New Restaurants and First Impressions
Posted by wendiwendy
About three weeks ago, Dave noticed new construction in the space that previously housed a Burger King restaurant in Carol Stream. Correction: He noticed this new restaurant quite a while before, and I kept meaning to check it out online, and when we drove by three weeks ago I finally remembered to actually check it out.
It wasn’t open yet, but we just loved the premise: healthy fast food, including fries that were baked, sweet potato tater tots, grass-fed beef, nitrite-free hot dogs, and baked chicken tenders. We aren’t fast food people by a long shot; usually we only do fast food on road trips or, rarely, if neither of us feels like cooking and we decided to have Italian beef sandwiches. We go to Portillo’s for those – it’s our first choice for fast food because it’s delicious, super affordable, and the service is impeccable. If you go there during their dinner rush, they work that drive-through line like a well-choreographed dance.
So we made note of this new restaurant’s opening day, which was yesterday, and I made accommodations for the extra calories I’d be eating when I calculated my meals for the day. I was pretty excited since fast food is kind of rare for us, as I said, and I was really curious to see how this new place handled things on opening day, not to mention my curiosity about the food itself. It’s located right by our house, so we decided to stop for food and bring it home after we were done running a few errands.
After an amazingly productive trip to Goodwill (Dave got new jeans and a cool, retro drip coffee maker, I got an LL Bean Healthy Back shoulder pack and an LL Bean tunic that doesn’t look like it was ever worn) we headed over to the new place. I thought long and hard about this and decided not to name it outright, just in case my opinion changes, but if you’re super-curious it will probably be easy to find the name if you search for healthy fast food in Carol Stream.
They’d been on TV that morning and we happened to catch the news segment. It made me a little wary when I saw and listened to the owners; my first impression was that they came from money and were looking to cash in on what is a hot current trend. (After we’d finished eating and were discussing our impressions, I confessed to Dave that I would’ve felt better if I’d seen the owners were young kids with dreadlocks or something, super-committed to the idea of tasty, healthy, fast food.)
We approached the door and could see a line of people winding around in front of the counter. I took this as a good sign; it was about 1:15, so they probably had a big lunch rush. We entered and stood for a minute or two until the lady in front of us realized that the guy in front of HER was not waiting to order … he was waiting for his food. Alarm bells started to go off in my head; I looked to my right and realized the big crowd of people there all had tickets in their hand, waiting for their orders. One guy loudly told someone nearby that he’d been waiting 30 minutes for his food.
Dave looked alarmed and asked me if I wanted to go over to the tables and order there. Each table was outfitted with an iPad for ordering, but all the tables were basically empty. I was debating whether this would be any faster when suddenly it was our turn to order; the wait to get to a cashier ended up being very short. Most of the traffic jam by the counter was from people waiting to hear their number called.
I had originally planned to get one of their burgers with caramelized onions, ketchup and tomato – a departure from what they normally come with. Dave had looked around at the throng of people and decided to have a hot dog. I know he’s not a huge fan of hot dogs, and I realized he’d probably chosen that figuring it would come out the fastest with the least possibility of being screwed up. So I ordered two hot dogs and two fries for us, mine plain and Dave’s with everything. I repeated my order three times to the girl before she finally seemed to have it correctly entered, and then I thought she said the total was $7.82.
I handed her my debit card, because we almost never have cash – we use the debit card for everything. At that point she said, “Oh, we’re only taking cash.” WHY couldn’t they have posted a sign on the front door?! (It turns out that their POS system went down early in the day and apparently never got fixed; I saw on their Facebook page that they actually closed three hours early because of it.)
That didn’t faze me because I was sure I had $11 in cash in my wallet (a rare thing); I started pulling out bills and handed her $8.00. She just looked at me. I said, “Did you say it was $7.82?” and she said, “No, it’s $11.82.” I went back to my wallet and saw there were no more bills – somehow I had grossly misjudged my funds. I shrugged, smiled and explained that we just don’t ever carry cash, so we would have to cancel our order. Before she could respond, a young guy zoomed up to the counter and said it was no problem, he would take care of it.
I was stunned; I actually thought he was going to pull out money and pay for our hot dogs! I stammered, “Oh no, you don’t have to do that, it’s okay,” and he insisted, saying something that I missed but I think he said he was the manager and was approving the sale for us. I was mortified and impressed at the same time, so I said, “Oh my gosh, thank you, but here, at least take the cash we do have.” So we paid our $8.00, got our ticket, and went to stand with the crush of other people.
As we waited, I noticed this guy really trying to make things right; he handed out a few bags of free food to the people who had been waiting for a long time, asked certain people what their order number was and seemed to expedite it, etc. But the workers all just seemed confused. There were two rows of paper tickets laid out on the counter; from time to time, one of the women behind the counter would look them over, then just kind of swipe a few, crumple them and throw them away. There were two bags of food they kept calling numbers for and nobody ever claimed them. (According to a Yelp review, there was a mix-up where they were calling off a number written halfway down the ticket, but the customers were looking at a different number on the top of the ticket.)
Most people were just amused; a few of them seemed irritated. I watched as a couple of people came back and had things switched in their bags. One of the girls who was offered free food said she couldn’t accept it because she was vegetarian (they have a veggie burger, which I’m sure she ordered).
We waited for 15 or 20 minutes and finally our number was called; it was the number at the top of the ticket, so there was no mix-up there. We gratefully grabbed the bag and headed out the door, glad we were free of the mayhem inside.
Unfortunately, I waited until we were halfway home to open the bag. Originally I wanted to see if my hot dog truly was plain; half the time I end up with a fully loaded hot dog or hamburger, and no, you can’t just scrape off the detritus if you loathe mayonnaise, pickles, mustard, and relish the way I do. The first thing I saw was that the bag looked awfully empty; there were just two wrapped hot-dog shaped bundles in the bottom. I said, “Uh, it looks like they forgot our fries.” Then I thought of Gene & Jude’s, the legendary Chicago-area hot dog stand (and still my absolute favorite hot dog and fries EVER) and remembered that they wrap the fries in with the hot dog.
“Oh! Wait – maybe the fries are wrapped inside,” I said hopefully as I unwrapped one of the bundles. Nope – it was just a hot dog with everything on it, no fries. Dave forcefully replied that he did NOT want to go back, and I immediately agreed. I was really hungry at this point, and now I was irritated too; who knew how long we might wait to get our fries if we waded back into the melee at the restaurant?
We came home and baked some onion rings to go with the hot dogs which were, obviously, cold by the time we actually got to eat, so we heated them up in the microwave. They were okay – just tasted like a regular store-bought hot dog, nothing big. (Mine was plain, thankfully.) I checked the receipt and saw that the hot dogs were $3.85 each, not including the fries. Since we never got our fries, we basically paid full price for the meal, which makes me feel less guilty. Still, when Dave asked what I thought, I told him that the hot dog was okay but not worth $4.00.
After we got home, I watched the reviews pour in on Yelp and Facebook for this place. By the end of the day, they had seven reviews (almost unanimously bad) and 1-1/2 stars on Yelp, with numerous complaints on their Facebook page. Dave was appalled by what he’d seen at the restaurant; he used to manage a few different fast food places and restaurants back in the day (before I knew him) and pointed out quite a few things they could have done differently. It’s been fascinating to watch this unfold, because I’d never been to a restaurant (fast food or otherwise) on opening day and had nothing to compare it to. It reminded me a little of Three Days to Open, a Bobby Flay reality show that followed restaurants for three days before they opened; sometimes the places aced their opening day, other times they bombed badly.
We did see the owners behind the counter, not doing much really. The only employee who was on the ball and seemed to have any clue what was happening was the young guy I assume was the manager.
We discussed it for a long time, debating whether we’d give it a second chance. We decided maybe we would, if the Yelp reviews got better. A lot of people got cold/partially cooked hamburgers, and that makes me nervous. The reviews of the food would have to really go up before I’d spend money there, honestly. I can understand opening day mishaps but if the food sucks, that’s a problem. We also debated whether to leave a Yelp review, and ultimately I decided against it. The manager did offer to comp our food, and was doing his best to take care of other people who were waiting. Even though we did end up paying for the whole meal since we didn’t get half of it, I’d still feel bad leaving them a negative review. (Updated to add: Dave just told me he’s planning to leave a review.)
I’ve joked with Dave about opening up our own restaurant (which he swears he would never do, not in a million years) … after seeing yesterday’s mass confusion, I understand why he feels that way!
About wendiwendyI'm a real-life bionic woman.
Posted on February 26, 2014, in Not Related to Hearing Loss, Observations and tagged bad opening day for restaurant, first impression of restaurant, Gene and Jude's, healthy fast food, hot dogs, new fast food place, Portillo's, restaurant opening day, Yelp. Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.