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Pushing Franchise Growth, Squeeze In Embraces Boozy Breakfasts and Relaxed Vibe

Generous mimosas, hearty breakfast portions and an atmosphere that’s anything but pretentious are among the attributes Shila Morris and Kay Young believe help Squeeze In stand out in a breakfast and lunch space rife with competition—and they’re confident the restaurant their family has owned for more than 20 years is ready for the national stage.

Since its start selling omelets to Lake Tahoe ski bums in Truckee, California, Squeeze In has grown to nine locations in three states, four of them franchised, with three more in development. Morris and Young, whose parents bought the original restaurant in 2003, recall scrubbing tables and serving customers in those early days, absorbing a “vibe” Young said stemmed from the tiny footprint—the restaurant was 10 feet wide and 62 feet long—that encouraged customers to “literally squeeze in.”

“There’s a connective quality to the vibration of Squeeze In that transfers to every location,” said Young of the business, which first opened in 1974. “You sit in those four walls and you feel it.”

The sisters now aim to bring that vibe to multiple new locations as they pursue a more aggressive franchise strategy. Their parents, Gary and Misty Young, who Young said “literally bet the entire farm on this” when they cashed in their retirement accounts and savings to buy Squeeze In, retired in 2017. Morris and Young are now co-chairs of the company’s board and in 2021 they brought in CEO Amir Sabetian to spearhead growth.

Sabetian started his career with California Pizza Kitchen, where he spent more than 14 years, and then went on to zpizza. As the pizza franchise’s vice president of operations, he helped it grow from eight regional locations to 100 stores in the United States and international markets. Stints at Steak ‘n Shake and Cluck2Go followed.

“We’ve spent two years getting systems in place and profitability back to where it was pre-pandemic,” said Morris, calling out a time and motion study that’s yielded operational efficiencies, technology investments and a reevaluation of the restaurant size that puts buildouts at 2,400 square feet or less.

“We learned that lesson the hard way,” put in Young as she noted they built much larger restaurants with Nos. 2 and 3 before returning to a longer, skinny design. “With that we can do high numbers while doing a low labor line.”

The skinny design also keeps construction costs down, said Morris, and means Squeeze In can fit into unique real estate. “You can open three Squeeze Ins for the price of a larger 4,500-square-foot competitor,” she said. Squeeze In has a total initial investment cost of $223,000 to $605,000.

Squeeze In’s breakfast options include a traditional eggs Benedict, along with breakfast plates, hearty omelets and indulgent French toasts.
They’ve also paired down the menu from 70-plus items to about 45, including omelets such as the Racy Tracy, which made an appearance on the Food Network when Squeeze In was featured on “Throwdown with Bobby Flay.” Breakfast burritos, eggs Benedict, specialty French toasts and a handful of sandwiches, salads and bowls round out the menu.

Then there’s the Hail Mary, a 1-liter bloody Mary served with a grilled cheese sandwich garnish and 12-ounce mimosas that fuel Squeeze In’s double-digit alcohol sales.

“I feel like this is something to be proud of and we’re just going to own it,” said Young of the boozy brunch atmosphere that encourages customers, including parents with young kids, to “settle in and relax.”

The brand is seeing franchise interest across the country, noted Young, but they’re being “intentional” with franchisee selection and also recently hired a franchise sales director. And while she acknowledged the competitiveness in the category—other growth concepts include Another Broken Egg Cafe, Broken Yolk, Black Bear Diner, Huckleberry’s and Eggs Up Grill—Morris said Squeeze In is “ripe and ready” to take off.

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