Rim Country residents have watched and waited expectantly as the building on the northeast corner of Highways 87 and 260 transformed over the last few months.
Workers demolished the old restaurant at the site — most recently a chinese buffet — and built a new Carl’s Jr. in its place.
The new fast food restaurant opened for business March 12 and residents swarmed it to get a taste of the new offerings.
Joe Leto, owner of the franchise, said people even camped out the night before to be the first in line when the doors opened at 6 a.m. The breakfast rush lined up out the doors within about 45 minutes.
A little after 11 a.m., the lunch crowd converged, filling the lobby and backing up the drive-thru. A quartet of law enforcement officers sat in one corner of the restaurant, visiting, enjoying lunch — and keeping a watch on the near fender-bender traffic in the parking lot. Customers spilled over into the neighboring credit union’s parking spaces then on outward into the Bashas’ center, hoping the to get to Carl’s Jr.
One of the young men working the drive-thru apologized for the delay in the hectic swirl of customers.
Leto’s family owns nine Carl’s Jr. restaurants, most in the Tucson area, though the business is actually based in Scottsdale. They decided to expand into smaller communities around the state when they bought the business in 2011. At the time the company had three restaurants and the Letos have added three, including one in Safford.
“Smaller towns are a better fit for us,” Leto said.
The family also owns a few Denny’s, where Leto gained his experience.
He said the family-owned restaurants, “have a better standard of quality, exceptional service and healthy alternatives.”
One of those alternatives is a grilled cod sandwich as opposed to the typical breaded fish sandwich. Cooks make the buns for the sandwiches and burgers, along with biscuits for breakfast selections, fresh daily at each restaurant, he said. They are proud of the chicken tenders and the hand scooped ice cream in the shakes, malts and desserts. The shakes and malts come in chocolate, strawberry and vanilla flavors, plus Oreo.
The Carl’s Jr. in Payson currently employs about three dozen people with Kenny Tassel overseeing the staff as general manager. The restaurant is still hiring, but applicants should avoid the meal rush times.
Leto said the family invested a little more than $1 million opening the restaurant, which can accommodate 66 customers in its dining area and more at outside tables. The dining area also has free WiFi.