No other restaurant in Oxford has as many bodies lined up and hanging out outside its front door waiting to get inside on weekends. Big Bad Breakfast’s honest, localized, made-with-love menu has struck a chord, and it’s a concept owner John Currence of City Grocery Group felt would translate in other towns. The location for the pilot restaurant for expansion became obvious.
Currence explains that the decision to branch out into Birmingham didn’t involve crunching data or conducting scientific market studies. Having like-minded business partners including James Claborne and Birmingham restaurateur Nick Pihakis in the city made the choice an easy one. It’s a foundation built on mutual reverence, from the Birmingham guys to Currence and vice versa.
“(Pihakis’s Jim ‘N Nick’s chain) is a medium- to large-sized barbecue chain, and their concepts are based on quality product, service, ingredient, and an integrity that transcends what a chain of that size would normally imply,” Currence says. “Breakfast is still a very underserved segment of the market. They’ve always been fond of the (Oxford) restaurant and approached me about expanding it. Birmingham, because it’s where they’re located and where the strength of their infrastructure is, made sense for our pilot store.”
It’s not a bad reach for Currence, now a father, either. “It’s close enough that I can reach out and be there in the morning for a meeting and work during the day and be home in time for a late supper,” he says. “I also have the confidence of knowing I have the support of a really strong team behind it.”
Meat and Mimosas
While the choice of city for the launch didn’t require much pondering, “the menu did involve some significant head scratching,” Currence says. Consider that the name of the original restaurant itself is a play on Big Bad Love, a novel by Oxford writer Larry Brown, and its menu items are largely puns in reference to works by local and regional writers.
“The literary thing that we did in Oxford developed organically,” Currence says. “My fear was that wouldn’t translate in Birmingham. I’ve always been troubled by restaurants that named their dishes. It involves more work and research in divining what that thing is. You want the experience to be as user-friendly as possible. Particularly at breakfast, they need to go in and see eggs, pancakes, waffles. They’re bleary-eyed and don’t need complication. My partners were very firm in their conviction that we didn’t need to change anything about the model from Oxford. So, we went about devising these literary titles what are more germane to Alabama. People have really cottoned to it.”
For instance, there’s a nod to Harper Lee in the Moo Radley hamburger, the Gump-worthy Greenbow County cathead biscuit, and the Drifting Cowboy skillet dish in tribute to Alabama-born Hank Williams.
“As far as the sourcing goes, the protein part, which is the backbone of the operation—bacon, sausages, hams, and what not—we were in the process of relocating production of those to a slaughterhouse facility that we’re partnered in over there with the same guys (Pihakis’s Fatback Pork Project in Eva, Alabama). So, the protein part was a building block; the change was happening anyway. Then we started looking locally for grits and cane syrup and things like that in the Birmingham area. It speaks to the same idea and creates a consistency with the philosophy of the restaurant, but it’s not 100 percent the same as far as the flavor profiles—the cheeses, the flours will have slight variations from location to location.”
Tipples are part of the equation as well, with specialty cocktails, local and regional craft beers, and keg wines.
Awake in Alabama
Almost four months since opening, BBB Birmingham is stirring hungry patrons from their slumber.
“It’s been a wonderful experience so far,” Currence says. “The honeymoon or party part is over, and now the business part begins. This is a venture we’re looking to grow into a number of different cities. It’s beginning in the South, but we feel it has potential to grow beyond the South. We’re very excited that it’s one more thing we can hang on the hat rack of Oxford as it grows. One of the things that will always appear on the menu is that it was born right here in Mississippi. There’s a pride that goes along with that.”
— Tad Wilkes, firstname.lastname@example.org; Photos by Stan Viner