One-dish eateries have always been there.
Ice cream and pizza parlors have been there for decades, as well as hotdog, frozen yoghurt, smoothies, salad, bagel and doughnut shops.
One-dish shops have a certain charm that appeals to customers—one type of food served up in numerous forms. Just how many ways can you dish up a hotdog? Hollywood’s Pink’s Hot Dogs, for instance, have been serving hotdogs for 72 years now, offering chili dogs with cheese, sauerkrauts, coleslaw, pastrami, nachos, turkey and guacamole, and they are still doing better than ever. Then, of course, we have Dunkin’ Donuts which are said to have “been bringing smiles since 1950” with their range of doughnut flavors—all 70 plus of them.
And lately, there’s a whole new wave of single-themed restaurants that have popped up, kicking the concept to an entirely new level. These latest one-dish shops are said to have a distinctly gourmet and trendy appeal—sweet and savory alike and they all seem to click with the market.
There’s this hipster, cozy macaroni and cheese restaurant in Oakland, CA called Homeroom, which serves the dish in ten different ways—their chef and apron-clad kitchen staff can whip up a cheddary version, complete with hotdog bits and flaky potato chips; walnuts and blue cheese; scallions and goat cheese; or put in extra mix-ins like broccoli, fried egg or bacon. Another one is S’MAC in New York City, which has fourteen varieties of cheese and a horde of mix-ins, too.
Gourmet grilled cheese, peanut butter sandwich, fondue dinners, pot pies, rice puddings, meatballs, baked potatoes and cereal shops. For sweets, there’s been a surge of restaurants for crepe, cream puffs, éclairs and the popular cupcakes.
Most of these are comfort foods. As how Jonathan Theriault of Meatballs puts it, “diners have grown up on meatballs. They have memorized how it tastes—they’re comfortable with the variations we are giving.”
And that’s exactly what these eateries have in common—their apron-clad servers are selling comfort food. “People are experiencing a good number of crises lately,” says Rupert Spies, a senior lecturer at Cornell University. “And when they’re stressed they tend to look for something that they’re familiar with, provided by long-existing comfort foods.”
Another common denominator that these shops have is that most of them are in densely populated locations, where there are sure to have enough customers. After all, as Spies said, “just how many times in a month could one visit you with such a limited menu?”
But the business model has proven to be quite effective for restaurant operators. The restaurant does not need so much equipment, and there’s no problem with forecasts, since there’s only a limited amount of ingredients. Inventory turns out to be inexpensive and the operation is not labor-intensive.
The concept works, and experts predict that this segment will continue to grow in the coming years, if not months.