Ones to Watch | By Ann Loftin
For a nice long while, there was quiche. Then came Egg Beaters and other aggressors in the anti-egg war against high cholesterol. But the mighty oval fought back, armed with studies showing that egg consumption contributes less than 1 percent to the risk of getting heart disease, compared with 30 to 40 percent for smoking, a poor diet, and being overweight or unfit, and 60 to 70 percent for genetics, hypertension, or diabetes. While quiche never entirely recovered its position, eggs took back the field.
Today, not only are egg breakfast sandwiches at nearly every quick-serve, but Jon and Peter Nowak, owners of Late Night Eggs, are preparing to serve eggs 24 hours a day on 100 college campuses across the country—and that’s just for starters. The Nowaks can see a future for their business in hospitals and airports. Their newly registered trademark logo says it all: the dancing egg wears a halo over its crown. Nice egg. Good egg.
Like many restaurant owners, Jon, 35, and younger brother Pete, 30, went into the food business early. Pete worked in restaurants during high school in Columbus, Ohio, before enlisting in the Marines. Jon delivered pizzas while in college at Ohio State. After his military service Pete worked for a handful of restaurants in Columbus, watching them open and—within 18 months, for all the usual reasons—close. Jon tried bartending, along with other jobs he didn’t like. When Jon learned that the owner of the café down the street from his apartment was ready to sell, he grabbed his brother and quit his job. They started the following Monday.
“The café was on the verge of failing when we took over in 2006,” Jon says. They began with a lean investment of $7,000, working the kitchen themselves and recruiting their girlfriends to work the cash register. “We reinvested every penny back into the business.”
“I saw the roller-coaster ride at the restaurants that failed,” Pete says, “and I learned how not to hit that wall. We lived on a very tight budget and let the cash flow build up. We didn’t start spending the minute cash came in the door.” They even kept the previous owner’s name, Café Corner, rather than spend money they didn’t have on a new sign. Jon says they’ve doubled their sales every year since.
“Going into Café Corner we knew we would do breakfast at night,” Pete says. “That was always the plan.” The Nowaks opened Late Night Eggs in June 2008, operating out of the same space as the restaurant.
By day it was Café Corner, serving deli sandwiches and salads. By night it was Late Night Eggs, with its signature hash brown casserole and free delivery. Catering to a youthful clientele of bar-hoppers and night owls, along with people who would simply rather eat breakfast for dinner, Late Night Eggs caught on quickly.
After a successful year operating from their Café Corner location, the brothers opened Late Night Eggs on the campus of Ohio State University. This, too, had been part of their plan all along. But now they were up against the heavy hitters: Wendy’s, McDonald’s, Taco Bell, Panera, and other purveyors of campus fast food. How could they compete?
Partly, the brothers say, through speed. “All of our items are designed to come out of the window within 90 seconds from the time of the order,” Pete says. To compete with Wendy’s 99-cent biscuit sandwich, they introduced what they say is a higher-quality biscuit sandwich for $1.49. “Jon and I went into this concept wanting to build a strong, franchisable business model,” Pete says. “All our decisions were made with that in mind.”
Aiming for college students as their main market, the brothers built a presence on Facebook. “Facebook has been very good for us,” Pete says. “Whenever we [promote through] Facebook there’s a nice jump in sales.”
Owners: Peter and Jon Nowak
HQ: Columbus, Ohio
Year Started: 2008
Annual Sales: Not disclosed
Total Units: 2
Franchise Units: 0
The Nowaks have hired Michael H. Seid & Associates, the franchise development firm for Wendy’s and many other major chains, to launch their brand on college campuses nationwide starting this fall. “They think the concept is sound,” Pete says. “The breakfast trend is picking up these days, and we’re filling a niche in a market devoid of quality fast breakfast.” The brothers say they’ll soon drop the “Late Night” in favor of the more 24-hour-friendly name Eggs.
The Nowaks don’t think the recession has much to do with their success. They point instead to the market saturation of other late-night fare. “At 11 p.m., your only options are pizza, wings, and subs,” Jon says. “Breakfast is a refreshing option.”
“We hear a lot of, ‘Why hasn’t this been done before?’ Maybe people haven’t tried it because it does seem like such an obvious idea,” Pete says.