Monday, April 14, 2014

You Cannot Digitize Good Restaurants

A friend of mine made a fortune in the movie rental business and sold out to Blockbuster about 10 years ago. He then went into the tanning booth business.  I asked him why and he told me: "You can't digitize tanning."

You have to take your hat off to any person, group or organization that can properly and successfully manage a restaurant over even two years.  Like math for Barbie, it's hard. Once you realize you have been consistently enjoying a restaurant for lunch for over that period of time, its time to swallow your pride and recognize them even though everyone probably already knows them and already has their own opinions. You probably should even recognize them despite being a little embarrassed that you like the food or because they really do not qualify as a true locally owned restaurant.  So in my case, its time to praise Chappy's and Zoe's (you know, the one with the diaeresis over the e). They have each been successful over 20 years.

I have literally eaten at every restaurant you have seen reviewed on this blog since its humble beginnings.  I, along with Bama Bing, personally trained the elite LITG guinea pig commando unit: Squeal Team Six.  In other words, I've been around the steam table a few times.  It is with this background that I have to admit that Chappy's Deli and Zoe's Kitchen consistently provide fresh and tasty lunch fare efficiently and at reasonable prices with good service. Let's start with Chappy's.

Chappy's has been a locally owned and family operated Gump/New York style deli since 1989. Now, it's not really comparable to a New York Delicatessen such as the Stage Door,  but they do have a pretty good Reuben and Pastrami & Swiss sandwich.  Now the problem is that I also have been presented so many lunch-meeting Chappy's sandwich trays that I think I could build a triple-Decker sandwich ladder to the moon and back. It's enough to make you avoid the restaurant during lunch away from the office.  Don't make that mistake.
Do not confuse these tray sandwiches with the much better sandwiches at the restaurant.

I swung by the Perry Hill Road Chappy's for lunch recently and found the place to be running smoothly.  They have a take out counter that functions very efficiently with attentive counter personnel.  I was in an out in a few minutes with a Ricky Ricardo Cuban sandwich that was quite good.  Again, not up to the Columbia Restaurant Ybor City version,  but a solid effort.

Actually, I like breakfast at Chappy's even better than lunch.  It's the usual country breakfast fare but everything is prepared properly with good ingredients.  Coffee is fresh and strong.  Great for the little crumb snatchers (who personally I would pay you to leave at home cause your 'little snowflake' grand kids are not as cute as you think). 

Chappy's is a true Gump/Castanza family gem that deserves a little love from LITG. And they are spreading.  They have locations in Pratt-Vegas and ... wait for it...Ozark, Missouri of all places.  Someone must have a vacation home in the Ozarks maybe?

Do not confuse these trays with the sandwiches you can get for lunch at one of their local restaurants. The freshly made sandwiches are mucho bettaro than the trays.  Despite this, I have some pretty funny video collected by an Internet camera in a conference room after a 2 p.m. email was sent out that said: "There are some leftover Chappy's sandwiches in the conference room."  It looked a little like roller derby without the skates and helmets.  Hats and helmets off to the Castanza's.

Now about Zoes (and I can't find the ALT+ key that generates the two dots above the "e").  Zoes means "life" in Greek.  It means "bank" in the restaurant business.  Zoes is an example of a well-run restaurant gone big time.  The restaurant was founded in Birmingham in 1995 by ZoĆ« (cut and pasted from their webpage) and Marcus Cassimus with a Mediterranean feel and menu.

The Zoes on Zelda always serves very fresh salads and sandwiches in an efficient manner.  You place your order, pay and get a number to put on your table.  In a few minutes--not long after you serve yourself at the drink bar--a server brings you what you ordered.  On your table is the oil and vinegar dressing that goes with almost everything they serve.  One of my colleagues goes there every week and always gets the chicken salad fruit plate.  I really like the Mediterranean salad with chicken.  I almost feel like I am losing weight as I eat it.  But that is quite unlikely.  It's an easy drive from downtown, the service is quick and--on days like we have been having recently--you may dine al fresco.

Yes, Zoes is now a chain. They have 110+ locations.  In fact, they just went public April 10, 2014 and, as of today, they have a stock price in the NYSE of about $24.  They are now run by a guy with a degree from Texas A&M with their home offices in Texas.  But it does have Alabama roots and shows how a good restaurant can be replicated and franchised.  It may even show the pathway for Chappy's.

Now, to complete the circle, it was just announced that a Japanese-themed restaurant will open in the Westminster shopping center.  It will be called Maki Fresh.  Guess who came up with the idea of a serving sushi with an Asian flair?  It's John Cassimus of Birmingham, the founder of Zoes. Apparently, it will allow you to pick your food out and self-checkout.  They will also have burgers and bang-bangs. 

The moral?  Because the food industry cannot be digitized, if you can consistently serve good food at a fair price, the sky is the limit.  Congratulations to all successful restaurants from LITG!

Chappys Deli on Urbanspoon Zoes Kitchen on Urbanspoon


  1. I met John at his Maki Fresh in Birmingham last year. He looks like a way more handsome "Mr. Clean". Very happy to hear the Maki Fresh is MAKIn' it's way to the Gump. (see what I did there?)

  2. Tried the Maki Fresh in the Ham. Chicken Rice bowl was a nice change of pace. Hope they open soon here.