Vince Spinoso popped a chicken nugget into his mouth and washed it down with a bitter Indian Pale Ale. He was still wearing his black chef's shirt but had unbuttoned the first two buttons at the top, making him look more at ease. He ran his hand through his thick, curly hair, sighed heavily and leaned back into his chair. It was close to midnight on a Saturday and the new executive chef had just finished up a shift at Trio Grill.
“I’m sorry I would usually never look so unprofessional, but tonight was a long night and tomorrow morning will be even crazier with the brunch crew,” Spinoso said.
The lyrics of "Roxanne" floated through the air of the two-year-old Open Road Grill, one of the many restaurants owned by the Metropolitan Hospitality Group alongside Trio. After walking over from Trio we decided to order a few beers. The pink glow of the neon Budweiser sign bounced off the right side of Spinoso’s face, making him look a lot older than 32. I could hear his thick New York accent as we talked about his five-month-old son, his move from Levittown, N.Y., to Frederick, M.d., and his new experimental Bloody Mary concoctions filled with cheeseburger sliders, fried onions, Tabasco, topped with old bay seasoning. The mini sliders were stacked on a wooden spork that stuck out of the drink as food decoration. This acted as both a drink and an appetizer for the brunch menu (who knew you could fit all of that on top of a drink?).
“The dinner scene is something we do every day, so we’re used to it,” he said as his second drink arrived: crisp, apple ale.
“But on Sunday’s we run the show a little different,” he said. "You only have one shot to get brunch right and if you screw it up, it could go all go downhill.”
After changing over from a "fine dining" restaurant to a more casual brunch and dinner bistro the restaurant has had more business.
"The original restaurant we had was just too overboard," said Spinoso. "The brunch menu brought in a lot more people traveling to the city because it was cheap, it was served all day, and the atmosphere was less formal then when it was solely "fine dining".
Spinoso is just one of many chefs who have tried to put a new spin on the late-morning meal. More and more restaurants are relying heavily on the brunch menu as a "cushion" for increasing business. The focus on this meal allows for a restaurant to extend its hours and make room for a different type of crowd. While this can be very beneficial for a new business, there is also downsides. Most restaurants won't extend their staff to accommodate for the new morning shifts and then run the risk of wearing them down.
“Imagine trying to do a back flip once a week,” Spinoso said. "Well, that’s kind of like brunch. If you had more practice like you do with lunch and dinner, it would be almost close to perfect every time. But only running the show once a week gets kind of tricky. Your back flip isn't going to look too hot if you practice once a week. Except with brunch you can’t mess up. You've got one shot to make it flawless.”
This could potentially affect a number of factors such as service quality and efficiency. As Director of Operations and Executive Chef for the chain of restaurants in the Virginia-DC area, Spinoso has taken some of these risks to bring in more people and business. With an addition of a brunch menu, restaurants are trying to vastly expand business and incoming profit. Last year, 32 percent of family-dining restaurants cited brunch as their most successful day part, according to NRA’s 2015 Restaurant Industry Forecast (National Restaurants Association).
It wasn't just recently that this fourth meal became so popular. According to The Smithsonian, the concept of brunch is more than a century old. In 1895, the British publication Hunter's Weekly coined the term to describe a lighter morning meal. Brunch was a luxury only enjoyed by the British upper class. The meal eventually came to America in the late 1920's (Smithsonian).
Spinoso’s chain Circa Bistro restaurants, also owned under the Metropolitan Hospitality Group, embodies the lively brunch atmosphere as well. The flagship of which is located in Washington's DuPont Circle neighborhood could be easily missed due to the small, corner location. With only a few scattered tables and long white bar on the left side, the intimate space has both a bohemian and peaceful ambiance. Brunch is served until four in the afternoon and mimosas are the number one choice of drink.
“We really value our brunch menu,” said Spinoso. "Without it we wouldn't bring in the bubbly type of customers that we do. It’s funny who comes around and can help promote our brunch specials. I’m not kidding, these four young women come in every Saturday to brunch. They even call themselves the “bitches who brunch” and tweet about our Circa Bistro restaurants. It’s really amazing.”
The restaurants gained so much popularity that Spinoso and his team ended up on the Will You Eat There? segment of Fox News. With both an elaborate brunch and dinner combination, Trio and its adjoining restaurants are paving the way for a new and improved brunch scene.
Bread and Circuses Bistro in Towson,Md.,could be mistaken for an old, run-down house that is now internally transformed to a trendy and artsy brunch patio. Tucked along a strip of stores and a residential neighborhood, Bread and Circuses struggles to survive next to other well known breakfast places such as Cunningham's Cafe and Towson Hot Bagels. So how does the bohemian shack stay alive?
Steve Fox, owner of Bread and Circuses Bistro, turned what was a small coffee shop called French Press Cafe into a brunch spot. With the addition of a liquor license and some re-decorating, this tiny cove became busier than ever.
"We started adding a brunch option about a year and a half ago and it's been very successful for us," Fox said. "The key with a restaurant adding a brunch menu is really the alcohol. I think the mimosa's, Bloody Mary's and Orange Crushes really go hand in hand on a Sunday afternoon and really make the day slip by," said Fox.
Although the switch over to a brunch style has been very beneficial for the new restaurant, the competition in the area keeps Fox on his toes. Serving alcohol just isn't enough.
"I think our coolest option is our Banana Foster's French toast. We also feature a poached eggs Benedict on a hash, which is also really popular," said Fox. "Now that spring is here we do a really nice seared salmon with a Rain forest crab salsa," he said.
Along with salmon, spring is also bringing in nearby students from the University. With graduation only weeks away, Fox hopes that the restaurant will be swarmed with families and graduates, looking for a place to brunch.
"The switch over has really brought in a lot of business," said Fox. "Our outside dining also attracts a lot of our customers as well."
Brunch has proven popular for young diners like Taylor Seidel, creator of the local food blog, GoodEatsMD.
"A lot of brunch places now,—I've noticed with restaurant events and menus, are doing a lot of bottomless Bloody Mary's and a lot of bottomless mimosa's to try and get a younger crowd in," Seidel said.
"They have been really aiming their menus at more fun and innovative ways to make the meal more hip," he said.
With the hype of brunch emerging into a majority of restaurants, many brunch-goers are creating trends on social media platforms and attracting attention.
"Instagram by far is the main outlet for brunch," said Seidel. "Brunch just looks good and I think that everyone can really conceptualize and really relate to a good looking breakfast food."
With social media capturing the highlights of brunch, Seidel finds his job much attuned to this specific meal. Thousands of posts on Instagram feature some top hash-tags such as #brunching, #bruchflow, #brunchlife, #brunchporn, #brunchnyc and #brunchsundays. This helps Seidel, and bloggers like him, narrow in on major and popular places that people brunch at. There are even multiple Buzzfeed articles on Facebook emphasizing why the meal is so affordable and trendy.
"Places are definitely benefiting from a brunch menu," Seidel said. "It's more hours for them to showcase food and introduce newer drink specials. I just recently did a segment on the top brunch places and I ranked, not in any particular order, the top five breakfast places in Baltimore. It was great because it's truly becoming an everyday thing as opposed to just a weekend thing."
A lot of bars and casual restaurants are even hopping on board with the newest brunch trends. The Nickel Taphouse, a casual restaurant in Baltimore, is just one of the many places taking advantage of this hybrid meal and money-making opportunity.
"It's great because Nickel Taphouse is trying to incorporate more beers and seasonal drinks into the mix," said Seidel. "I've even had to add a brunch segment to my own blog because the meal is just so popular."
As Spinoso walks around Open Road Grill on Sunday morning, menus in hand, the smell of cinnamon and honey drifts through the air. It's time for another brunch and he looks more tense than usual.
"Sunday's are usually a time to relax and hang around, but not for me," said Spinoso. "We open for brunch in half an hour and I already know it's going to be a long day."
There are a few families and couples waiting on the benches outside and two groups have already made reservations for that morning. I looked up at the clock and saw that it was only nine a.m
Spinoso begins to garnish a Bloody Mary with stringed onions and sticks them on a tiny, wooden spork, which protrudes out like a greasy umbrella.
"I'm glad for the business though," he said. "I know it will all be worth it in the end."