Aaron Pool of Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soups on the Perfect Enchiladas and Why Sporks Suck
When you hear the word "Gadzooks," you probably don't think of food. Toys, maybe. Or a children's clothing store. But a place for a good meal isn't likely to be the closest association.
"People assume it's going to be shitty," Aaron Pool says of the restaurant's name. "It's not like I planned it like that, but I like to under-promise and over-deliver."
If you've eaten at the quirkily named Gadzooks Enchiladas and Soup in Central Phoenix, you may have noticed a tall skinny guy with a messy mop of hair working the line. He blends in with the rest of the restaurant's staff, but to the surprise of many, he's no employee.
That fresh-faced guy in the gray Gadzooks shirt is Aaron Pool, the restaurant's owner and creator. And, yes, he's still a few years shy of 30.
He knows he's remarkably young to have opened his own restaurant, particularly when you consider that he had no prior experience in the industry. He's also quick to admit it wasn't easy.
The young entrepreneur grew up in the Valley on "Mexican food staples" from longstanding local spots including La Fonda, Carlos O'Brien's, and Macayo's. ("It was basically a lot of cheese," he jokes.) So when he got the idea to open his own fast-casual restaurant, he knew he wanted to something familiar. Everyone else was making tacos and burritos, so Pool came up with a concept for build-your-own enchiladas.
At the time he was just another ambitious business student at ASU's business school but unlike many others, Pool stuck to his plan. After graduating in 2009 he decided not to get his MBA and to take a chance on opening his own restaurant instead.
Lauren Saria Pool jokes around at his Central Phoenix restaurant.
Fast-forward two years and Pool had made little headway. He says he was still living in Tempe and failing to find investors. The recent grad says he nearly gave up, but he had two fans that wouldn't let that happen: his parents.
"They were the only two supporters I had," Pool says. "They're the reason I kept going."
He moved back home and kept working, spending days a time cooking food from Ranch Market and trying to perfect the menu for his dream enchiladas joint. Though he'd written a business plan and a working menu, Pool says, he had no idea how to execute any of the dishes. He came up with all the recipes himself through trial and error in his parent's home kitchen.
Finally in April 2013 -- thanks to a local bank willing to take a chance on Pool's dream -- he opened Gadzooks in a building that used to house a dress store.
In the year since opening, the restaurant's been successful with the Central Phoenix neighborhood, thanks in large part to the restaurant's affordability and handcrafted food. Pool's come a long way from when he first tried to make a tortilla and somehow caused a doughy explosion. Gadzoook's menu features his own recipes for everything from Modelo-braised bison and salsa verde to green chile pork shoulder and vinaigrette slaw.
"This is Mexican food I'd put up against anyone in the Valley," he says.