Oregano's Can Teach Us All a Lesson

Categories: Schaefer

pizzacookie.JPG
J.K. Grence
The pizza cookie at Oregano's.
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.

See also: Noca To Reopen February 12th

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.

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?

See also: Admit It. You Love Oregano's Pizza Cookie, Too.

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Location Info

Oregano's

7215 E. Shea Blvd., Scottsdale, AZ

Category: Restaurant


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34 comments
Tara Marshall
Tara Marshall

They lost me with their horrible "gluten for punishment" ad. I have Celiac Disease, so I cannot eat there since they don't have a gluten-free menu (and unless they got their staff trained by the Celiac Sprue Association, I probably wouldn't rust them anyway). They put that crappy ad up, and I was like, REALLY?! Gee, thanks for rubbing that in, a-holes. I'll stick with Picazzo's for those rare occasions when I want to eat Italian food outside of what I make myself.

Stuart Davis
Stuart Davis

Their pizza sucks. And they have one shitty soup on the menu all year.

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy

I've thought about it, but I'm not doing it here. I'm going out of state to do it.

Jordan Warner
Jordan Warner

Vito's makes a better Chicago style pizza! And it's adorable inside

Adam Mandell
Adam Mandell

If u make a deep dish with a Lou and UNOs cross u should open a place cause I'm from chitown and the pizza in this state is awful

Justin J. Stewart
Justin J. Stewart

Yeah, I've only been to one, and was underwhelmed...regardless, I would like to get my own deepdish pan for home as well...I think yr on to something there

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy

I guess it's which location you go to. I've found that one is bad and another is good. But, like I said I make my own. It's a cross between Lou Malnati's and Uno's.

Justin J. Stewart
Justin J. Stewart

I disagree. I find Rosatti's horrible, but different tastes for different folks...

Joe Kennedy
Joe Kennedy

Oregano's uses too much oregano. The sauce is bland and the sausage has too much fennel in it. I would rather eat a Chicago thin crust or make my own deep Dish than eat at Oregano's.

Alex Johns
Alex Johns

Another free commercial from your friends at New Times.

Jen Bailey
Jen Bailey

Oregano's was the worst job I've ever had. The only reason the employees look happy is because the management forces it on them with threats of being fired.

Kiran Rogers
Kiran Rogers

Nello's has great deep dish at reasonable prices and is a local (small) chain.

Justin J. Stewart
Justin J. Stewart

My question is who else offers Chicago deep dish style pizza. Until someone else in the valley offers it, this place is still the best for this. And coming from the Midwest I enjoy this style of pizza quite much.

Lisa Eddy
Lisa Eddy

I love this place but hey, what do I know?

Larry Gulliford
Larry Gulliford

They figured out how to get people to spend lots of money on overpriced food, that's for sure.

SkilletDoux
SkilletDoux

Two issues with this theory.

FIrst, of course restaurants should strive to provide both great food and great service. The problem is that we get what we reward.  And what we reward, overwhelmingly, is well-oiled service and mediocre food.  Unsurprisingly, that's most of what we get.


Second, I could rattle off a long list of mom and pop joints with stellar food run by the friendliest folks you could ever want to meet, that are borderline deserted.  I think it's too easy to say that Oregano's service sets it apart.  Those who want a friendly, well-run experience have scads of options with better food than Oregano's.  Those who want a *safe* experience are another matter, and I think a large portion of the Oregano's draw is that it caters to the *safe* crowd.  Sometimes a little chaos is a good thing.  A little rough-around-the-edges character can give a restaurant its own, unique flavor rather than falling into the same, predictable, saccharine corporate service model.  


Hey, some people prefer smooth jazz over other types of jazz for what it is.  But usually it's because they just don't want to have to think about syncopation, dynamic range, or any of those scary, challenging, discordant notes. If Charlie Parker were alive today, I really hope he wouldn't be taking notes from Kenny G. 

chriscardinal
chriscardinal

This was an enjoyable article because it helped articulate my frustration with Oregano's: people seem to love it and it completely does not deserve their love. It's like the infatuation flyover state folk have with Cheesecake Factory. It's middling in its quality, the "wait" is "part of the (shitty) experience", and it's just a bit more expensive than you expect to pay for a mediocre meal.


I'll still grab a bowl of their pasta occasionally, though, (typically to-go) and you're right: their staff is happy, efficient, and well-trained in the art of managing the customer. I'll never get the hubbub about the food, but if the "experience" is enhanced by their staff, perhaps that's part of why some people seem to love it so much.

LoveAZ
LoveAZ

Love it when outsiders move here because they obviously would rather live HERE than where they are from...(otherwise they would move back, right?) and then bash the local establishments for not being as good as "back home". If you don't like it, you can always move back.

LoveAZ
LoveAZ

Or maybe you just sucked at your job? As a former restaurant owner, I can tell you that very few can handle the pressure of a busy place. It's not for everyone.

EricEatsOut
EricEatsOut

@SkilletDoux  My point wasn't that there aren't mom and pop places that do as good of a job; of course there are!  My point was merely that, as an example of how a busy restaurant ought to be run, Oregano's is a damn good benchmark.  The fact that the employees seem happy and motivated (and they don't even own the place or have a true vested interest) speaks volumes about the corporate culture.  And based on the feedback I've already received from past/present employees, it really is a great place to work.  And that that manifests itself on the customer experience.  If I owned a restaurant (and I hope I never do), I'd pillage employees from Oregano's all day long.


And let's not forget that Oregano's started out as a **local** restaurant, that has since grown into the mini-chain that it is today.  


Obviously they're doing something right.


And, for what it's worth, I don't view the food as second rate. While they may not be the "best" in any particular category (except, perhaps, "best at winning awards"), I think the food is pretty darn good and sometimes even great.  


I don't find it mediocre at all and, besides, as I stated in the column, whether you like the food (or ANY food) is a matter of taste.  But, in my opinion, that it is an impeccably run restaurant is undeniable.



SkilletDoux
SkilletDoux

P.S.  That people will complain they don't want to drive to a great restaurant 20 minutes away, but are willing to wait an hour or more for a table at Oregano's absolutely kills me.

SkilletDoux
SkilletDoux

I was speaking of a more general phenomenon when I used the word "mediocre," and should have been more clear.  I think Oregano's food is fine.  Which I realize is only a modest difference. I do think the notion that it's all just a matter of personal taste, while not without merit, is a bit convenient.  Why do we write about food, or movies, or music, or anything, then, if the only thing that matters is a completely personal and impossible to reproduce matter of subjective personal taste?  But that's another far more esoteric discussion for another time  :-)


That they're a case study in running a well-oiled machine, I agree.  And it is perhaps flippant of me to imply that they can't or shouldn't serve as an example to other restaurants.  Clearly, there are things that they do well that anyplace would be wise to take note of, if not emulate precisely.  But the phrase you used a few times above -- "the right way" -- gets at the heart of it, I think.  Much of the problem with any modern restaurant scene, I think, is homogenization.  Find the formula, and reproduce it.  And reproduce it.  And reproduce it.  Yes, Oregano's is a smooth operation, and I sure as hell respect them for apparently taking care of their workers in a modern environment that continues to trend in the other direction.  But if I could wave a wand and apply the Oregano's service formula to every restaurant in the Phoenix metro area without changing the food, I absolutely wouldn't.  I love that when I go to Alzohour, I have to wait an hour for my food because it's one stunningly talented woman back there working the kitchen, and she painstakingly ensures that every dish is perfect, and I'm forced to sit back, relax, and talk with my dining mates for a while before we can eat.  I love that when I go to Ga Hyang, Sun gets mildly bent out of shape and tries to correct me and educate me if I eat the wrong kind of banchan with my naengmyun.  I love that when I go to Andreoli, rather than a scripted, saccharine "How are you doing today?" I get them as they are -- usually friendly, sometimes a little crabby, but always genuine.  Just a few examples.  But the point is that these are the sorts of things -- the sorts of things that most certainly aren't the "right way" -- that drive many if not most people away from restaurants like Al Zohour and Ga Hyang and Andreoli and into the arms of places like Oregano's.  But it's those things that make them beautiful and unique and wonderful.  And I'd be crushed if they suddenly got an Oregano's-like waitstaff.

In other words, while I don't disagree that Oregano's is to be admired for the tight ship they run, and that others can't learn some lessons from them, it's not other restaurants' service that I think is most in need of change -- it's the dining public's willingness to go to restaurants that don't fit that corporate standard of what service should be.

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