A lot of people around Kansas City have heard of Chris Cakes, they’ve been doing catering, special events and fund raisers for a long, long time and they are very popular. They specialize in pancake breakfasts – usually tossing them to the customers with a lot of fun banter.
In what I thought was an interesting move, they decided to open up a Chris Cakes restaurant in far south Leawood, about 4 blocks from my house. I found it interesting because they picked a location that’s a nice new building, but doesn’t currently have a lot of traffic and because it would usually be considered a big step to go from catering to full service restaurant.
The grand opening was earlier this week (KC Star Story) and we decided to try it out today for breakfast.
We stopped by around 9:00 and knew we were in trouble. Not only was there a 25 person line out the door, there was also no room to park anywhere nearby – we didn’t ask, but it had to have been at least 1/2 hour wait. We chose not to get in line.
Feeling crazy, we decided we try again for lunch around 1:00. It’s a breakfast place, but they’re open until 2:00.
It was still fairly busy, but there was parking available and no line. In fact, the very pleasant cashier/greeter at the front told us that things had finally slowed down about 10 minutes before we got there and at this point they were no longer charging anyone that came in since a lot of the buffet items had run out.
The menu is very simple; there is a buffet of standard breakfast foods (scrambled eggs, biscuits and gravy, french toast, oatmeal, sausage, bacon, cinnamon rolls…fairly comprehensive, but nothing fancy). The centerpiece is the hot off the grill pancakes (Chris Cakes) that the cook will flip at you when they’re done.
So how was it? Even with the limited buffet choices, everything that was available was good. The pancakes are very good and there were plenty of options on how to eat them; maple syrup, pecan syrup, fruit syrups, fruit toppings, whipped cream, peanut butter, if you could think of it on a pancake, they probably had it.
The restaurant itself was open and airy with lots of natural lighting and clever, whimsical decorative touches (one of the tables had 2 toilets as the seats).
The staff was extremely friendly and efficient and engaged people in a very positive way.
If I had to pick out some negatives, they have limited options for people that are looking for a really healthy meal (although you probably knew that when you walked in). They may also have some challenges with weekday traffic – they appear to mostly cater to families, not the business crowd.
All in all, as a restaurant experience it was top notch. Quality food served in a fun and pleasant atmosphere that really appeals to kids but doesn’t put off those without kids.
As a business, the whole thing is even more impressive!
Here are just a few of the business aspects that I noticed that makes this a really excellent concept that is going to do very well.
- Simplicity – there is no need for menus, there is no need for waiters to take your order, there is the buffet and you can take as much or as little as you’d like. Even better, the pricing is simple (and fair), adults pay $9.95, teenagers pay $7.95 and kids pay $5.95 (there may have been one other price range for toddlers, but I didn’t notice it).
- Leveraging existing expertise – with some minor exceptions, I imagine that all of the food they serve in the restaurant is exactly the same food that the family has been serving in they’re catering operations for years. They know where to find the best suppliers, they know the best way to prepare things for large groups and now they can do that in the relative comfort of a specially designed kitchen rather than out on location for a fundraiser.
- Location – although the shopping center they’re in isn’t generally busy, there isn’t a restaurant known for breakfast in at least 5 miles in any direction, and probably more like 10. And this is in one of the more affluent suburban areas in the country that’s fairly well built out.
- Focus on a unique experience – it’s pretty clear that they spent a lot of time figuring out how to make it a memorable and fun experience rather than just picking up some food. Although breakfast is usually a commodity at most places (eggs are eggs…) by making it an occasion that people enjoy, they instantly separate themselves into a different category than 99% of the other restaurants around.
So how could you apply these ideas to your business?
Could you simplify your product offering – not only because it might reduce cost, but also because it becomes much clearer to your customers. Generally a confused customer isn’t a happy customer.
Is there something you or your business does better than everyone else? Can you leverage that expertise into a complementary category?
Location is a bit less relevant for a lot of businesses, but ultimately it comes down to filling a need in the marketplace. There wasn’t a decent breakfast place in the area – now there’s a good one. What unfilled need could you fill?
Can you make your interactions with customers an experience that’s memorable and fun? Depending on the business, that could be very difficult, but if you can do it you’ve likely greatly reduced your competition (or even eliminated it).
It wouldn’t surprise me if they don’t end up setting Chris Cakes as a franchise. If so, I imagine it will sell…well…like hot cakes!
Shawn Kinkade www.aspirekc.com