Schlotzsky’s Deli celebrates 25 years in Battle Creek
Eric Kitchen said he hears it at least three times a week.
“So many people pull off the highway and come here to eat and say, ‘I cannot believe I found a Schlotzsky’s. This is the best sandwich on the planet. Do people in Battle Creek know how lucky they are?’” said the 48-year-old. “We get that a lot.”
This month marks 25 years since Kitchen moved back to his hometown from Oklahoma City to open Schlotzsky’s Deli, a Texas-based sandwich shop. He now operates three locations in Battle Creek — on B Drive North, West Michigan Avenue and South 20th Street — and one in Portage on South Westnedge Avenue.
Not bad for a guy who brought a national franchise restaurant to Michigan for the first time when he was just 23 years old.
“I determined that from the restaurant business,” he said, “to be 100 percent committed, the only way to do it is to start something yourself.”
That commitment is clear through his customer service. Kitchen said it’s difficult to choose what has been most rewarding for him since he began the business. It could be the young locals he employed throughout the years, he said, or catering a funeral to fulfill a man’s request. Once, he said, they hustled all night to prepare to cater a 1,500-person event before realizing they hadn’t figured out a way to transport all the food.
But what comes easy for Kitchen is revealing how he has managed to keep his doors open for decades.
“Business isn’t that complicated,” Kitchen said. “If a customer leaves with a smile on their face, telling themselves they’re going to be back soon, then we’ve done our job.”
General Manager Jim Keating — who Kitchen said has been on the team since day one and also acts as a minority owner — agreed.
“It comes down to taking care of your customer,” he said. “If you take care of your customer — give them great service, give them a great product at a reasonable price — they’re going to come back. It all comes down to customer service. That’s the most important thing, is taking care of the customer and treating them like family. And we do that everyday.”
Schlotzsky’s opened in 1971 in Austin, Texas. It was home to a “single, one-of-a-kind sandwich,” according to its website, and now is an international franchise with locations in 35 states and four countries. Its menu has been expanded to offer salads, soups and pizzas.
Kitchen said being in business in 25 years has made it impossible to escape any economic downturn. A company that once boasted dozens of locations throughout the state, Kitchen is now the only remaining franchise operator. He closed his Marshall location about a year ago when it was decided that the cost of revamping the store and taking care of small children at home was too much.
While they used to have a heavy focus on growth, Kitchen said they’re now looking to provide the best quality of customer service at their current locations.
“I think if you do a darn good job, there’s room in the economy for a business,” he said. “There’s much more competition in town than there was when we first started. But I think more people dine out. I think that’s always skewing upward.”
But what has helped, Keating said, is the duo’s close connection to the community. Both are Lakeview High School graduates and work to help with community and school events on behalf of the business.
“Seeing those kids coming in everyday and supporting them, as well as them supporting us, I think is very important,” he said. “The parents and the families appreciate that as much as we appreciate their business. So you try to help out everybody as much as you can and give back as much as you can, and that’s what helped us grow.”
And there are no plans to stop now.
“We probably have 25 more years in us,” Kitchen said.
Source: Battle Creek Enquirer
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