If you can imagine anyplace where molded-plastic seats resembling cracked eggs look at home, you must be thinking of Breakfast Republic. As in his three other venues under the same name, Rise & Shine Restaurant Group founder and owner Johan Engman has imbued the Encinitas eatery — opened in November — with quirky décor.Johan placed a half-dozen egg chairs with yolk cushions and a pair of matching tables near the entrance. “Everybody loves them, but they also serve a purpose,” he says, referring to the area where patrons can wait for an open table. As at the chain’s locations in North Park, Liberty Station, East Village and Ocean Beach (a Carmel Valley location is expected to open next month), Johan has brought a playful scramble of rooster jokes, industrial modern finishes and cheery colors to the restaurant scene.
Among his growing breakfast empire, the Encinitas location provides Johan with the most space for tables. And with 3,500 square feet, including a 700-square-foot patio, he had ample opportunity to show off the iconography that has become integral to Breakfast Republic. Signature pieces include sunshine-yellow farmhouse chairs, Tolix-style stools and kitchen tools repurposed as décor elements. The design and branding at Breakfast Republic are essential to the customer experience.
“If I think back to some of the most memorable dining experiences I’ve had, I don’t remember them as, ‘That was the greatest steak I’ve ever had.’ I remember the vibe,” he says. Johan conceived the design concepts for the restaurant and called on restaurant construction and custom-furniture creator A2 Design Innovation to implement his ideas. He considers Breakfast Republic his way of reinvention in a staid breakfast marketplace. “I’ve looked at the breakfast scene as a whole. It was all the same kind of diners. They all have the same boring booths and the same syrup and ketchup on the table. I could go into 10 different breakfast places and feel like I am in the same place,” Johan says. “I wanted to really set myself apart. The goal is to offer the best breakfast in town, but have the branding go hand in hand.” Johan tries to put his stamp on every item the customer touches, from the egg-shaped ceramic salt and pepper shakers to custom Cluckin’ Good Hot Sauce bottles and coffee mugs printed with clever expressions. Every Breakfast Republic has a merchandise wall of branded apparel, cups and glasses, plates and more.
Pancake whisks fitted with long, thin filament bulbs serve as pendant lights throughout the Encinitas dining room and as a functional arm of a chandelier mural by artist Clarione Gutierrez. Mounted as art on another wall is an antique electrical switch, suggesting it might power the light fixtures. (It doesn’t.) Affixed to a central support column like a piece of sculpture is a Yama Cold Brew Drip Tower. The three-tiered wood, brass and glass contraption makes small batches of cold-brew coffee. Johan selected colors and finishes for their texture and contrast, including polished concrete floors, baseboards of fire-torched wood and lightly finished wooden ceiling beams. The tables and bars are either lacquered wood — branded with the Breakfast Republic logo, of course — or poured concrete wrapped in a metal frame. Casters on the metal bases of the larger concrete-topped tables provide greater mobility for getting in and out of booths. Walls alternate between troweled concrete and painted red, putty or with chalkboard paint, the latter over a vertical garden of pathos plants in rows of wooden planter boxes. Embedded in the foliage is “fowl” language: a red-lettered caution for feathered friends to “run cock run.”
The piece of metal from which the outdoor Breakfast Republic sign was laser-cut wraps around the curve of an inside wall. Both the positive and negative versions of the sign include the brand’s rooster silhouette.
Inspirational quotes Johan has gathered in his travels also earn wall space, as do rolls of butcher paper that list the week’s specials. He says he works to edit the visual distractions to a handful of key pieces, even if it means leaving a wall void of decoration. “I’ve always had this sense that less is more,” he says. “If it gets too busy, things get lost.” A Swedish transplant, Johan has worked in San Diego’s restaurant industry since the age of 17. His first job was as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant. He has since grown Rise & Shine’s portfolio to a dozen current and impending restaurants, including Fig Tree Café, North Park Pizza Co., Pizza Republic and El Jardin.Breakfast Republic showcases what he has distilled about restaurant concepts during his years in the industry. “Having great design is fine and dandy, but having design that hinders the functionality of the restaurant is taking one step forward and two steps back,” he says. “What I have learned is this: Keep it simple and stay consistent with what you’re doing.”