Pete Ciarrocchi spent years perfecting the spice blend that he uses on crabs at his restaurant. He constantly sought out the opinions of his regular customers each time he made a change in the recipe.
It was 1977 when he got the idea to season his crinkle-cut French fries with the same spice mix. Since then, Chickie's and Pete's has grown over the years.
But you could never accuse the management at Chickie's & Pete's of not being good listeners.
"People consider our burgers the best in the area," says Christopher Shelden, 53, of Northfield, the bar and promotions manager of their outlet in Egg Harbor Township.
But they were saying something else was just as important. Customers wanted more choices when it came to the toppings available for their burgers.
The meat used on Chickie's & Pete's burgers is still Certified Angus prime sirloin beef, never frozen, a product of the highest quality. The weight on their burgers is still one-half pound.
Only the selection of toppings has changed to offer its guests more of a variety. Management was smart enough to keep all the old favorites but added in a bunch of new toppings to the menu, simply because the customers told them so.
"We want to give people more variety while maintaining Chickie's & Pete's famous style and quality," Shelden says.
Their customers also let them know they loved their pizza and mussels but that they wanted more options with those items, too.
The Ultimate Tailgate ($12.95) is a cheeseburger, amazing on its own, topped with a jumbo lump crab cake and drizzled with the housemade aioli.
Other additions ($9.95 each) are the bacon blue, topped with crumbled blue cheese and crispy bacon; the Italian, with mozzarella, prosciutto and arugula, with a sweet balsamic glaze; the parm, with mozzarella, Romano cheese and its famous red sauce; and the spinach, with mozzarella cheese, sauteed spinach and roasted red peppers.
Pete-zza made from an ultra-thin, hand-tossed crust, includes new options such as the Italian ($17.95), a white pie with prosciutto, arugula, gorgonzola and a sweet balsamic glaze; Buffalo chicken ($17.95), a white pie with blue cheese crumbles; crab ($19.95), a white pie with lump crabmeat, grape tomatoes and aioli; veggie ($17.95), a white pie generously topped with spinach, roasted red peppers and ricotta cheese; and the Cuban ($17.95), with shredded pork, grated Swiss cheese, pickles and lettuce.
Already famous for its roast pork sandwiches, the menu offers the newest versions, green style, with sauteed spinach or broccoli rabe and provolone cheese sauce ($7.95) or red style with roasted red peppers and provolone cheese sauce ($7.95).
To mussels red or white, Chickie's & Pete's has added mussels blue, an idea tried out at all stores and found so popular that the restaurant added it after the new menu was already printed. Mussels blue ($11.95) is made with bacon and garlic sauteed in olive oil and butter. The mussels, white wine and Swiss chard go in next, then blue cheese crumbles are adorned over the top until they melt from the heat. More blue cheese crumbles finishes the dish, for a new and different way to serve the popular shellfish.
Long famous for its Crabfries which uses the restaurant's own house-blended spice mixture, the franchise is spicing up some of its other selections with that same flavor, too.
Chicken wings are now available with the dry spice rub that makes the Crabfries so tasty, and are served with aioli on the side. The Italian version of chicken wings is lemony, peppery and garlicky with a touch of rosemary and Romano cheese.
Chickie's & Pete's is a company that is growing quickly, opening two new stores each year.
Maybe that's because when their customers speak, they still listen.