A Tale of Two Chicagos

Arlene Silver wants to make it clear -- very clear -- that the Taste of Chicago sandwich store at Scottsdale Road and Thunderbird is not affiliated with the Taste of Chicago at Hayden and Mountain View. Both of the Scottsdale stores were founded by a single owner, but several years ago, the two were sold to separate parties.

It's true that Silver has a personal investment in making the distinction clear -- she's the Taste of Chicago/Thunderbird owner's aunt and helped put the sale together. But after stopping in at Taste of Chicago/Mountain View, I can understand why she's so riled.

I sneaked around while waiting for a turkey sandwich to go. The place is a mess. Food debris covered the floors, walls, tables and chairs. Onions were stored on the floor. Ceiling tiles have fallen, and lay stacked against a wall. Cutting boards are severely pitted, and a half-door to the kitchen has been punched in. There was so much filth covering the kitchen's work space that I ditched my sandwich in the trash.

The little restaurant has received so many complaints since July that health inspectors have visited its site 10 times over the past five months. But it doesn't appear that anything is getting resolved. The sloppy conditions at the store have Shelle and Rick Turf, the owners of the Thunderbird store, so frustrated that they're considering putting a sign in their window to let customers know the couple has nothing to do with the other place.

"I probably get a dozen customers coming in each week asking if we're the same owners," says Shelle. "One guy came in the other day and said he wouldn't order anything from that store if sandwiches were just a dollar." It doesn't help that the Mountain View location prominently displays a sign in its window reminding patrons of its "other" location, and features both addresses on its menu.

Mike Lemon, regional manager of Maricopa County's Environmental Health Division, says he is aware of the situation and that the establishment is currently in a "warning letter status," which means increased inspections during the next six months. If things don't improve, Lemon says, the restaurant's operating permit could be revoked.

In the meantime, Silver says she's really not looking for a feud. The Turfs want things to work out for Taste of Chicago/ Hayden's owner Michael Hernandez, they say -- they've even given him food supplies when he's been in a bind. But until he cleans up his restaurant, they want diners to know that the two are very different Tastes indeed.