Some might think that real charcoal broiling is the Charcoal Chef’s secret to success. This is certainly why their customers can’t get enough of their flavorful meals. However, their true secret is their longstanding relationship with their customers, community and employees. Spend just a few minutes at the Charcoal Chef and it is quite apparent that the atmosphere is a comfortable one. It a place where “everybody knows your name.” Even newcomers are quickly welcomed into the Charcoal Chef family.
Judy Doran, owner and operator of the Charcoal Chef, explains that her mother and father Vee and Bob Sanderson came up with the idea of putting a restaurant on the family farm over 50 years ago. The Sandersons were Lithuanian immigrants with no formal background in the restaurant business, but they knew that its Route 6 location would make it good place for a restaurant. At the time it was the main thoroughfare in the area.
Now 50 years later, even though Route 6 is no longer the main throughway, people still come from miles around to visit the Charcoal Chef. Judy explains that many of their customers are repeat customers who have become part of the family. Judy tells the story of a gentleman who came the same time and sat in the same chair everyday for 35 years. He now has his name on that chair, which is exclusively reserved for his visits.
The employees are just as big a part of the Charcoal Chef family as the customers, some of whom have been there over 45 years. Judy explains it is not unusual for employees to refer their own family members to go and work at the Charcoal Chef. For their 50 year celebration they tried to gather together as many former employees as possible and ended up with an attendance of over 200 guests.
Judy delights in sharing her family restaurant with her customers and employees. They even take part in the decorating; offering odds and ends they pick up just because they think it will fit right in at the Charcoal Chef. She notes that the customers notice everything right down to the placement of the pictures on the walls. Any rearranging is certainly acknowledged.
The Charcoal Chef is no stranger to unsolicited publicity. Scott Haney of Channel 3 stopped in for a bite to eat and included the Charcoal Chef in his “Every Town has a Story” segment on Woodbury. The Charcoal Chef has been given the Litchfield County “Best Value Award” several times and has even been featured in an article in the Hartford Courant. There is no doubt the buzz is out about this small town family restaurant.
Judy and her husband live in Roxbury. She has three daughters and four grandchildren. One of her daughters continues on the family tradition by keeping the books for the restaurant. Judy volunteers her time to the Girl Scouts and to the Roxbury Registrar of Voters, and hosts the Woodbury Business Association Board of Directors and the Voices monthly meetings at the Charcoal Chef.