IN ALLEN J. BERNSTEIN'S STANdard appeal to potential jobholders, he usually nabs them with the following facts: "You'll work a five-day week, and you'll never be home later than four in the afternoon." Then the chairman of Le Peep International Inc. adds: "How many restaurant chains in the United States can claim that?"
Not many. But Le Peep is one of the first new breakfast-only restaurant chains exploiting the market for morning meals, which is as hot as a griddle.
Most fast-food restaurants begin with a narrow menu and limited hours. To achieve maximum growth, though, they end up expanding both -- and that puts them in a me-too position, competing with big-spending regional and national chains. As a result, many smaller restaurant chains have lately lost considerable share-of-stomach, or have disappeared altogether. "The competitive environment is becoming very difficult for smaller chains," says Nancy Kruse, an associate at Technomic Inc., a consulting firm.
The first meal of the day may be the best hope for surviving the food fight. While such large fast-food chains as McDonald's Corp. have spent much time and money luring the earlymorning crowd, there are leftovers. Only 10% of breakfasts consumed are eaten away from home, says Kruse, but the potential in much greater.
Breakfast is a comparatively easy and cheap market to crack. With only one shift, labor costs shrink. Food is also less expensive and unusually profitable -- a 7 cents egg can easily sell for 65 cents. "You can fill a belly relatively cheaply," notes Carl DeBiase, a partner in Restaurant Trends, a research firm.
Le Peep, which is open only from 6:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m., hopes to add 20 outlets this year. And Lee Waldman, an owner of The Egg Shell Ltd., has opened his third breakfast eatery in Denver. Others will follow their lead. "The numbers suggest that there is really room for growth," says Kruse, "so I'm sure we'll see more of them."