By Don Bolding
Killeen Daily Herald
Prize-winning chef Chad Pritchard, who has had several high-end restaurants in the area in the past few years, has returned to the basics with a group of pizzerias and Cajun places in Killeen, Copperas Cove and Harker Heights.
But he's determined to stick to the ideals of top-quality food, family dining and personalized service, he said.
With partner Lonny Gordon, he has opened two Fat Daddy's Pizzerias already, one on Elms Road just east of Fort Hood Street in Killeen and another that shares a parking lot with his first Crawdaddy's Cajun restaurant in Cove. Another Fat Daddy's is scheduled to open shortly in Knights Way Plaza across Verna Lee Boulevard from Harker Heights High School.
Groundwork has begun for another Crawdaddy's next door to the pizzeria in Killeen. The Killeen store is the flagship.
Pritchard started his culinary career by graduating from the Le Cordon Bleu program at Texas Culinary Academy in Austin and honing his skills at La Collina Italian restaurant in Harker Heights Place before managing Little Palm Bistro at Peloton Ridge Country Club. Both featured sophisticated cuisine, but Pritchard never lost sight of the fact that hungry Central Texans tended to go for their old favorites rather than try to master French and Italian pronunciation.
"People will say they want fine dining available in town, but they don't order it in enough volume to support a business. Most people can't afford it," he said. "I noticed at La Collina that the biggest seller was always pizza. So now we're trying to make the best pizza in town."
Fat Daddy's doesn't offer delivery, because that requires mass production and an extra squad of employees, he said. It also has no conveyor belts, which most of the chains rely on to bake pizza in volume.
"I'm not saying the big companies aren't good at what they do, but the niche we're after is people who want to come in, sit down, maybe wait a little while and have a dining experience rather than a TV experience."
He and the Killeen store's manager, Steve Saccone, who recently won second place in a national pizza competition, estimated that customers might have a 15- to 20-minute wait under ordinary circumstances and a 25- to 30-minute wait during rushes after placing an order.
"If they have to wait more than 30 minutes, something's wrong," said Saccone, formerly with a family restaurant business in Austin. "But we haven't had that problem here."
Fat Daddy's doesn't go for late hours either, serving lunch and dinner through 9 p.m. weekdays and 10 p.m. weekends Friday and Saturday in Killeen and closing an hour earlier in Cove. The Heights store will probably have hours similar to Killeen's. Pritchard points to the proximity of schools and businesses at the Killeen location, particularly nearby nightclubs whose employees often come in before work.
The menu consists of a wide variety of red and white pizzas, all 18 inches wide and averaging about $15 with a "build-your-own" option, salads and sides like "pepperollies," pepperoni and mozzarella baked in pizza crust and served with ranch or marinara sauce.
"People will make a lunch of simple appetizers like that," Pritchard said. "It's well known in the restaurant business that people will come the first time for the entree offerings, but the sides are what keep them coming back.
"Also, the important principle in making pizzas is to get the basics right, because you can have the best toppings in the world and if your bread, sauce and cheese are second-rate, your pizza won't be good. Those three things are your foundation."
As an example, he said he gets tomatoes for his sauce from a company that gets them picked ripe from the vine and makes and cans the sauce immediately without any shelf-life for any ingredient. He bakes on stone.
He takes pride in running a local company, recalling that his generation of his family created a record at Ellison High School for graduating seven siblings.
"We want to do all we can to benefit the community," he said. "For example, it's well known that small business provides most of the jobs in any community. If you subtract the jobs at Fort Hood here, you'd find that businesses like this offer the most jobs, by far. And about 14 percent of every dollar spent with a national business stays in town compared with about 49 percent for us. You can ask why it's not more, but there are some things you have to get from out of town. And I have 32 people on staff at all three places, and most of them were out of a job before they started working here."
Contact Don Bolding at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7557. Follow him on Twitter at KDHbusiness.