A calculated risk Dean Simon, co-owner of Bruxie Gourmet Waffle Sandwiches, was well aware of the challenges and risks when he and his partner, Chef Kelly Mullarney, opened their first location in 2010 in Old Towne Orange. His first son had just started college, and his second son was a year behind.
“My fear of failure was superseded by my fear of not trying,” says Simon. “I had the feeling that if we did this – and we did this right – we would be successful. Once I had that in my mind, I was determined to get it done.”
The risk paid off. One of the hottest food sensations in the county, the eatery offers gourmet waffle sandwiches. The sandwiches resemble a panino; but instead of bread, ingredients come in a yeasty, light and crisp waffle. Menu items, which range from the savory Bruxie Burger and turkey club to the sweet seasonal crème brulee and Lemon Cream & Berries, are complemented by an assortment of beverages, including pure-cane-sugar sodas and premium shakes.
The eatery went viral on social media sites such as Yelp and Facebook on its opening day, creating a buzz among foodies. The overwhelming response prompted the opening of Bruxie’s second location a year later in Brea Downtown, followed by the Rancho Santa Margarita locale last spring. This month, Simon and Mullarney will open their fourth location, in Chino Hills, at a former Johnny Rockets site. And this February, a fifth restaurant will open, in Huntington Beach.
“The price point, the quality of the ingredients, the experience and the service are keys for our business,” says Simon. “When you’re in a really fiercely competitive atmosphere – where there’s more businesses than there are customers – you’ve got to fight for every customer. And that means you’re only as good as your last experience.” The hottest trends Additional trends seen in the industry include children’s nutrition and local sourcing. According to the National Restaurant Association’s What’s Hot in 2012 report, the top 10 trends include locally sourced meats and seafood, locally grown produce, healthy kids’ meals, hyper-local items, sustainability, gluten-free/food allergy-conscious items, and locally produced wine and beer.
In addition, more than 60 percent of the chefs surveyed said they would consider launching a food truck as an entrepreneurial business venture, which is increasingly becoming more popular in Orange County.
Marshall, the founder and president of FoodPower, has worked in the food-services industry for decades as a culinary expert, business owner, consultant and coach. Her clients include a long list of some of Orange County’s most respected brands, from the Anaheim White House and Five Crowns to Zov’s Bistro & Bakery and Chipotle Mexican Grill.
Among the recent trends she has noticed: a decline in fine dining and an increase in less expensive, quick-serve, healthy foods dished up in a more causal setting.
Marketing cooperatives Spurred by the economic downturn and extensive media attention from the Food Channel and bloggers to local events in the community, diners are visiting local hangouts less often and opting instead to try out new eateries. For example, the Orange County Restaurant Association’s annual Restaurant Week, the largest dining event in the county and one of the fastest-growing restaurant events in the U.S., gives local food enthusiasts an opportunity to enjoy special prix-fixe and specialty menus from more than 100 restaurants throughout the county.
The restaurant association, which works to unite and market the industry in Orange County, held its first Golden Foodies Award event on Sept. 30 in Newport Beach. Some 400 people attended the red-carpet event, which honored extraordinary culture and talent in the county and celebrated “the passionate culinary artists and service professionals who give us their hearts and souls to deliver the best.”
“The great thing about food is that it always comes back to bringing people together,” says Pamela Waitt, president of the Orange County Restaurant Association.