Good Eggs: Breakfast on a surfboard
EPHRAIM – Joel Bremer describes his thriving Door County business as "half the day, half the year." That fits with his Good Eggs breakfast restaurant being, in his opinion, more of a lifestyle achievement than a corporate triumph.
"Keep it real, keep it simple," has been the motto since Good Eggs opened 11 years ago. That means omelet-filled burritos, ordered and delivered at a counter and served in a plastic basket daily from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m., May through October.
Surfboards and stools are the tables and chairs, with most of the seating outside. Located across Highway 42 from Ephraim's Eagle Harbor, the cafe has a large front yard.
On its best days, Good Eggs sells 250 burritos, along with coffee, juice, tea, water, soda and smoothies. Although there are plenty of bakeries in Door County, Bremer bakes his own scones, muffins and peanut butter-oatmeal bars every morning.
Customers line up to order from a menu that offers three levels of burritos. The Basic costs $5.25 and consists of a cheese and potato omelet wrapped in a giant tortilla. The Standard adds veggies and is $2 more.
Priced at $9.25, the Deluxe burrito contains an omelet with spuds, cheese, veggies and meat. The many fillings options include several kinds of cheese, spinach, asparagus, green onions, red peppers, crimini mushrooms, bacon, sausage, chicken and home-made black bean salsa. Customers are invited to squirt hot sauce onto the cooked mixture before it is wrapped in their choice of several different tortillas.
The owner gives credit to his staff for his business' success. "They are the face of Good Eggs, and they are so important to the restaurant," he tells people.
Good Eggs reflects the thoughtful Bremer's values and preferred way to live. "I get to be my own boss, and for half the year I am a stay at home dad, spending time with my kids," he said one afternoon last week.
Bremer and his wife Lauren, a Door County high school teacher, have two pre-schoolers.
"I love the simplicity of this place," he continued. "We have an open kitchen. I like that nothing is hidden. We are very transparent."
Bremer also loves that dish washing is a nonexistent task in his restaurant. "I was attracted to basket service after having worked in fine dining," he explained.
The Good Eggs story begins back in Bremer's college days, when the Minnesota native began working in Door County during the summer. The first year he taught sailing at Peninsula State Park, repaired bicycles and bussed tables at the English Inn. The distaste for dirty dishes started there.
Subsequent summers were spent as a server at some of the county's top restaurants – Trio, Alexander's and the Mission Grille. Along the way, Bremer received a degree in history from UW-Madison, spent time in Guatemala and taught English in Japan.
"I learned some things," he said. "I saw poor people who were happy and rich people who were unhappy." In other words, life success is not measured in money.
Bremer bought a bus, converted it into a camper for 12, and hauled college kids looking for skiing and mountain biking adventures around the country. Bad brakes ended that.
Good Eggs was hatched over beverages with close friend Fred Alley, the co-founder of Door County's American Folklore Theatre and a national award-winning lyricist and librettist. Alley thought it was time Bremer moved beyond being a ski bum.
"Fred said if I didn't find something useful to do with myself, he would," Bremer said. Alley thought Door County needed an inexpensive breakfast restaurant. Burritos entered the conversation.
"We ate like that in college," Bremer continued. "Anything in the fridge, put it in a tortilla. Make a burrito."
Although Bremer had spent a lot of time working in restaurants, he didn't know how to make a new one happen – choose a location, negotiate a lease, secure vendors and comply with all of the necessary rules and regulations. Alley, who intended to invest his own money in the venture, handled all of that.
The two men signed partnership papers on April 1, 2001. Exactly one month later Alley suddenly died while jogging on a Door County country road. "We were partners for a month. I felt like Fred left me holding the bag," Bremer said.
The restaurant moved forward. Bremer obtained a small business loan and opened the doors. The first couple of summers were a struggle.
"It was good I had all of that experience as a ski bum," Bremer said. "I knew how to live on no money."
Word of mouth has built Good Eggs into a popular restaurant, and 11 years after he died, Alley's influence is still evident. "There was a big egalitarian streak in Fred, and we have that here," the owner said.
"We're set up to treat everyone the same here. Everybody stands in line and watches us make their burritos."
The surfboard tables are a product of the brief partnership. "They were Fred's idea. We wanted the restaurant to look cool, but we didn't know anything about design," Bremer said.
"This restaurant is Fred's gift to me."
Owners of successful dining concepts often get the itch to expand, and Good Eggs certainly appears to be a fast food idea that could be replicated in many locations. But that would probably not match Bremer's lifestyle choices.
What about it, Joel? "I'm waiting for my Ray Kroc to show up," he says with a smile.
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