In 2018, when Brianna Keefe was looking to open a healthy café in Washington, D.C., she needed a competitive edge. She sought to create something different that would set her café apart from the scores of other eateries that offered smoothies and juices. Welcome to the toastique.
Toastique now has 14 stores in Washington, D.C, New Jersey, Colorado, Utah and Florida. Of that number, six are company-owned, and eight are franchised. It’s slated to open as many as 12 new locations this year; all will be franchised.
She introduced toastique, which specializes in “gourmet toast that filled you up as a sandwich would but without being overly stuffed,” she said. Everything that might be contained in a toastique including avocado smash, hummus, peanut butter, and berry jam is made in house and doesn’t contain any preservatives, artificial coloring or sweeteners.
A fast-casual eatery, which developed its own type of healthy sandwich, Toastique is turning into a steadily-growing franchise.
Hence the toastique has helped differentiate it from its many competitors. “There are a lot of Smoothie Kings out there,” noted 29-year-old Keefe, referring to one of the formidable franchises in the U.S., which had over 1,135 locations and counting in January 2023.
Of course, it’s hard to devise your own unique product because Panera Bread has marketed its toasted baguettes, which are similar to toastiques. But Keefe says its toastiques are “made with artisan bread, fills you up like a sandwich, where at most cafés it’s a side option. We have layers in it, making it a meal.”
Keefe has created a tight-knit managing team consisting of four partners that includes herself, her brother, her boyfriend and friend. They self-financed their company locations by “rolling all the profits from one store into the next without any outside capital or loans,” she asserted.
Raised in Allentown, Pa., Keefe worked in a variety or eateries, majored in hospitality management and then worked at Hyatt Regency. When she decided to open a restaurant, her partner’s mother Linda Bacci, a chef in Philadelphia, was hired to develop the menu including the toastique. Keefe brainstormed the name, which wasn’t trademarked.
They raised about $320,000 to finance the initial eatery, based on loans from banks, investments from friends and family, and credit card loans.
So far, the concept has taken off. After Toastique generated $1 million in revenue, Keefe looked to expand. It opened a second location in Alexandria, Va. in just six months of the first and a third later that year.
Most outlets specialize in breakfast and lunch and stay open from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., but franchisees can opt to open later. And the Washington, D.C. store will be open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. starting in spring. Most locations typically generate about 40% of revenue from breakfast and 60% from lunch.
Its two most popular dishes are the avocado smash and the peanut butter and banana (PB&B) smoothie bowl.
While many fast-casual eateries are moving toward mostly off-premises sales, Toastique attracts a bevy of patrons dining inside. Keefe says it varies per location, but revenue stems from about 75% inside, with third deliverers generating about 18% of business, catering 5% and merchandising 1%.
But asked about how many calories each Toastique gourmet toast contains, Keefe replied, “We haven’t pulled that data as research shows there is more to health than counting calories. We focus on using fresh products and ingredients that give our items the top taste.”
Indeed an October 2020 article in Harvard Health Publishing said that “The truth is even careful calorie calculations don’t always yield uniform results.”
And Keefe believes in diversification. It has opened two independent eateries in 2020: Chopsmith and Fat Fish. Chopsmith is located at the Wharf in Washington, D.C., and she described it as “elevated fast-casual restaurant serving salads, sandwiches, plates and a variety of healthy on-the-go options.” The owners of the Wharf complex liked their food so much that they asked them to develop a salad eatery at the complex.
Fat Fish specializes in “locally sourced products used to create sushi rolls, poke bowls, handrolls and ramen,” she says.
Consumers at Yelp were positive about dining at Toastique at the Wharf in Washington, D.C. with some reservations. Lakeisha from Washington, D.C. said she had dined there three times, liked the food, left full, but noted that “the gourmet toast and drinks were pretty pricey.”
Amanda enjoyed the smoked salmon toast, found it “beautifully decorated and garnished,” but she too found it a “bit too overpriced.”
Keefe has read those Yelp reviews about its food being too pricey and responds that even those critical reviews give them high ratings and often say, “Yes, it’s expensive, but we’ll be back.” She adds that using high quality fresh ingredients influences its pricing.
Most toastiques cost in the $12 to $15 range and coffee is $3 to $4.50 so lunch would go for $15 to $20 each.
Asked the three keys to its future success, Keefe replied: 1) Hiring the right people who are passionate about its food and vision, 2) Sustaining the quality of its food and relying on fresh ingredients, 3) Interacting with its clientele and community and remembering their names and orders.