BIDDEFORD — Oh Baby Cafe’s breakfast burrito is part of Bill Mitchell’s daily routine. He comes to the downtown Biddeford shop from his home in Saco three or four mornings per week for a meal and some coffee. His children like the cinnamon buns with cream cheese frosting.
“I like the fact that everything’s homemade,” Mitchell said. “They really cook with love around here.”
Oh Baby saw so much demand for breakfast after it introduced breakfast sandwiches and wraps a year ago that it started a full breakfast menu on Monday, including omelettes and home fries, said owners Ellen and Linda Converse.
Nutrition experts have long heralded breakfast as the most important meal of the day, and now more restaurants are taking that idea to the bank.
A new study shows that the first meal of the day is fueling growth in the food service industry.
In the last five years, breakfast made up nearly 60 percent of the industry’s traffic growth, according to a recent report from the NPD Group, a New York-based market research firm.
Since 2005, breakfast traffic has increased roughly 2 percent per year, while lunch and dinner business has either stayed the same or decreased.
Coffee items and breakfast sandwiches are two of the fastest growing menu options, the study shows.
It makes sense, said Dick Grotton, president of the Maine Restaurant Association.
People are opting for the “power breakfast” and morning coffee to discuss business matters rather than the “power lunch” of the past, he said.
“It’s an inexpensive meal, so it’s an opportunity to eat out with family and friends that isn’t quite as expensive,” Grotton said. “There are more and more operators getting into the breakfast menu,” and that means more choices for consumers.
At Bintliff’s American Caf?n Portland, owner Joe Catoggio said his brunch-only business has been busy. In the past six months, sales have increased 10 percent to 20 percent.
“(Customers) are just seeing it as a way to go out and splurge but not drop the $200 they would at dinner,” he said.
Breakfast’s flexible pricing is another thing that Catoggio thinks makes it successful and “recession-proof.” A full meal could cost only $7 or an extravagant lobster eggs Benedict with a mimosa could cost a lot more. The price range attracts everyone from college students to successful business professionals, he said.
A lobsterman in his fishing gear might be sitting at breakfast next to a lawyer in his suit, said Paul Dyer, the general manager and executive chef of the Porthole on Portland’s waterfront.
Breakfast is the biggest meal of the day at his restaurant, Dyer said, and more people have been coming in for it, though he couldn’t cite specific numbers.
Grotton said that for a while McDonald’s had the fast-food breakfast market to itself, but now more quick service chains are entering the arena.
In April Subway introduced breakfast sandwiches to its menu, and Wendy’s has been rolling out breakfast at its restaurants throughout the country for the last few years. Even Taco Bell plans to add a breakfast menu in late 2011 or 2012.
Eating breakfast has many health benefits, but the important thing is to make smart choices, said dietician Susan Quimby, who owns Nutrition Works LLC in Portland.
Studies report that breakfast eaters consume fewer calories during the day, have decreased risk for diabetes and heart disease and perform better at work and school, she said.
Fast-food breakfasts can contain a whole day’s worth of fat and calories and consumers often don’t know it, she said.
“They would never guess that’s how many calories a muffin contains,” she said. Some breakfast muffins pack as many as 600 calories.
When going out to breakfast, Quimby recommends oatmeal, a vegetable omelette or splitting a meal with a friend.
“I do think breakfast is good,” she said. “People have to be careful. What’s the calorie count?”
Staff Writer Stephanie Hardiman can be contacted at 791-6301 or at: [email protected]