So you might be asking yourself, of the over 300 potential restaurant items to take to retail, why did the chain decide to start at the bread basket? The at-home line began last year with a line of baking mixes and continued with several flavors of Nestle coffee creamer. But the first restaurant-ready product is the brown bread. “We were thinking about what product would make sense to bring to grocery that would look, feel, and taste like the product in restaurants,” Evans explains. “The bread is exactly the same as what you get in the restaurant.”
At a Vons grocery store in Los Angeles last week, I purchased a package of the brown bread demi baguettes in the bread aisle, and warmed them to perfection in just five minutes in my oven. It tasted pretty much exactly like what I remembered the brown bread tasted like at the restaurant. But there’s more to their marketing rationale than mere convenience. The legend of the “brown bread” spread via word of mouth for decades before it blew up on social media.
Former employees bemoan having to constantly refill the baskets. “I hate brown bread,” former server Seth Byrum tells us. “Not because it doesn't taste good, but people were obsessed with it. They would ask for incessant refills three to four times, and there was constantly a deficiency of bread for that reason. During dinner rush, you’re running back and forth the length of a football field to refill it because the restaurant is so big.” Byrum worked at the Chestnut Hill location near Boston six years ago.
Former employee Jeremy Koegler used to work the to-go counter at a Tampa location and recalled that customers would frequently pick up orders, drive home, and then drive back to the restaurant if the brown bread wasn’t in the bag.
As for why people are so obsessed with the bread, Koegler has a theory: “People like it because it’s sweet." Evans agrees. “I think it’s the sweetness of it,” Evans remarked simply. Byrum offers up another explanation. “People think it’s healthy because it’s brown and has oats on top,” according to commentary he frequently overheard. Considering many of the restaurant’s dishes are upward of 1,000 calories each, diners seems to think this was the one healthy indulgence they can feel good about. “Plus, it’s free,” Byrum added. That always helps.