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Published: Apr 07, 2006 12:30 AM
Modified: Apr 07, 2006 03:15 AM

Wendy's to try breakfast at three local stores

Wendy's will offer value meals, hash browns, muffins, yogurt and oranges. It also tried selling breakfasts in the 1980s.
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Wendy's is known for square burgers and its late-night hours. Now the fast-food chain is trying to make a name for itself in the morning.

The Ohio company is using the Triangle to test a new breakfast lineup, launching the menu at three local stores this month. If it succeeds, the chain will expand the number of stores offering breakfast here and could introduce it to the 6,000 Wendy's nationwide next year.

It's actually the second time Wendy's has tried breakfast. In the mid-80s, the chain had a breakfast menu, but the idea failed. About 300 restaurants still serve some breakfast items, said company spokesman Bob Bertini.

"At that time, we had a breakfast that really wasn't very portable," he said. "It didn't really deliver. ... Plus, 20 years ago, people weren't used to eating breakfast out, and that's certainly changed."

The menu includes breakfast sandwiches -- some square -- and other items such as yogurt, hash browns and Millstone coffee a la carte or as part of value meals.

Wendy's will compete with many of its traditional rivals, including McDonald's and Burger King, as well as others such as Starbucks and Dunkin' Donuts that do big breakfast business.

The addition of breakfast will add to Wendy's sales, though probably not substantially, said Bob Golden, executive vice president of Chicago-based Technomic, which tracks the food industry. At McDonald's, which is the fast-food leader for breakfast, the first meal of the day accounts for 25 percent of sales, he said. At Burger King, it's 15 percent.

"At this point, all the core competitors have it," he said. "They're kind of late doing it. ... But it can't hurt. You're paying rent and utilities for 24 hours."

It's not the first time Wendy's has chosen to test a new idea here. In the past, it piloted its credit and debit card payment program, its healthful meals for children and its drive-through-only stores in the area.

Other companies also frequently test new ideas here. McDonald's chose the Triangle for one of its first McCafe restaurants, and Nextel is wrapping up its test of its wireless broadband service.

"With all the universities and all the colleges, you have a very diverse area, and you also have a very diverse work force," Bertini said.

But it's not just diversity that draws companies to test things in the Triangle, said Jim Tobin, a partner with Cary advertising agency Brogan & Partners.

"In a lot of ways, we're mainstream America in that we're not overly flashy," he said. "We're not Orlando, we're not Vegas, we're not New York City. ... The other thing is the diversity of people. Not only ethnic diversity, but we also have diversity of where people were raised."

The high-tech nature here may lead companies to view it as a good test market, too, Tobin said.

"People who are into technology tend to be early adopters because they'll do something that other people will wait on," he said. "But let's put it in perspective. It did take us 20 years to get a Nordstrom."

Staff writer Sue Stock can be reached at 829-4649 or sstock@newsobserver.com.
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