Walls Are Coming Down For Famous Sam's


Call it "The Sizzler Syndrome."
Exciting new businesses are regularly announced as coming to town -- such as the infamous Sizzler Steakhouse that was supposed to open years ago -- and then never heard of again.

Famous Sam's appears ready to break that frustrating local tradition.

Co-owner Shawn Sloan announced in January that his 7,500-square-foot restaurant and sports bar, would open on the site of the old Payson Picture Show on the northeast corner of the Beeline Highway and Bonita in late May.

And now -- with the franchise papers signed, construction actually in progress, all the various licenses close to final approval, and most major town and county hoops successfully jumped through -- that's still Sloan's prediction.

"The final plans haven't been approved yet; there's some modifications we still have to make," Sloan said, "but it's all in the final stages. This is the normal process.

"Our liquor license is now at the town level; the next step is to take it before the town council," Sloan said. "We're a family environmental restaurant, not a hard-core bar, so I don't forsee any problems there.

"And as far as I understand from my contractor, they have the go-ahead to start working on the plumbing and electrical. The only restriction, really, is that they can't close up any walls until the finals have been approved and town zoning says it's okay."

On the move

To accommodate Famous Sam's spacious floor plan, two other businesses currently occupying the same building -- Payson Party Plus and Payson Photo Express -- will have to move in late March

But since their relocation will take them approximately 25 feet to the north, neither of the businesses' owners mind too much.

"It's much more good than bad," said Dave Orlopp, owner of Payson Photo Express. "We're basically staying in the same area, so our customers won't be wondering where we went. The square-footage will be a hair less, but we'll have more room in the back, where the landlord is willing to put in a darkroom. Once that's in, we'll be able to develop black and white, slides, medium format, and enlargements up to about 20 by 30 inches."

On the other hand, Orlopp said, the move will take about $2,000 out of his own pocket.

"With the equipment we have and the maintenance contract we have, the technicians who will be sent here to supervise the move will charge about $110 per hour, and it's an all-day job. Add to that about $500 worth of chemicals we'll have to dump, and that's our loss.

"But then again, once we're moved, we're going to be a full-service one-hour photo stop with anything and everything you can think of that nobody else up here offers, which is a big plus," Orlopp said.

Barb Aschbrenner, co-owner of Payson Party Plus with her husband Roy, can't think of any downsides.

"Basically, we'll have a brand new space with up-to-date heating and cooling," Barb said, "and our store will go all the way back so that our janitorial deliveries can all come to the back. That will be very nice. The square footage will be a little less, but that's what we wanted. The only bad thing is the actual moving."

Meeting deadlines

At Famous Sam's, demolition and construction have been focused everywhere but the locations of Photo Express and Party Plus.

"We've been working around them so's not to interfere with their business or tie them down in any way," Sloan said. "So far, the construction workers have been focusing mostly on our kitchen area. But once we get those walls down (separating the two existing businesses from each other and Famous Sam's), that's when the big changes will start happening."

Despite 15 years in the food business, including his current position as manager of the Kentucky Fried Chicken across the parking lot from Famous Sam's, Sloan is preparing for his opening day by putting himself through the rigorous, self-designed training program.

"I drive down to the Famous Sam's franchises in Tucson and Awatukee, walk in, and just take over," he said, laughing. "I say, 'Okay, what do I need to learn? Show me!' And I just do it: wait tables, cook, work salads, bartend, whatever needs to be done.

"I want to experience everything involved in running a Famous Sams before we even open our doors. I want this town to have a nice place to go to, where they feel comfortable and it's big enough so they don't have to stand around outside waiting to get in."

Regardless of Famous Sam's ownership, Sloan says there's one thing you won't see on the menu: Kentucky Fried Chicken -- even though his servers would only have to walk about 50 feet to pick up an order.

"I think we'd run into franchise problems there," Sloan said.

But as he spoke, you could tell he'd thought about it.

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