Their business model has been a recipe for success and many companies today could learn a thing or two from the family who started a cult-like following over breadsticks.
In 1985 an Armenian family from Michigan packed their bags and headed West in search of better opportunities and weather. Their cross-country adventure landed them in Carmel Mountain Ranch in San Diego.
They struck gold immediately with sunny, warm skies but had to pan for a few years before finding the nugget that would become the family legacy.
“Our hook was breadsticks,” said Tammy Moore, head of Operations and Marketing for Pat & Oscar’s Restaurant in Temecula. “When we moved to California we missed the food from our favorite Greek restaurant.”
In 1991, Moore’s parents opened the first Pat & Oscar’s Restaurant in Carmel Mountain Ranch, a quaint 1,200 square-foot family style diner.
The Sarkisian family traveled back to Michigan often in attempts to replicate the taste of the Greek food they loved, but quickly learned the formula used in the Great Lakes State wouldn’t work in San Diego.
Pat and Oscar Sarkisian were ahead of their time in today’s natural food movement. The two restaurateurs wanted to stay away from preservatives and fillers in their food especially in the breadsticks.
“The minerals in San Diego’s water and the soil in western grown and harvested wheat affected the taste of our breadsticks,” said Moore. “My mom is the taste buds for the family and we researched for months before coming up with a winning formula of wheat, flour, water and garlic.”
All the ingredients had to meet Pat’s taste bud approval. Moore said they are proud to have also found garlic, preservative free and grown in the West.
“We wanted to keep all the ingredients in our breadsticks local because it is all about the quality,” Moore said. “Wheat grown in the Midwest does not taste the same as wheat grown in the west — the soil is different.”
Oscar marketed the breadsticks by hitting the pavement and handing out samples at local businesses.
“Once people tasted our breadsticks, they were hooked (and) they wanted to know where they had to go to get their fix,” said Moore.
Local radio shows started talking about the soft warm golden buttery breadsticks and in 1995, the San Diego Chargers contracted the little restaurant to cater the football team for all home games.
The Sarkisians raised the stakes and asked the Chargers if they could create a free breadsticks giveaway with the fans during games. With a very low budget, the family restaurant found a way to garner national and local attention by throwing breadsticks into the crowds at NFL games.
“The fans loved it,” said Moore.
The family style restaurant offered BBQ chicken, lemon chicken, ribs, salads, pizzas, pastas and more and grew into a local chain with 19 restaurants altogether.
Three of these locations were corporate-owned and the remainder were franchised.
In 2000, a majority stake in the chain was acquired for $16 million by the owners of the Sizzler restaurant chain, which became Worldwide Restaurant Concepts. From 2002 to 2011, Pat & Oscar’s Restaurant went though many changes, from owners to a menu-overhaul.
In 2011, the company filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy.
But all was not lost.
The Sarkisians and their two children Moore and John Sarkisian came back to save the Temecula-based Pat & Oscar’s. The original owners cleaned up the restaurant, reworked the menu and reverted to the original breadsticks recipe. The original owners are still hands-on with running the business and can be found often interacting their guests while promoting the breadsticks.
“Our formula worked best, the last owners messed with the ingredients and (it) wasn’t the same,” said Moore.
The crew rolls out the dough every morning now as they used to. The dough is made from scratch with all natural ingredients grown as locally as possible.
“Our secret formula is great food, happy workers and clean restaurants,” said Moore.
Michelle Mears-Gerst is a local writer and regular contributor to SWRNN.