Chicken Shak opened on Reisterstown's Main Street in late February, generally a slow time in the restaurant industry. The owners timed the launch intentionally; thin crowds would give the new dining spot time to work out any potential kinks. But as is the case with many best-laid plans, this one didn't go as expected.
"We got massacred," said Dale Turek, 36, co-owner of Chicken Shak.
In restaurant parlance, that's a good thing.
The crowds that came streaming through the doors of 75 Main St. on that late February day were hungry — and not just in a temporary stomach-growling way. They, like all Americans, have an appetite for solid, home-cooked food obtained faster than it takes to make it themselves. This factor supports a surprising statistic released recently by the U.S. Census Bureau: For the first time ever, Americans are spending more money in restaurants than on groceries. And they're spending it at places like Chicken Shak.
"We call it good food fast," Turek said. "It's home-style food, delivered quickly."
Turek, who has a silent partner, is a near-constant presence at the eat-in restaurant, working six out of the seven days a week the establishment is open. As Chicken Shak is the fourth restaurant that's occupied this address in recent years, Turek's hands-on approach likely is deliberate. While it's his first foray into restaurant ownership, Turek has years of experience in the industry.
The Sykesville native previously worked as a chef in various dining establishments around the region, including fine-dining restaurant Christopher Daniel in Timonium and the upscale Linwoods in Owings Mills. That could explain why, despite featuring charbroiled chicken and pit beef as its main entrees, other more sophisticated items also grace Chicken Shak's menu: pancetta brussels sprouts, roasted potatoes with thyme and rosemary and parsnip carrot fries, to name a few.
Regardless of what customers order from the menu, Turek says they're guaranteed to get something fresh and made on the premises. There's no denying that the charbroiled meat is prepared onsite, as the smoky aroma from the charbroiler hits customers even before they walk through the restaurant's main entrance.
A chalkboard menu lists daily specials and rotating desserts, which Turek says his mother bakes weekly.
Patrons who want to be served quickly or take their food "to go" will appreciate the walk-up, as opposed to table, service. Customers are served cafeteria-style, starting from the left side of the counter and receiving their entire meal by the time they've walked to the far right side of the counter.
One exception, explains Turek, is the grilled salmon, which he refuses to cook beforehand because he doesn't believe it would satisfy customers' — or his — expectations. That dish, he acknowledges, takes 10 to 12 minutes to prepare, and he gives customers advance notice when they order it.
Whether a customer wants a healthy meal of grilled salmon over mixed salad greens or, as Turek puts it, a "big, sloppy sandwich" like the Triple Shak — a combination of pit beef and turkey plus pulled BBQ chicken — they can now find it daily on Reisterstown's Main Street.
Area residents express strong approval, almost relief, of the new restaurant that they say has filled a much-needed void in the community.
"Our area does not have enough options for dining," said Reisterstown resident Jennifer Franz-Perkins. "It [Chicken Shak] is quick food and it's good food, but more of a pickup, family meal than anything."
She did add, however, that the restaurant is missing one thing: a liquor license. While Turek has no plans to obtain a liquor license, he says he is considering making the Chicken Shak a BYOB (bring your own bottle) establishment. He has resisted, heexplains, because he doesn't want to alienate his family patrons.
Other changes were more definitive. Mid-spring, the Beef Shak — a walk-up window where patrons can order food without entering the restaurant — opened for business.
And, sidewalk tables with umbrellas grace the front of the restaurant in the warmer months. With the summertime street festivals on Reisterstown's Main Street, Turek envisions the outdoor tables allowing restaurant patrons a front-row seat at the small-town festivities.
By all accounts, Chicken Shak appears to be making moves to attract a growing and loyal customer base. "We take each [customer] comment into heavy consideration," Turek says.