There's a new name on the restaurant scene in Grand Island, as PepperJax Grill makes it official.
A year and a half after the company first suggested it wanted to open in central Nebraska, the Omaha-based chain has announced plans to open by July.
PepperJax is known for its Phillies as well as burritos, rice bowls, salads, and other entrees all made fresh for customers.
The regional chain plans to open this summer along the busy Highway 281 corridor in Grand Island. The location will feature the company's first-ever drive-thru.
"We're very excited to bring PepperJax Grill to central Nebraska -- in our home state. And this new store in Grand Island will feature PepperJax Grill's "Very First" Drive-Thru Window Service," said Gary Rohwer President of PepperJax Grill. "We're proud to bring our quality menu items including our legendary "America's Best Philly" to Grand Island and the Tri-City Area."
Chamber of Commerce President Cindy Johnson welcomed the news.
"People are excited about a new restaurant coming to Grand Island. We like to have options," she said.
The company first suggested locating in Grand Island a year and a half ago, creating a buzz.
But Johnson said, "On the flip side of that, there's challenges associated with restaurant service position. There are concerns that have been raised about whether or not we're saturated."
And when she says saturated, she means from a workforce perspective. Brent Lindner has dealt with that first hand, as a restaurant owner.
He said, "2013 with the addition of several major chain restaurants, everybody felt the impact of that in a small way to a bigger way."
As another handcrafted pizza goes in the oven at Bonzai Beach Club and Wave Pizza, Lindner said the market for good talent has shriveled up. And the addition of PepperJax along with the Bosselman–owned Quaker Steak and Lube could be tough on the workforce.
"Getting those bit players, part time servers, part time bartender has been challenging and with the addition of these two places coming, it's going to get even thinner," he said.
Grand Island is growing and so is the appetite for eating out, judging from the city's food tax.
Johnson said, "Those numbers are strong. They exceeded budget last year, and are on target to do well again this year."
Workforce is the big concern. The Chamber of Commerce president says employers must get creative to retain staff. But she says it's a sign manufacturing jobs are doing well.
Johnson said, "Those secondary businesses — retail, restaurants, etc are seeing a bump because of increase in primary jobs and that's the way it should work."
So while the labor market tightens, Brent Lindner says he'll keep doing what he does best at the four establishments he runs locally.
"Unique environment with good food and good service," he said.
A couple of restaurants have closed, including Sam & Louie's Pizza and the hometown Dreisbach's.
As for PepperJax Grill, it'll be along Highway 281 in front of Home Depot on Allen Drive, on a stretch that includes Buffalo Wild Wings, Freddy's, Olive Garden, Panera, Ruby Tuesday and more.