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Shorty’s returns to Bedford site

Union Leader Correspondent

December 04. 2011 6:47PM
Gordon Fogal, left, has worked at Shorty’s Mexican Roadhouse for 13 years, with restaurant founder Rick Loeffler. (Simon Rios Photo)

BEDFORD - It was a Bedford mainstay for 17 years, serving up a Tex-Mex comida so popular that at one point Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse had eight locations - seven in New Hampshire and one in Massachusetts.

But in 2007 the chain's flagship branch in Bedford closed its doors, and it was down to just two restaurants. Shorty's founder Rick Loeffler said he kept open the two stores with the highest volume: Nashua and Manchester.

Loeffler said it was 'pure luck' that the downsize happened before the recession, and that the two Shorty's that stayed open weathered the upheaval well.

Earlier this year, Loeffler and Jay Delmonte, with whom he partnered four years ago, decided to reopen the Bedford branch. This time it would be done with a new twist: Shorty's Grill.

'What people want is simply grilled, simply good, simply prepared, fresh food,' Loeffler said during an interview at the Nashua restaurant.

Chef Andy Renda brought Loeffler a roasted tomato soup, along with a cranberry spinach salad, both of which are in alpha mode before going onto the Shorty's Grill menu.

The salad was tasty but heavy on the cider vinegar dressing, as well as the chopped bacon and nuts. The soup, as rich as it was tangy, thickened with goat cheese and topped with a sprig of cilantro, was a winner.

Some menu changes

Shorty's Grill, which is scheduled to open in mid-December, will offer the most popular dishes that patrons of Shorty's are familiar with, about 70 percent of the normal menu. But there will also be an array of standard American fare.

Loeffler summed up how a diner at Shorty's Grill might assess the new place: 'Well, they've got a lot of Shorty's food, they've got a few more sandwiches and other dishes that are not Mexican, and they've got these individual, designer pizzas.'

'We'll be doing pizzas you'd get in a really good Italian pizzeria, like in Boston or New York,' Loeffler said. 'It's all about the ingredients. We're gonna buy San Marzano tomatoes, which are twice the cost, we're gonna buy fresh mozzarella, and we're gonna buy Italian prosciutto. We're not just gonna make run-of-the-mill food.'

Gordon Fogal has worked for 13 years at Shorty's. He'll be getting a promotion when Shorty's Grill opens up: head chef and kitchen manager.

'The core menu, the core Mexican stuff is gonna be pretty similar to Shorty's, so people will get some familiar items. But there's also gonna be a lot of new stuff, more high-end stuff. We're gonna have prime rib, New York sirloin strip, Asian-inspired entrees, fresh fish.'

The menu will also cater to fish-lovers. Among the offerings will be haddock, snapper, mahi-mahi, swordfish, and tuna, but this will depend on what's available and what's in season.

Fogal said the tempura chicken tenderloins are going to be a popular appetizer.

Good signs for staffing

Since placing the sign in front of the Shorty's building, Loeffler said about 200 people have left applications.

'Much to the managers' chagrin, I keep control of (the hiring),' he said.

Loeffler commented that most of the people who've shown up are on the young side. He takes this as a positive indicator - since more experienced workers aren't looking for work, other restaurants must be doing good business.

Still, the big numbers that have turned out give Loeffler the luxury of seeking the 'hospitality gene' he looks for in Shorty's staff.

In May 1990, the second Shorty's Mexican Roadhouse opened at the Bedford location. The first one, which opened in 1989 in Litchfield, was in a converted house that measured 2,400 square feet. The Bedford location offered nearly 5,500-square feet in restaurant space.

Fond memories

Loeffler spoke about the building at 230 Route 101.

'The history of the building is that a partner and myself built it for a restaurant in 1975. It was called Daffodil's Restaurant, and it was a very successful restaurant for eight years.'

But he sold it in 1983. After it switched hands during the '80s, he bought it back in 1990 to open Shorty's flagship restaurant.

Loeffler said he regrets having closed in 2007, but he received an offer from another restaurateur who turned the Route 101 site it into Casa Blanca, a Massachusetts Mexican chain, which lasted for about a year before being rebranded as Cancun Restaurante Mexicano, which also left the site. Loeffler said things have been good since he partnered with Delmonte, who was previously a managing director at the Outback Steakhouse.

Loeffler said he downsized because he was approaching the age of 70, but his partner, two decades his junior, breathed new life into the company.

When Shorty's Grill opens up later this month, diners will be able to put that to the test.

Business Bedford

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