My last night in Las Vegas I was driving around looking for dinner and trying to avoid chain restaurants when I saw Dessy’s. I walked in and was greeted by the most lovely kind woman. Her name was Ophelia. She sat me at a table and I quickly noticed that every table had an article inside of a plastic sleeve on it. After a while I grabbed mine and read it… I had goosebumps. It was the story of how Dessy’s used to be a Sizzler but when the economy took a down turn, manager Arthur Church was notified that his Sizzler would be shut down in 24 hours. Here is the inspiring story of how Arthur along with 23 other former Sizzler employees turned corporate shut down into small business success. This is my favorite story from the road so far…
Dream realized after closure – Former Sizzler site reincarnated when employees open new eatery
By DANIELLE NADLER
VIEW STAFF WRITER
What to do when life hands you a sour economy?
When handed the news that he and 130 other Sizzler employees no longer had jobs, Arthur Church tapped into a longtime dream to run his own restaurant.
As the former Sizzler district manager, Church got a call from Sizzler franchise owners in September to say within 24 hours all four restaurants in the valley would close.
“It was a complete shock,” said Church, who worked with the company for 27 years. “Business dropped slightly over the summer, but we were doing OK.”
For years, he had often thought it would be fun to one day start his own restaurant. He even had a name picked out — Dessy, after his 9-year-old daughter. As the reality of unemployment sunk in, Church set out to bring his idea to life.
“I couldn’t believe all these employees were just out of work,” he said. “I was trying to get them back to work.”
As soon as he secured financing and signed a lease in the old Sizzler building at 4901 S. Eastern Ave., Church called former Sizzler employees to tell them the news.
About a month after they lost their jobs, few of the former employees had found work. Most applied for positions at Dessy, and 28 were hired to start the restaurant. Church said he would have hired all of them back if he could.
“Everybody was so happy to have jobs,” said Rita Gamboa, a head server at Sizzler for 17 years. “If I work 24/7, I don’t care. I have a job.”
Employees banded together from morning to night for two weeks to clean, paint and remodel the restaurant. They brought in more booths, tweaked the color scheme and the décor.
Church and former Sizzler general manager James Lujan, now a chef at Dessy, created a menu that was a far cry from Sizzler’s. Instead of frozen and pre-made dishes, they brought in fresh ingredients and lowered prices.
“We wanted to make it our own,” Church said. “It became like a family working together to get it open.”
Dessy Burgers opened on Nov. 8, 2008, with a new sense of family and ownership, according to employees.
“I take care of this place as if it was my own — I feel like it’s mine,” Gamboa said.
Business has steadily increased since Dessy opened. Few of the regular Sizzler customers have transitioned to Dessy regulars, but Church said the menu draws more families.
Unlike Sizzler, Dessy is a full-service restaurant with breakfast, lunch and dinner. The menu includes breakfast specials like egg skillet and French toast platter, plus pasta, seafood, nine different hamburgers, 13 different steak options and a 50-item salad bar.
“The service is excellent, the food is fresh and the prices are a steal,” Dionne Tate said during her second visit to Dessy Burgers. “I heard what the employees did here, so I wanted to come check it out. It’s very brave what they’ve done.”
Church said he does not hold harsh feelings against Sizzler. If the local restaurants would have stayed open, he and most the employees would have stayed for years.
Lujan, who was with Sizzler for 10 years, said he would have stayed with the company another 10 years.
“This is what I love to do,” he said between grilling burgers during the lunch rush. “I’m a firm believer that what happens happens for a reason. Even though things are really tough, we need to believe in what we do. Arthur gave us a chance to do what we do best.”
A copy of the article placed on every table.
Ophelia was one of the former Sizzler employees.