Creativity has been part of Baby’s Steak and Lemonade’s whole approach since it first opened six years ago.
Owners Hani and MJ Sughayer needed ways to compete with fierce loyalty to longtime restaurants and the growing abundance of chains, when opening the first Baby’s Cheesesteak and Lemonade in Country Club Hills six years ago.
Such thinking led to the Crispy Philly, putting the meat, cheese and veggies from their main sandwich inside a flour tortilla before it is deep-fried. The sandwich earned Baby's recognition by WGN Chicago’s Best, and a following that only grew.
“There’s a science to wrapping it so it doesn’t open up in the fryer,” said Andrés DeLeón, who runs marketing for Baby’s.
Fast forward to 2012, the restaurant just celebrated its second anniversary at their second location in Orland Park, off LaGrange Road in the Lakeview Shopping Center near 159th Street. The Sughayers also recently moved from their original 800 square-foot space in Country Club Hills to a spot more than double the size, less than a block away at 167th Street and Pulaski Avenue.
And then came the Twinkies.
“It started innocently. We’re just a bunch of guys who grew up in the '80s with Nintendo and Twinkies,” said DeLeón. “We’re always looking for ways to get word out about the restaurant, but this way we could also give back to our customers. So when we heard Hostess was shutting down, we just bought them all.”
DeLeón and Hani Sughayer went to the Hazel Crest Hostess store, and bought them out of the yellow snack cakes.
Starting when they open at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, both the Orland Park and Country Club Hills locations will give away Twinkies to customers with any purchase made. People can also get Twinkies by following the restaurant’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, and posting pictures of their meals at Baby’s, DeLeón said.
“We’ll give them away until we run out,” DeLeón said.
The restaurants have about 10,000 Twinkies to give away, and about 2,200 cupcakes, said DeLeón.
Baby’s has an off-the-beaten path menu for a fast casual restaurant with a drive thru. They sell the staple hot dogs, cheeseburgers and gyros that are ubiquitous throughout the Chicago area. But they specialize in beef and chicken cheesesteak sandwiches, sides like Buffalo fries and recently added a Mexican menu to their repertoire.
“Our menu is on steroids,” DeLeón said. “When we get an idea, we usually first post pictures of it on Facebook and Twitter, and we read all the responses. We take the feedback and then decide if we need to tweak it, and if it passes all of our tests it’s on the menu.”
Giving people actual photographic proof of their food, by shooting the photos in house, also has helped set Baby’s apart among fast food-style restaurants.
“Our carryout menu has pictures of just about all of the items,” DeLeón said. “People walking up to the counter or driving up usually choose right from those menus they took, because they see exactly what they are getting.”
But DeLeón said he and the Sughayers know that all the marketing in the world can’t sell a bad product, and that’s why they continue to build up their already lengthy and creative menu.
“Our marketing might be a bit theatrical, but this is a family business and we care about what we do,” said DeLeón. “It’s really just grown into something unique. It may sound cliché, but it’s the people that put us here.”
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