yourself in bacon (figuratively, of course) at the Bacon Truck Café in Charlestown, Massachusetts, where the menu is loaded with bacon-enchanted meals. There’s even candied bacon and a vegan zucchini “bacon.”
These are just two examples of why it’s not necessarily bad for business to be labeled a one-trick pony, as eateries specializing in one superstar ingredient or dish–prepared in multiple variations–are creating a stir in the dining scene. But how are these restaurants finding success while also taking care to not bore their customers?
“Many people want to get the absolute best of each product,” says Alan Donovan, founder of The Oat Shop in Somerville, Massachusetts, a café with bowls of oatmeal replete with mix-ins. “That’s why we see success in restaurants with a narrow focus, but great attention to detail on that item. If people are craving a certain food and there’s a restaurant that specializes in that item, they know they can go there and not be disappointed.”
Donovan’s menu includes all the sweet stuff oatmeal affords, including apple pie and Almond Joy, alongside surprisingly savory dishes like sweet potato coconut curry and the popular Great Greens with house-made herb pesto topped with avocado.
“Some people were confused, some intrigued,” he remembers of introducing non-breakfast options. “Think of oats as any other grain like rice. It’s so versatile.”
You’ll notice most successful one-hit wonders are centered around comfort food – noodles, mac ‘n cheese, baked potatoes (check out the spud-centric Potatopia in New York, New Jersey, and Florida). After all, who doesn’t love a cozy trip down memory lane?
“People like mac and cheese because it brings them back to a time in their lives when they were kids and it was comfortable. Once we ‘adult’ it up, they’re even bigger fans,” says Dan Collins, president and chief development officer of I Heart Mac & Cheese, a customizable cheesy pasta spot with locations in Florida, Oklahoma, and New York.
“We wanted to create a restaurant that focused on America’s favorite comfort food. So many restaurants have their own versions, usually as a side dish. We wanted to offer it as the main course,” he says.
“To make a whole menu, the main attraction must set off some sort of nostalgic response in the diner. If you create an intriguing brand story with high-quality dishes, hungry customers will flock to you,” says Egghead executive chef Jason Hall. The popularity of all-day breakfast restaurants inspired the concept for this Garment District eatery in the Moxy Times Square hotel.
You need restaurant menu ideas that can capture attention and exceed expectations.Download The Guide
“A restaurant focused around one item provides a unique opportunity where diners can find several different versions of the dish,” he continues. Their menu features eggs on potato brioche, with toppings from standard (bacon, cheese, avocado) to intriguing (watercress, black beans, chorizo). You can also get a veggie quinoa bowl topped with a golden globe, or the Non-Sandwich, eggs in a jar with pecorino, spinach, and kale.
“If people are craving a certain food and there’s a restaurant that specializes in that item, they know they can go there and not be disappointed.” -Alan Donovan
Egghead’s look and feel reflects a nerdy, almost fanatical approach to the ideal egg sandwich, and the vibrant and quirky colors attracted customers straight away. “At the end of the day, it’s a cool sandwich shop that features eggs,” says Hall.
In order for a restaurant to survive, it has to hit all the right notes. What someone doesn’t like your VIP ingredient?
“It’s important for any business to have complementary products,” explains Donovan. The Oat Shop boasts strong coffee and tea programs, as well as a bakeshop. To appeal to all, Egghead offers egg-less options like a Fried Chicken Sandwich under the Egg’cetera section, authentically tied into the program by asking, “Which Came First, The Chicken or the Egg?”
I Heart Mac & Cheese will add salads this year among items like baked buffalo chicken mac and Cuban mac available in a bowl or on a grilled cheese. “Whether it’s physically to put a smile on their face or mentally knowing they’re doing something good for themselves, people like foods that make them feel good,” Collins continues, calling attention to the avocado’s “good fat” status and dark chocolate’s “heart healthy” reputation.
“Entrepreneurs are taking advantage of this by starting new concepts with this single item as a focus,” he adds. “Besides, who doesn’t like mac and cheese?”