Fine: Where were you born, where did you grow up? Where did your husband grow up?
Brandi: I grew up in a quintessential New England town, complete with white steeples, wooden bridges, snowfall measured in feet, and apple orchards you can lose yourself in. However, my cinnamon scented childhood pales in comparison to the amazing city my husband Ken grew up in. Ghent, Belgium has its own towering mid-evil castle, cobblestone streets that wander along side uniquely European canals flanked by amazingly preserved churches from every architectural period. The history is rich and impressive, but it is the flavors that come out of this tiny country that are renowned. Everyone covets Belgian chocolate, thick sticky Belgian waffles, hand crafted Belgian beers, and unmatched cheeses, mustards and sausages.
Fine: What is your background and history? How did you and your husband meet?
Brandi: I went to college in Pittsburgh PA to study Art History – I never intended to love restaurants! Ken went to an academy in Bruges where he studied Gastronomy and Restaurant Management. He was completely surrounded by the art and history I was obsessing over in the States. He prepared and ate seven course lunches, while I heated ramen noodles and ate at my desk with my books. I worked in restaurants to pay my tuition. By the time I finished college I had quite a restaurant resume. Giving that up to teach was becoming less and less appealing. Kens education led him to an internship at the Marco Island Marriott Resort. My education led me to a teaching position in Naples FL, and a part time serving position at the Marco Island Marriott Resort. The rest is all fate and scandal. Fine: When did you open Toast and how did you come up with the name? Brandi: Coming up with the name toast was not hard, or all that clever really. Eggs and toast is an American breakfast staple. We knew we wanted a single word name. Toast is one of the most common words on any breakfast menu. Short, sweet and evoking a homey warmth. It just made sense. So, January of 2010 we opened our first Toast.
Fine: Was the Vanderbilt Plaza location your first restaurant? Do you have other restaurants?
Brandi: The Shoppes at Vanderbilt is our second location. The original was in the Pebblebrook plaza. I loved that place; the customers are great, very family oriented hard working fun loving people. Unfortunately, when it was time to do some upgrades to keep that location on par with our growing brand, the landlord made it impossible to do business. We decided to sell. Some time we will go back to that area; it is close to home and I love it, but not that plaza. It was not a fit for us.
Fine: What do you feel are the secrets to your success here?
Brandi: I am surrounded by talented and intelligent, positive people. My co-workers are amazing and supportive. I appreciate every one of them. Our venders are fantastic and knowledgeable. Our property management is responsive and fair. Our customers are the best. Naples Florida has one of the highest concentrations of successful people. The IQ of this town is brilliant. The secret is Naples.
Fine: What are some of your favorite food items and also some favorite menu items?
Brandi: I eat EVERYTHING! But if it is toasty, poached, and sauced then I am in love! Our Benedicts are the best; the flavors and textures
are what I crave when I think of breakfast. Our Banana Bread French Toast is a year round pleaser, and our Seasonal Specials are always popular. This time of year the Pumpkin Bread French Toast is a huge hit, and as soon as Florida berries ripen our local Strawberry Lemon French Toast is mouth watering! We also have crispy Panini’s, Pitas stuffed big and fat, and Salads made from local produce.
Fine: I have heard that the restaurant business is 24/7, every day. How true is this statement?
Brandi: That is a slight exaggeration. The restaurant business is 23/7 for about an hour each day, you can actually feel like you are on top of it all. Then it starts all over. Fine: What are some of your hobbies? What do you like to do outside of the restaurant? Brandi: My hobby, my down time, my sanity, is mounted on the walls. I paint large-scale paintings, one handed. I keep a glass of wine in the other hand!
Fine: Do you have any plans to open another Toast or another restaurant?
Brandi: Sadly, there will not be another Toast. In fact the existing Toasts are forced to change names. You are the first to learn this. Toast will be experiencing a Re-Branding in a few short months. There are several restaurants, bakeries, and cafes called Toast. We are the only Toast in Florida. The Toast in Chicago has a federal trademark on their name; they are filing suits with all other Toasts across the country. This includes forms of the word toast and toast as part of a multiple word title like “Toast and Jam”. We never intended to grow our company beyond the local area so we did not pursue a federal trademark. That said, the only thing to change is the name, and while that comes as a great expense to us it will not be passed on to the customer and nothing else is changing. We will change our signs and website to our new name: “Poached.”
Fine: Why do you think Naples is a special place to live? Why do you call this home?
Brandi: Naples is prettier than a movie set, and the people here are successful, happy and healthy. I cannot imagine trudging through another winter ever again. I cannot imagine trudging at all.
Fine: If you go out to eat other than eating at Toast, what are some of your favorite restaurants here in Naples? What are some of your favorite food items to order at those places?
Brandi: Naples has so many talented chefs and restaurateurs that it is almost unfair. I love The Local; they have a melt in your mouth pork ragout with gnocchi. I dream about it. ARAYA has great sushi, and their grilled octopus is such a flavorful dish; I have to order it every time. Incas kitchen for the ceviche. I cannot get enough of their ceviche! KC American Bistro for some amazing lamb. It is love. And if you must cook at home, stop at Swan River seafood to pick up fresh fish or hand cut steaks; they are the best! Fine: What advice could you give to other business owners and entrepreneurs?
Brandi: I don’t really do advice. I do bacon. Awesome French toast, Panini’s and soups…I don’t specialize in advice! Trademark.
Fine: Do you have a favorite local charity?
Brandi: I don’t have a specific charity. I love all the things that make a community tick. So if a school is doing a fundraiser I am all for that. If the firefighters are putting together a charity event, I will donate to that; Food pantry and blood drives, I am in. I try to keep it local.