Santa Maria Sun / Biz Spotlight
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [santamariasun.com] - Volume 14, Issue 3
Spotlight on: ChompPeter Jensen, owner
BY FRANK GONZALES
Only four weeks ago it didn’t exist. And recently Aaron Petersen, co-owner of Solvang’s newest burger experience, Chomp, said, “We really have been overwhelmed the first three weeks. We had no idea that this many people would want to come in and try us.”
But by having grown up in Solvang and by partnering with another local, Kim Jensen, the general manager at Nielsen’s Market down the street, the prospect of Chomp’s success is far from farfetched.
Petersen and Jensen prove the value of knowing the target market, above all else, and they have delivered to that market in spades. From great food at great prices, to the contemporary take on diner décor, to the family-friendly atmosphere, Chomp is firing on all cylinders and taking Solvangers to burger Valhalla.
It helps that Petersen is also an old shoe when it comes to running food businesses.
“I’ve had the Greenhouse Café for about 20 years, and then I also own Ingebor’s Danish Chocolate Factory,” Petersen said. The latter is also a joint project between Jensen and him.
“Kim and I bought Ingebor’s about four years ago and our wives are over there running that,” he added.
Chomp’s genesis began only last Christmas.
“I said I’m going to open another restaurant. My wife thought I was crazy. I said, no, I’ve always wanted a local restaurant with burgers, fries, shakes—a kind of place for high school kids,” Petersen said.
He also wanted to make it “a place for families to hang out that is reasonably priced and kind of a fun atmosphere.” Over the six weeks that followed, Petersen asked Jensen to make a menu for him, but Jensen was so intrigued by the project that he became a partner. Then the real work started.
As for the clever name, Petersen went with a tech-savvy approach: “I knew I wanted to call it ‘something’ burgers, fries, shakes and it was suggested to do a Facebook campaign to come up with the name,” he said. With the votes for “Chomp” in, Petersen’s focus then became using his local acumen. “We really want to focus on locals,” he said. Instead of the standard focus on tourists in Solvang, Petersen saw an opening for a restaurant by and for locals.
Inside, visitors are treated to modern furnishings, high-tech lighting fixtures that can change color wirelessly, but also a traditional burger counter and soda fountain.
“We went [with] more of an industrial look: a lot of stainless steel, black, white, the subway tiles, and then I splashed it with red stools like a ’50s diner stool,” Petersen said of his aesthetic choices.
At the same time Petersen made sure not to forget the kids. There is a well-used chalkboard by the door and a mini burger counter with red stools that actually spin around. To help Chomp become a true high school hangout for the teams, clubs, and groups that breathed so much life into the diners of the ’50s, Petersen offers free Wi-Fi and said that he allows students to push tables together to get work done on projects if they want.
High school students also play a central role in running the business: “My standard operating [procedure] has been to hire high school and college kids and give them kind of an entry-level job,” Petersen said. His goal is to teach his young employees about the responsibilities of having a job, an initiative sorely needed given the number of young people out of work.
Having eaten a meal at the restaurant, this reporter can attest that the food is indeed sensational, especially given the low prices—nothing on the menu costs more than $9.25. At Chomp, there’s something for everyone: ice cream, milkshakes, gourmet burgers, fries, fish ‘n’ chips, fish tacos, lots of salads, and more.
“It is really fun to see friends of mine that I went to school with and kids that I coached. A lot of nights it’s kind of like a big reunion area of locals coming in and hanging out,” Petersen said.
Intern Frank Gonzales wrote this week’s Biz Spotlight. Information should be sent to the Sun via fax, e-mail, or mail.