Tim Holmes’ background is different from most restaurant owners. But he says his previous jobs – as sheriff in Russell County, an agent with the Kansas Bureau of Investigation and a contractor with the U.S. military in Afghanistan – helped prepare him to run Charlie’s Pizza Taco.
“It’s chaotic,” Holmes said. “It’s like being attacked on a base, but different.”
Holmes opened the restaurant in November 2011 with Tammy and Dave Hoffman, his sister and brother-in-law who live in Denver and are non-working partners.
The location on Tyler Road had housed a succession of restaurants in recent years. Holmes chuckled as he remembered the name of one recent occupant – Yuca. Although it refers to a starchy root eaten by many people around the world, Holmes said it didn’t make sense to him.
“Who would name a restaurant that?”
On the other hand, one thing Charlie’s Pizza Taco had going for it was name recognition. Hoffman’s father, Charlie, opened the original in Pratt in 1965.
“A lot of people since 1965 have moved from Pratt to Wichita, and they all know what a pizza taco is,” Holmes said. “They advertise for us. They’re kind of proud of it.”
A pizza taco, if you don’t know, is a pizza whose crust is folded so that the result resembles a taco – sort of like an Italian calzone (but let’s not confuse the issue).
Four times a year, the restaurant holds a Pratt night – “kind of like a home-week thing,” Holmes said.
After deciding to remodel the place, the partners flew in an interior designer from Nashville. Sunflowers and the names of Kansas towns now adorn the walls. Outside, the drive-through was replaced by a covered patio.
Holmes also tinkered with the menu, adding a half-taco special to compete at the same price level as fast-food restaurants in the area, and bierocks, using a German recipe from western Kansas.
The bierocks have done so well that the partners are thinking about “trying to expand the whole bierock thing” to Colorado, where Dave Hoffman supplies food to truck stops, according to Holmes.
A part of getting Charlie up and running smoothly was employee training. When the business opened, each of the eight employees primarily did one job. They soon decided, Holmes said, that “everybody should know every position in the restaurant.”
Holmes said he’d like to expand to Wichita’s east side eventually. And, “we want to try this out in a college town as well,” he said.
Although running Charlie’s is a lot less dangerous than apprehending criminals or training Afghan police, there are some similarities between his old job and his new enterprise: long hours and people skills.
“It’s all about people, you know,” he said.