Since its opening in September 2017, The Breakfast Bus has become an unparalleled hot spot in Harrisonburg. Now, this popular late-night stop officially opened a stand-alone store, “The Breakfast Bus Station,” where Strite’s Donuts previously stood.
“When this opportunity came up, it was kind of a godsend,” owner Christian Heafner said. “It’s not like we had to secure a place downtown and rebrand where we were at, then tell people, ‘Oh, check out our new location.’ We were fortunate enough to get the same place that we started.”
Originally, Heafner reached out to Carl Strite, the owner and founder of Strite’s Donuts, in hopes of parking the bus there a few times. Heafner chose the area because it’s central to the surrounding living areas of Hunter’s Ridge, Devon Lane and Forest Hills Manor. Eventually, it became the bus’ permanent location.
It was clear that the bus, with only a few tables and chairs, was too cramped for the almost 350 customers and orders per week it had to keep up with. The bus often sold out of its stuffed sandwiches, waffles and bagels within one or two days, which meant many customers enjoyed their meals, making it difficult to stay open at times. Strite could sense Heafner’s growing passion for the unique dining experience he’d created. In March 2018, Strite sold the store to Heafner and plans for remodeling began.
“I wish him well and I just hope and pray that he does really well there,” Strite said. “He really put a lot of effort into getting it ready and making a good presentation and I think that’s going to go a long way for him.”
The new store attempts to recreate the vibe customers feel on the bus. It features rustic decorations like stained wooden pallets and burlap coffee bean sacks covering the previously plain white walls. The outside of the building is a bright replica of the familiar purple and gold painted on the bus itself. There is also a section of the store dedicated to a coffee bar and bakery, which serves things like espressos, cappuccinos, doughnuts and other pastries.
“It’s kind of crazy,” Steven Miller, Heafner’s best friend who helped build and fund the bus, said. “After working on it for two-and-a-half years in my backyard, the fact we finally actually were selling food and making money on it was pretty awesome. It’s a pretty good feeling to actually build something.”
Although opening the station was a top priority, the bus itself remains a major part of the company. Heafner and Miller plan to repaint the bus and continue to use it for catering and special events around Harrisonburg. Additionally, the station features a delivery service for not only items on the menu, but convenience items as well.
“We’re trying to get to the point where we have everything online so it’s super convenient,” Heafner said. “Where you say, ‘I need this or I want a candy bar with it or I need some toilet paper with it, or whatever it may be, you can have it delivered to your house. So now that we have a much bigger work area, we’re actually going to start doing breakfast delivery and we figured why not just deliver everything we have in the store?”
Some advantages of having the store in addition to the bus include warmer seating during the colder months and much more space for customers to relax and employees to work. One goal of The Breakfast Bus is to run the station 24/7. Heafner said the business will need about triple their current staff in delivery drivers alone to accommodate it. With an all-night schedule, Heafner hopes this new station will bring the same energy and atmosphere the bus did.
“It’s fun to come onto the bus and experience the nostalgia of something you probably haven’t ridden on since middle school,” Heafner said. “But at the end of the day, it’s just the fact that it’s a spot that’s safe. You could go and drink and party all night and even when the bar is closed, you know that there’s a spot where you can get good food, there’s decent music and there’s a fun little crowd there all the time.”
Contact Traci Rasdorf at email@example.com. For more on the culture, arts and lifestyle of the JMU and Harrisonburg communities, follow the culture desk on Twitter @Breeze_Culture.