SARATOGA — The pineapple French toast is a favorite at J.W. Hugus Restaurant & Catering, but as creative as it seems, guests might be surprised at what inspired its place on the breakfast menu.
“I don’t know if I should even say this, but I will not put something on the menu or bring something in unless we can use it in at least three things,” Trevor Ingraham told Cowboy State Daily. “It’s just not worth it to me to buy a product like, say, pineapple unless I can use it in three different things, and then it becomes a multifunction item.”
That cuts down on kitchen waste, and that’s a key ingredient when it comes to keeping food costs at the popular breakfast spot in Saratoga affordable for tourists and townies alike. It’s also why the restaurant is always busting out at the seams, with cars parked all around and a full dining hall both inside and outside the restaurant.
Ingraham had already figured out two items for pineapple on his menu and just needed one more to clinch the deal. Those two items were Hawaiian chicken and a Hawaiian burger.
The pineapple French toast came about as Trevor played around with ideas for the ingredient, in search of that magical third menu item.
“He tried it out in the kitchen, and then we just put it on the menu to see how it would do,” Trevor’s wife Hillery recalled. “And it did really well, so it’s stayed on.”
The name of the restaurant happens to be a very historical one in Saratoga, harking back to one of the community’s well-known founders.
J.W. Hugus had 12 businesses in southern Wyoming and northern Colorado and is known to have been supplying ranchers and others in the Saratoga area by 1870. He called his business the Hugus Company Mercantile.
By 1883, however he sold his interest in his Saratoga store to his brother, Wilbur, who partnered with Fenimore Chatterton, J.W.’s bookkeeper.
It was Chatterton’s idea, actually, to rename the town Saratoga, instead of Warm Springs. Chatterton had visited Saratoga Springs, New York as a youngster, and remembered the healing waters there quite fondly. Saratoga is home to the Hobo pool, a popular year-round hot spring.
The building that once housed J.W. and then W.B. Hugus’ store still stands in Saratoga and is one of the community’s oldest, most historic buildings.
“The original building would have been the True Value Hardware store on Bridge Street,” Hillery said. “If you go over the bridge, there’s a building on the righthand side (across from Snowy Mountain Brewery) that has been redone. And that was one of his original buildings.”
While the J.W. Hugus Restaurant is not one of J.W. Hugus’ original buildings in Saratoga, it comes by its name honestly. Hillery is a descendant of Hugus’ and wanted to honor her great-great-great-grandfather by naming the restaurant after him.
Hot Breakfast Spot
The food at J.W. Hugus Restaurant is good enough that area motels like the Riviera Motor Lodge advertise it as The Place for a sit-down breakfast in Saratoga. Word of mouth has also done a lot to attract people to the business in a way that Hillary is sure would have made her three greats grandfather proud.
“We do have the best breakfast,” waitress Kelsey Huntoon told Cowboy State Daily. “Most places (in Saratoga) have a grab-and-go type breakfast experience, which isn’t a bad thing, but we can actually give the whole like breakfast experience. So even if you’re in a small town, you can get French toast if you want, or you can, you know, we have the most giant pancakes here, which everyone loves.”
Those pancakes are the size of a dinner plate, which helps explain their popularity alongside more creative offerings like the pineapple French toast and the cinnamon roll French toast.
“It’s kind of all over the place on breakfast,” Hillery said. “The breakfast burrito, the cinnamon roll French toast — I’ve never had a complaint on any of them.”
Probably the top-selling item, though, is the simplest. The Warm Springs breakfast, which borrows its name from Saratoga’s original name, is the top seller, Hillary said, and it is just your typical bacon and eggs with home fries.
While the restaurant is more well-known for breakfast, it’s no slouch when it comes to affordable and delicious lunch options.
It offers a range of burgers and sandwiches for the noon meal. The signature item is the fish taco.
The restaurant, like many in Wyoming, has struggled with staffing issues, particularly after the COVID-19 pandemic.
The staff they do have, though, are like family, Trevor and Hillery told Cowboy State Daily, and some of them have been with the restaurant since it opened.
“They do a phenomenal job of dealing with customers,” Trevor said. “There’s so many people who come through town, tourists who end up sending us postcards and letters, talking about them by name. And we’ve definitely seen since the 2020 lifestyle change that happened in the nation, just kind of non-happy, grumpy, grumpy people.”
That hasn’t been made easier, Trevor added, since he decided to keep the QR code menu going post-pandemic. This menu delivery method isn’t meant to be a political statement, but Trevor has seen some people, particularly in the 30 to 45 age range, taking it that way.
“With the uncertainty of like, in the last three years basically, you never know what prices are going to be,” he said. “Just like this year, the eggs went crazy, then it was beef that went crazy, and then it was pork.”
The QR code menu allows efficient changes to menu items on the spot. If something is unavailable or has become too pricy to work, it can be immediately changed online, so that there’s no confusion, or disappointment, about a menu item that’s unavailable.
“That not only saves us time, but money,” Trevor said. “It saves us resources all the way around. Like if we do decide next month that the pineapple French toast is out, then it gets dropped off, and we don’t have to reprint the menu.”
But not to worry if you were planning to try the French toast next time you visit Saratoga. The breakfast treat is doing quite well on the menu, and not going anywhere any time soon.
Renée Jean can be reached at Renee@CowboyStateDaily.com.