Twenty-five years after John Currence opened his first restaurant in Oxford, Mississippi, the James Beard Award-winning chef has grown City Grocery Restaurant Group to include four restaurant concepts and two catering operations in and around the small Southern city. There’s City Grocery, the Oxford landmark Currence opened in 1992; Bouré, a Creole-influenced restaurant; and Snackbar, which focuses on charcuterie.
But it’s breakfast that will grow the Currence restaurant empire across the South. “We just had a couple of opportunities that all fell in our lap,” Currence says. “That’s how we initially went forward.”
Earlier this month, Currence announced plans to open his restaurant dedicated to “the forgotten meal,” Big Bad Breakfast, in Charleston, South Carolina. In March, a Big Bad Breakfast is opening in Florence, Alabama, and in January, one debuted in Homewood, Alabama. In addition to the original Oxford location, there are also BBBs in Birmingham, Alabama, and Inlet Beach, Florida. And he’s not stopping there. Currence says he’s seriously considering Chattanooga, Tennessee. Atlanta and New Orleans, Currence’s hometown, also aren’t out of the question.
Big Bad Breakfast’s initial expansion was driven in part by restaurant group partners with interests in the various locations, but going forward, BBB will follow a strategy. “We’ll return to our original growth model, which is to expand in bands slowly out from Birmingham and Oxford, to slowly crawl into places that make sense,” the chef explains. “We begin having to identify people from outside our organization that want the opportunity and are capable of doing what it takes to make Big Bad Breakfast successful,” he adds.
Ten years after the first Big Bad Breakfast opened in Oxford selling breakfast staples like pancakes, egg skillets, and biscuits, breakfast has exploded. All-day dining was the trend of 2017, egg sandwiches lead the menus at multiple fast-casual restaurants, and chefs are realizing that breakfast can do big business. It’s a fact that Currence has picked up on: Big Bad Breakfast is the only restaurant in Currence’s City Grocery restaurant group that has expanded, and in 2016, Currence published a Big Bad Breakfast cookbook.
Breakfast has universal appeal, but each Big Bad Breakfast location is unique and draws from businesses and ingredients in the local community. The Homewood, Alabama location serves doughnuts from local shop Hero Doughnuts, and the Inlet Beach, Florida Big Bad Breakfast offers Gulf seafood. “We want to nuzzle this concept in comfortably to the community, and reference where we are and tell a little bit of the story about where we are,” Currence says.
Although Big Bad Breakfast has so far expanded primarily to smaller cities (even with Birmingham, BBB has yet to open in a city with more than 250,000 people), Currence thinks the concept will have no problem in larger markets. “Fortunately for us, the breakfast market is a little more open than lunch and dinner,” Currence says. “We don’t have as much competition, and what we are doing is unique enough. We’re not here to take a single customer off the IHOP down the street. That’s not our people.”
The Big Bad Breakfast demographic is “a slightly more hipster crowd,” Currence says. “It’s the crowd that shops at Whole Foods, that’s prepared to sacrifice disposable income for a quality product rather than a quantity of product.” And all of the Big Bad Breakfast locations have something in common: “If you look at the smaller towns and look at the demographic there, it just supports the model.”
According to Currence, breakfast comes with a built-in clientele, and as he continues to expand Big Bad Breakfast, the biggest obstacle to business isn’t other breakfast restaurants. “It’s really getting folks engaged in eating the most important meal of the day,” he says, “and upsetting their comfort zone by going, ‘We’ve got to get out of bed 30 minutes early so we can get by Big Bad Breakfast and get an egg plate.’”