Eating Out: Valley restaurants compete for breakfast business

The Fresno BeeJune 30, 2014 

Breakfast: The final frontier of the restaurant world.

As fast-food restaurants boldly plunge into the breakfast market with "Waffle Tacos," and other one-handed meals, more local restaurants are getting in on the bacon-and-eggs action, too.

The BreakFast Hut has opened in downtown Fresno serving breakfast and lunch. Neighbors Tap & Cook House in Clovis recently began serving up breakfast burritos, and food truck Benaddiction soon will open a restaurant serving breakfast food.

Of course, plenty of restaurants have been in on the breakfast game for years, including The Train Depot, the Fresno Breakfast House, Irene's, Al's Cafe and Huckleberry's (not to mention old stand-bys such as Denny's and IHOP).

And it's no wonder. Breakfast sales at restaurants grew 5% last year to an estimated $47 billion and are expected to keep on growing for the next few years.

The BreakFast Hut

The BreakFast Hut serves breakfast and lunch from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekends. That means you can have an omelet for lunch or a burger for breakfast — or chicken and waffles any time.

"Breakfast is yummy all the time," co-owner Cheryl Dunton says.

The restaurant opened a month ago at 915 Van Ness Ave., near Kern Street, in what used to be a Guadalajara restaurant.

The owners know all about breakfast. Dunton used to own The Waffle Shop on Blackstone Avenue and partner Carlos Castillo owns it now.

Together, the couple runs The BreakFast Hut, which they were inspired to open after Castillo dropped Dunton off for jury duty and didn't see many breakfast options.

They were a little worried about opening downtown, but kept coming back to the "who doesn't like breakfast?" sentiment and decided to make the leap.

The giant $5.99 breakfast burritos are one of the top sellers — many people get them to go — and include a Fresno (ham, onions, eggs, jack and cheddar cheese), a California (bacon, ham and avocado), a meat-lover's and a veggie burrito.

What else do you need to know about this place? Expect to be greeted by John Wayne or Elvis — cardboard cutouts of them, that is. The life-size men have been a surprisingly fun attraction for customers, who often stop to take their pictures with them and post to social media sites.

Also, this is a family-run restaurant. Customers will likely deal with at least Dunton or Castillo, who is prone to the occasional fist bump, or their children. Dunton's son Eric Mueller waits tables and 10-year-old Brandon Mueller (the namesake for the Brandon's burger) chats up customers without an ounce of shyness.

"We have people come in and say, 'We're here for the entertainment,'" Castillo says.

The restaurant also has a conference room. Details available on The BreakFast Hut Facebook page.

Neighbors

Neighbors Tap & Cook House has started offering breakfast on Saturdays and Sundays. The restaurant at 1175 N. Fowler Ave. in Clovis now opens at 8 a.m. on those days.

The restaurant opened early for games during football season, serving breakfast burritos. It went so well, the owners decided to start serving a full breakfast: eggs, pancakes, a build-your-own omelet, etc.

Plus, says owner and general manager Chris Bessinger, you can order their special recipe Bloody Mary with your breakfast, or other drinks.

"It's hard to find a place in town where you can put a little Baileys in your coffee," he says.

Details: neighborscookhouse.com/

Benaddiction

Benaddiction, the food truck that serves rock-n-roll-themed breakfast sandwiches and a noteworthy grilled cheese, is gearing up to open a restaurant.

The restaurant of the same name is planning its grand opening for July 12 at 3015 W. Bullard Ave., near Marks Avenue.

The chains

Taco Bell made a big splash when it began offering breakfast in late March. The restaurants are now open at 7 a.m.

Fresno was a test market for the Waffle Taco — a waffle wrapped around sausage or bacon with scrambled eggs and cheese inside and served with a packet of syrup.

Also in the breakfast-you-can-eat-while-driving-to-work category at Taco Bell is Cinnabon Delights and the A.M. Crunchwrap — scrambled eggs, hash browns, cheese and bacon or sausage wrapped in a flour tortilla.

Taco Bell is following in the footsteps of other chains that already have realized there is big money in breakfast. McDonald's has long had a stronghold on the quick breakfast, especially with its Egg McMuffin, though the restaurants' sales have been slipping in recent months.

Starbucks upped its breakfast offerings after buying the company that runs the La Boulange bakery brand, and the chain is in the process of adding La Boulange pastries to all its stores.

Del Taco has offered breakfast for years, but recently added breakfast tacos to its menu, ranging from 75 cents for the most basic to $1.75 for its steak breakfast taco.

The columnist can be reached at (559) 441-6431, bclough@fresnobee.com or @BethanyClough on Twitter. Read her blog on www.fresnobeehive.com.

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