In the twilight of her life, Maurice Jennings’s grandmother, Emma, called Jennings and his brother to her bedside, took both boys by the hand, and said, “I’m going to give one of you the recipe for my biscuits and the other one the farm. Maurice, you are the oldest, so you can choose first.”
Jennings likes to tell how he picked the recipe over the family farm when people ask him about the origins of the signature menu item at what is now the quick-service chain Biscuitville. But, the story is a fable.
What’s closer to the truth is that in 1975 Jennings owned six Pizzaville restaurants in southern Virginia and North Carolina’s Triad, and he sought a way to ring up sales at breakfast. He started offering biscuit sandwiches in some units. That endeavor was so successful that Jennings’s first Biscuitville opened later that year in Danville, Virginia. He subsequently converted all Pizzavilles to Biscuitvilles. Today, Biscuitville, Inc., boasts 50 company-owned stores.
Buttermilk biscuits at Biscuitville are made from scratch every 20 minutes, and might sandwich a fried beef tenderloin, country ham slice, grilled chicken breast, or even bacon, lettuce, and tomato. Biscuitville doesn’t serve dinner, but offers a selection of pancakes and platters at breakfast and lunch, as well as side dishes such as hash browns and grits and sweets like blueberry muffins and honey buns. The company won’t franchise, he says, because it wants to maintain quality, even at the expense of growth.
Biscuits headline at breakfast across the nation, not only as a warm, flaky side dish, but also as portable, edible vehicles for meatier offerings. According to menu-database company Food Beat, Inc., of all the primary breakfast sandwich carriers offered among the top 200 chain restaurants in the last half of 2005, a biscuit was mentioned most often, followed by a tortilla, bread or bun, bagel, then croissant.
Wake Up and Smell the Biscuits
While Biscuitville is one of the smallest quick-service companies to bank on a biscuit, St. Louis-based Hardee’s Food Systems, Inc., owned by CKE Restaurants, Inc. is one of the largest. Indeed, across its 1,906 units located in the Southeast, Northeast, and Midwest, breakfast accounts for about 45 percent of Hardee’s business.
“The lion’s share of breakfast sales involves made-from-scratch biscuits in some form, either as a biscuit sandwich or served with gravy or, in some cases, just plain with butter and jelly,” says Brad Haley, vice president of marketing for Hardee’s and Carl’s Jr. restaurants, who notes that the formula for the biscuit at Hardee’s, introduced in the 1970s, has endured for more than 30 years.
Southeastern favorite Hardee’s offers a diverse menu at breakfast—sandwiches, platters, and bowls. Some items are regional, the Country Steak Biscuit and the Chicken Filet Biscuit, for example. Hardee’s best-selling biscuit offerings are the Bacon, Egg, and Cheese Biscuit and the Sausage and Egg Biscuit. The Biscuit ‘N’ Gravy featuring sausage gravy sells well too, despite the fact that it can’t be eaten easily while driving.