Edwardsville’s newest fast-casual dining experience is crushing company records so far, and General Manager John Sanders attributes it to a great product and great community.
Crushed Red, at 222 E. Park in Edwardsville, opened in mid-June and has been “embraced by the community,” Sanders said. “So far, so good. We’ve broken all the records for Crushed Red” opening weeks.
The restaurant offers chopped salads, individual pizzas, soups and appetizers meant for sharing.
“Our best-sellers are Pears on Fire and Welcome Back Cobbler” in salads, Sanders said, with Yukon Gold Steakhouse and Five Cheese being popular pizza choices.
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“We’re extremely pizza-heavy in comparison to other Crushed Reds,” he said.
Early customers are a “really good mix” of professionals from downtown Edwardsville enjoying lunch, and a “good base of residential (customers) help balance dinner,” Sanders said.
Most of the ingredients are cooked in-house, with soups being the exception. Employees arrive at 8 a.m. to prep for the 11 a.m. opening and are bustling about from the first minute, prepping chicken and pizza dough.
Sanders has a culinary degree from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y. He started his career heading down the fine-dining path but realized after “a lot of kitchen work that I had topped out at the business side.” He wanted a good mix of both, so he went to fast-casual restaurants.
The New Orleans-native moved to Memphis, Tenn., when he was 12. He headed back to Baton Rouge to attend Louisiana State University and study computer and electrical engineering, when he had second thoughts.
“I don’t want to do this the rest of my life,” he remembers thinking. He also wanted a career that allowed travel. He’s since lived in New York, Connecticut and Colorado, and did further culinary training in Miami.
His 44 employees include high school and college students, as well as older folks. He says one can “absolutely” earn a living at Crushed Red. “It’s a career for those who choose it as opposed to a job,” he said.
Sanders worked at a similar restaurant in Boulder, Colo., where he learned the importance of keeping a “transitional group” of employees.
“I lost 12 (employees) all at once, and it really affected business” at the end of a school term, he said. In Edwardsville, he has some students who he expects to work the summer and other students he expects to work during the school year. He’s got next year planned out, too.
Once upon a time, he wanted to open his own restaurant. Now, married and with their first baby arriving in the fall, it “doesn’t make sense to me,” Sanders said.
The tradeoff is that there is less culinary creativity for him as a chef. On the other hand, he is visibly giddy about the prospects of Crushed Red. The restaurant he worked at in Denver had similar business characteristics and went from three to 15 locations in a few years.
“I see Crushed Red as poised to do the same thing,” he said.
In August, the chain had five restaurants; now it has nine, including locations in Columbia, Mo., and Overland Park, Kan.
- Where: 222 E. Park, Edwardsville
- Seating: 96 inside; 46 outside
- Parking: Street, lots on Buchanan Street and near the library. On weekends, parking is available in the lot behind the building.
- Allergies: Just let them know. Crushed Red will use a fresh cutting board and clean knives to help avoid cross-contamination.
- Salads: Create your own, or choose from menu items. The Welcome Back Cobber has roasted chicken breast, avocado, bacon, egg, blue cheese, croutons, and tomato with field greens and goddess dressing for $9. Cowpoke Smoke has sirloin steak, tomato, onion, blue cheese, and jalapeno straws with field greens and goddess dressing for $9. Health Nut has broccoli, edamame, carrots, almonds, cranberries and chickpeas with spinach and romaine with raspberry vinaigrette for $7.
- Pizzas: Any pizza can be made gluten-free for an additional $1.50; you can also create your own. The Queen Marghertia has basil pesto, fresh mozzarella and tomato with fresh basil for $6.25. The Big Island has tomato, pineapple, prosciutto, caramelized onion and a mozzarella blend with fresh cilantro for $7.75. The Yukon Gold Steakhouse has Parmesan cream, sirloin, bacon, potato, onion, Gorgonzola and mozzarella with fresh rosemary for $8.75.
- Soups: The vegetarian Butternut Squash soup is available every day for $4 a cup; the chicken noodle, broccoli cheese, mushroom and brie bisque and others each see two days a week on the menu.