Third on the cooking line, the sauté station features a 12- to 16-burner range, which staff use to cook all pasta to order and make vegetables, turkey burgers, blackened chicken, blackened steak and other dishes. Above the range is a salamander, while on the other side of the station, once again facing the dining room, is a chef's table with four refrigerated drawers and a cold rail for putting the finishing touches on dishes before sending them out.
Finally, at the pantry station, staff handle everything from salads (both sides and entrées) to appetizers to desserts. The station features three large coolers with drawers on top and doors below for holding pans of food. The station also includes two ovens, a flattop grill for grilled sandwiches and each restaurant's lone freezer: a small reach-in that holds ice cream for desserts. The volume of work the pantry station handles – all entrée salads have about 15 ingredients each, for example – means that it can require up to 3 kitchen staffers during peak hours, McDonald notes.
While the back of the house at Joe's produces comfort food cooked from scratch, the front-of-the-house experience, from service to decor, helps customers to feel like guests in a person's home, says Bakr.
This starts with the service. Joe's encourages each front-of-the-house staff member to genuinely engage with customers. Hosts and hostesses warmly welcome customers and ask them about their days. Unlike the dynamic that can be found in the sometimes too-high-energy atmosphere of other casual-dining chains, Joe's trains waitstaff to be warm and friendly – but not over the top or intrusive – and to read customers to determine how much interaction they want. This approach, notes Bakr, has earned some Joe's units recognition as "best neighborhood restaurant" in local alternative weekly newspapers. "We like to be known as the local neighborhood favorite for great food and drink," she says.
The look of Joe's reflects this neighborhood restaurant approach. Each Joe's unit differs slightly from the others to reflect the surrounding community the restaurant serves. Decorations on the wall, for instance, may include pictures and banners of a nearby college football team, or historical pictures of the town, such as a shot of the mayor from the 1960s, McDonald says.
Despite these local differences, each Joe's unit features some clear similarities in the design style. First, McDonald points out, Joe's units contain no Formica or any other surfaces or finishes that scream "chain restaurant." Hardwood floors with a dark stain help to create a friendly and warm atmosphere in each Joe's. All tables are hardwood as well, and the bar and other areas feature a significant amount
Each Joe's also offers a number of different dining-style options. Many have outdoor seating areas, which are especially popular in the summer months in New England. Some offer private dining, where a section of a restaurant can be closed off for large parties and events. And all offer a large number of booths, providing customers with a comfortable and relaxed experience.
In addition, each restaurant features a lounge area, where people can sit at the bar or a nearby table and grab a quick bite while watching a sporting event or the news. "Sometimes people want to come in and have the upscale meal that might take an hour and a half," says McDonald. "Other people want to come in and have a quick bite and a quick draft. The lounge is best for that."
According to Carl, Tavistock's chief marketing officer, Joe's is not expanding this year. The company is instead focusing its energies on growing its Freebird World Burrito brand.
Still, the 14 Joe's units in operation should continue to do well. The concept's commitment to scratch cooking American classics and serving guests in a warm, welcoming atmosphere has allowed it to thrive for more than 35 years.
"We're cozy and comfortable – we're the home away from home," says McDonald. "You never get the feeling at Joe's that you're in a chain. We're not a chain; we're a collection of restaurants."