Welcome to "Schaefer," in which Eric Schaefer -- a local guy with a big (but discerning) appetite and a sense of humor to match -- takes on the Phoenix food scene.
I'd like a job at Oregano's. If anyone from corporate is reading this, please call me, okay?
Never mind the fact that I already have a full-time job, not to mention a long list of family obligations. I want to work at Oregano's.
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Oregano's is the punch line for many food-related jokes, and deservedly so. In some ways, it's the least common denominator in the metro Phoenix indie food scene. The local chain has won countless readers choice awards for everything from "best pizza" to "best restaurant in the Valley" and it's almost shocking that it hasn't also won "best Chinese food." Because it's clearly not the best pizza or Italian restaurant in town.
But, if you look closely, Oregano's really is doing something right.
All the employees seem to be having so much fun. They're always smiling and they get to wear those clever shirts that say "Legalize Marinara." This is a well-oiled machine in which employees obviously are trained the right way. Everyone knows his or her place and no one is standing by idle, looking bored. Despite a wait time that often exceeds an hour, they do a great job of keeping guests relatively content and turning tables with efficiency. Drinks are refilled quickly, food is brought out hot, and hostesses are quick to greet you. As a case study in restaurant operations, Oregano's doesn't miss a beat.
You may or may not like their food -- that's a matter of taste -- but it's impossible to deny that there are few restaurants run as well as Oregano's.
And from the vantage point of a customer, there seems to be a genuine esprit de corps among the staff. Oregano's has either created a corporate culture where less-than-excellent employees don't last long or they manage to attract only highly capable people. Or maybe they slip them all some happy pills before the start their shift. Despite putting up with customers who sometimes are grumpy after a long wait, the staff actually seems like its happy to work there. The camaraderie is tangible. Isn't that the kind of place we'd all like to work?
Although I go out to eat to enjoy good food, I have often argued that the experience can be as important as what's on your plate. Surly service can ruin the food from a James Beard Award-winning pizza restaurant (I'm not naming names). Similarly, employees who seem as though they enjoy their job can elevate the experience.
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Based on some questionable service I've had recently at some of Phoenix's most adored restaurants, I think that more restaurant owners ought to start hiring their employees from Oregano's. Or at least start eating there to see a great example of a restaurant run the right way. All I know is that I recently walked into Oregano's in a relatively foul mood and walked out happy as can be, and I didn't even have their to-die-for "Original Pizza Cookie." Friendly service, where people actually seem to care about the customer experience, can have that effect.
Maybe Oregano's really is the best restaurant in the Valley?