Bruegger’s hoping burgers will help keep brand fresh

You have to admit, it grabs your attention: Bruegger’s, the bagel bakery, is introducing burgers at

You have to admit, it grabs your attention: Bruegger’s, the bagel bakery, is introducing burgers at its restaurants.

And that’s the point. “We’re trying to be slightly disruptive,” says Judy Kadylak, vice president of marketing at the 300-store chain, which anticipates the unexpected menu item will bring in new customers, particularly coveted millennials.

After all, businesses that don’t innovate — and Bruegger’s has been around for 30 years — can grow stale. Pun intended.

Bruegger’s, you recall, launched in Troy as a test market for a couple of Vermonters keen on selling New York City-style bagels. The men had worked with a baker for more than two years to perfect their boiled-then-baked bagels, then added specialty coffee and cream cheese to create a fast-casual restaurant.

A decade after its 1983 debut, Bruegger’s was part of a bagel craze that saw the number of chains and stores nationwide expand rapidly, only to be tripped up by the too-fast pace. Several of the companies landed in bankruptcy court; others were acquired.

Bruegger’s survived some rough sledding to become a portfolio company of Sun Capital Partners, a private equity firm that buys into promising businesses, builds management, grows revenue and then sells the rejuvenated brand. In 2011, Bruegger’s was purchased by the French company Groupe Le Duff, which owns coffee and bakery chains in North America.

In fact, France played a role in Bruegger’s latest product, Kadylak told me.

It was at a Bruegger’s shop in Paris that the bagel burger was born, so enamored are the French of “anything very American,” she said. The burger played well there, as it did when tested internally with U.S. management.

In June, the burgers went into Bruegger’s locations in Boston; last month, they were added in Minneapolis. By September, they should be available in all 200 company-owned restaurants, and by early 2015 in all franchised stores.

Bruegger’s locations in the Capital Region are in the latter group; Kadylak said franchisee Ken Greene of Rochester plans to add the equipment needed to cook the burgers by the end of the year.

Two bagel burgers will be available: the Bistro Burger and the Barnyard Burger. Kadylak described the former as basically a cheeseburger on a bagel; the latter comes topped with a fried egg and is favored in Minneapolis as a kind of breakfast sandwich.

The burgers are frozen quarter-pound patties of ground steak that are “the perfect size for a bagel,” Kadylak said. They come with lettuce, tomato, pickled onions and a “secret sauce,” which she described as barbecue-based and created in-house.

Burgers are “not outside the wheelhouse” of Bruegger’s experience, given the other cooked meats now used in various breakfast and lunch sandwiches, bagels and wraps, according to Kadylak.

But the buzz generated by the burgers validates the strategy of adding them, she said.

“The attention it got was immediate — and you can’t argue with that.”

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