In 2003, Crumbs Bake Shop opened the doors to its first gourmet cupcake bakery and business boomed. Crumbs rode a popular restaurant trend all the way to the bank.
Fast forward to the summer of 2014, when Crumbs bakery filed for bankruptcy and emerged in, well, crumbs only after a buyout by investor and TV host Marcus Lemonis and Fischer Enterprises (maker of Dippin' Dots). What can you learn from this frosting-topped fairytale gone wrong? Our restaurant owners and foodservice consultants uncover five need-to-know business lessons on restaurant industry trends — applicable whether you sell baked goods or something else entirely.
1. Offer options
Crumbs focused on cupcakes. Sure, there were loads of flavors, but if you wanted more, you were pretty much out of luck. That's why the company's new owners expanded the product line beyond tiny frosted cakes. As Robin Wehl-Martin, owner of Hello Robin, a cookie shop in Seattle, WA, puts it, "If you do one thing, do it really well — but also have a steady backup."
At Yogart Frozen Yogurt Studio in Edgewater, NJ, the "steady back-up" is non-yogurt items. Owner Paul Turpanjian offers a variety of artisanal self-serve yogurt, of course, "but we also supplement what we sell because not everyone wants yogurt," he explains. "We have bubble tea, espresso and cappuccino, made-to-order Belgian waffles, smoothies, even protein shakes for the gym crowd. We have that versatility to attract customers of all kinds, not just yogurt eaters."
2. Leverage the trend
Crumbs failed to prepare for the day the cupcake was no longer an "it" food. A smarter play is to interpret a restaurant trend and add it to a diversified menu. For instance, at La Patisserie in Austin, TX, owner Soraiya Nagree noticed the growing demand for cronuts. In response, her team invented the "CroBrio," which is part-cronut and part-brioche: "We don't need to sell what's trendy but we love to put our own spin on things." La Patisserie sells out every batch of CroBrios it makes.
3. Cover day-parts and demand
La Patisserie serves a wide range of products, seeking to "cover a whole day, serving foods you might start your morning with and end the afternoon with," Nagree notes. This might mean traditional and easy-to-carry breakfast baked goods in the morning, a wider range at lunch and a mix of tasty afternoon snack items.
It's also wise to consider the demands of the customer when developing recipes. Allergen-free options, locally sourced ingredients, and a variety of beverage selections can go a long way toward keeping regular customers coming back and getting new customers trying you out.
4. Create a sustainable model
You may have dreams of global food domination, but it makes sense to start small and focus on a business model and product mix that's designed for the long term. That means knowing your financial fundamentals and being fanatical about your product and your customers.
"Trend or no trend, as a culinary professional, Brotherly Grub is committed to the industry of food and doing whatever we have to to ensure our customers want to return to our business," says John Baily, the Philadelphia food cart's owner. "The chances we take on trending foods are just a creative outlet for us to show we aren't exactly tied down to any one particular style or idea."
5. Expand with caution
If you expand too quickly, you can easily out-spend your budget and cut corners on quality. Arthur Meyer, an Austin-based restaurant and bakery consultant, says to put internal improvement before expansion. "Be innovative and know why you're finding success at your shop," he counsels. "Then make it even better."
Crumbs bakery seems to have survived its reality check, but not every food business can attract deep-pocketed rescuers. Follow this advice to stay focused on building a strong business that meets your financial needs. That's the best recipe for success.