Just like the sign above the door says, is a lot more than just sandwiches, and loyal customers have owner Julie Chantz to thank for making sure it stays that way.
Because in addition to delicious creations of simply flavorful ingredients and combinations of food between two fresh, locally made pieces of artisan bread, the sandwich shop offers a lot of friendship, community and hospitality.
“If I didn’t have that relationship with my customers, it wouldn’t be the same for me,” Chantz said. “They’re at the top of the list—I couldn’t ask for more.”
Chantz of East Pittsburgh opened Simple Gourmet on Ardmore Boulevard in Forest Hills in November 2009. With top sellers that include the Tuscan Chicken sandwich, a delicious array of food arranged on ciabatta bread, complete with roasted garlic and basil mayonnaise, Simple Gourmet has a seemingly endless chalkboard menu filled with options for just about everyone.
The Southwest Chicken Panini is served hot with cilantro pesto, chipotle mayo and honey wheat bread. The Jackster is made with sourdough bread, roast beef, Colby jack cheese and a signature sun dried tomato mayo. And those are just a few.
Customers waiting in line for their next meal are personally introduced to each other by Chantz, and always end up sharing tidbits of their day while their sandwiches are made right in front of them.
Ever since Chantz was a child, she has loved to bake and cook. After going to school for art and business, she began a career as an interior designer—but along the way, she always had one foot in the restaurant business.
“When I was in college, I worked at one of the first Subways in Pittsburgh, I worked as a short order cook, and later became a server,” she said. “I served anywhere from a Chinese restaurant, a Thai restaurant, Mexican restaurant and then worked at a French restaurant—and that is really where I learned how to cook. I really watched.”
That’s when Chantz learned how to put things together—wines with food, herbs with food—and had a shot to develop her hobby into sharp skills.
“After that point, I pretty much just served working anywhere from bars to high-end restaurants,” Chantz said. “Every place I worked was different and I used to always say, ‘What if I had my own place and I could do it differently?’”
While working in interior design, Chantz started doing a few catering gigs here and there. As the jobs started growing, she reached a turning point.
“There’s always a perfect moment in somebody’s life where everything falls into place—and it kind of all fell into place,” Chantz said. “I was driving down the street to work and saw a for rent sign in this building. I had a bad week at work like we all sometimes do, called up the number and asked how much it was. I thought about it for about two days, and long story short, I went into work and said ‘I quit.’”
Chantz said she took the process slowly after initially diving in that day, using each step as a catalyst to move forward in her decision.
“It was like I had to pretend like I was two people,” Chantz said. “I had to get that other person inside of me to push me off the ledge and go for it. I was really working for someone else and needed to get outside of myself and see my life in a different way.”
It was all about taking a risk to achieve a goal she had in her heart for years.
“I knew if I didn’t jump ahead, I wasn’t going to do it,” she said.
Today, Chantz has different sets of loyal customers who continue to come in each week for their favorite lunches.
There are the business people who come in for lunch, the local people who come to shop in the area, then the business people who work in the Forest Hills business district on the weekdays. On weekends, local neighbors who don’t get the chance to shop during the week come down.
“I have been overwhelmed with how much support I have been given through the neighborhood,” she said. “So many people said I wouldn’t get any walking traffic, but I have been really surprised because it’s not just the locals, it’s the businesses around me that come in.”
And those customers are the people she now calls friends.
“They have given so much to me and are so important to me and I want to give back—because they are loyal,” she said. “To me, it’s more than just an owner providing a product—it’s about that relationship with your customers and hopefully they are getting more from it, too.”
Simple Gourmet is located at 2203 Ardmore Blvd. For more information, visit http://www.simplegourmetpa.com/AboutUs.html.