By Abigail Sokolsky || Arts & Leisure Editor
Walking into the Isaac’s Restaurant located in Mount Joy, Pennsylvania, I was greeted by a bright and colorful interior. The restaurant had both a takeout counter and sit-down area reminiscent of the more well-known Panera Bread, an American owned and operated restaurant chain. While Panera Bread has around 2100 locations in the United States, Isaac’s is much more niche, with only 19 locations limited to Pennsylvania and headquarters in Lancaster County. This limited outreach, however, seems to be intentional. On the about page of their website, founder Philip R. Wenger answers the question of “why don’t we sell franchises or stock and grow Isaac’s into 100s or 1000s of locations, like all the other large chain concepts,” reminding customers that “Isaac’s is a different kind of company,” one that focuses on “authenticity and commitment to their communities.” Wenger believed that to uphold this brand promise “to create fanatical customers, to engage our employees, to connect to our community” Isaac’s had to avoid being a company hindered by shareholders or investors, remaining free to pursue this goal of remaining a community-oriented company.
When my sandwich arrived and I took a bite, it became clear both why people often asked why Isaac’s was limited to Pennsylvania and why Wenger was staunchly against expansion. The sandwiches offered, all named after different birds, were simple and incredibly delicious, a basic lunch option done absolutely perfectly. I had the Twisted Chicken, a grilled chicken sandwich with melted cheddar, spinach tomatoes, Dijon mustard, and mayo on a pretzel roll. A soft pretzel enthusiast and frequent customer of Auntie Anne’s Pretzels at Park City Center in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, I was not disappointed. I was pleasantly surprised by how well cooked the chicken was, far better than any other chain restaurant I’d tried. I was even more impressed with what the menu called Isaac’s Famous Pepperjack Tomato Soup, a cream of tomato soup with pepperjack cheese and flavored with garlic, Worcestershire, and sugar, garnished in croutons. The flavor of the pepperjack was subtle and complemented the smoothness of the tomato very nicely, making the whole thing taste very authentic and ideal for the slightly chilly days which have been lingering on through April here in Lancaster County.
Looking around, it was impossible to miss the large tropical portraits of a variety of birds on the walls. This coupled with the bird-named sandwiches on the menu (Gooney Bird and Pterodactyl among my favorites) created a fun and off-kilter atmosphere. This goofy décor and menu theme arose from the original logo of the chain, a flamingo wearing roller skates. The choice of the roller skate wearing flamingo was inspired by a cult movie of Wenger’s youth, John Water’s film Pink Flamingos. An appreciation for the film coupled with a good sense of humor lead to the fun and eclectic bird names found on the menu today.
Junior Abigail Sokolsky is the Arts & Leisure Editor. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.