Toast Cafe seeking to add breakfast, lunch spots in Tampa Bay area

A North Carolina-based restaurant looking to expand in the Tampa Bay market is banking on an old saying known to anyone watching their weight: Eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a queen and dinner like a pauper.

Toast Cafe has started scouting sites in the Tampa Bay area for up to 15 restaurants over the next two years. The restaurant serves breakfast and lunch along the lines of First Watch, Denny's and IHOP but with a more upscale twist. Expect eggs benedict, banana nut flap cakes and club sandwiches but also mimosas, Bloody Marys and martinis.

Chief development officer Brett Larrabee describes Toast Cafe as a "better breakfast'' place, borrowing from the "better burger'' term used for every burger joint a step up from McDonald's and Burger King. Nearly four in five of Toast's customers are women seeking a warm atmosphere and Southern hospitality.

"If someone is looking for a $2.99 breakfast deal, we're not the place,'' he said. "This is something more special.''

The restaurant is poised to enter the breakfast battles at a good time. Market research publisher Packaged Facts estimated U.S. breakfast sales would reach $47 billion in 2013, up 5 percent from 2012, beating out the increase for lunch and dinner segments. Similar increases are expected through 2015.

Just think of your favorite breakfast spot, Larrabee said. Try getting a table on a Sunday morning. The top places have lines out the door.

Founded in 2005, Toast Cafe was started by two friends wanting to replicate the great breakfast places found on every corner in New York City. The chain has three locations in the Charlotte area and others under construction in Cary, N.C., and Fort Mill, S.C.

Toast Cafe is looking for franchise owners across Florida as part of plans to add 50 stores statewide over the next few years. No local sites have been announced but will likely include shopping centers with outdoor seating or standalone buildings, said Larrabbe, who owns property in the Tampa area.

Toast Cafe will join a crowded breakfast field that includes fast-food rivals, but also sitdown restaurants such as Village Inn, Panera Bread and First Watch, the Bradenton-based company with more than 100 restaurants in 15 states — and additional locations in the works.

Maybe it's because we're still paying off holiday bills. Or maybe we're just grumpy.

Only 54 percent of Americans are expected to celebrate Valentine's Day this year, down from 60 percent last year.

At least Cupid isn't getting cheap. The annual survey by the National Retail Federation also said the average person plans to spend about $134 on candy, cards, gifts, dinner and other lovey-dovey stuff. That's up slightly from 2013, mostly likely because Valentine's Day falls on a Friday before the long Presidents Day weekend, a boon for restaurants and resorts.

Other notable Valentine's Day stats: A survey by Chase Card Services said men are anticipating more tokens of love than women, with $230 worth of gifts compared to $196 for women. But when it comes to ditching presents altogether, men are all for it. About 43 percent said they prefer no gifts at all on Valentine's Day versus 22 percent of women.

Susan Thurston can be reached at sthurston@tampabay.com or (813) 225-3110. Follow @susan_thurston on Twitter.

Toast Cafe seeking to add breakfast, lunch spots in Tampa Bay area 02/10/14 [Last modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 9:56pm]

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