This isn’t just going to be a typical restaurant review because; I wasn’t even asked to give a review on Pancito & Lefty, the hot new Charleston Mexican restaurant founded by Jimmy Poole (of The Alley) and Chef Robert Berry.
But, after heading to the new spot last weekend I felt compelled to write a little something, not just because I already admire Jimmy and his crew for their continued successes, but because he’s one of the few younger entrepreneurs I’ve met in Charleston who seems to understand that nothing replaces hard work. Sure, he appreciates the social scene and enjoys a good time, like anyone else, but more than not when you see Jimmy he’s cleaning tables at his places, helping seat and checking on customers.
In a time where I am constantly shocked by young people telling me they aspire to own their own business or that they do, but spend most of their time on the social scene or in pursuit of 15 minutes of fame, I am in awe of Jimmy’s and his team’s work ethic, dedication and drive to give customers an amazing, quality experience.
Before you snarl and wonder why I am qualified to determine what a solid customer experience is, let’s just say after living in LA, NYC and traveling all over the world for my job I have experienced the downright amazing versions of customer service and seen it be the demise of many lofty establishments. So, I am just speaking from one customer’s perspective, who until purchasing a place in Charleston and being forced to, didn’t really cook. That’s right, my oven in NYC was used more for storage than conjuring up delicious palette pleasing dinners. So, you could say I’m a professional diner!
Chef Berry, Jimmy and beverage director David Axelrod need to be commended because their research paid off. Apart from my spicy margarita, which was made with hot sauce instead of muddled jalapenos…come on guys, Pancito & Lefty’s really brings together some of the traditional Mexican flavors I learned to love while living in Los Angeles. While in my 20s in LA I enjoyed many jaunts to Baja, Cabo, Cancun, Puerto Vallarta, Cozumel and Mexico City…no, when you live in LA you don’t vacation in the Caribbean…it’s Mexico or Hawaii because road trips are out, three to four hours in the car and you’re still in Los Angeles County, uh no thanks! Palm Springs is the desert where old people go to die and Tahoe has bears…so stop judging. My LA people get this!
The restaurant’s guacamole is probably some of the best I’ve had in a long time. The perfect blend of veg and spicy, smooth and chunky. The tacos were all exceptional (carnitas and fish were my favorite) and the Mexican version of Vietnamese Pho was so flavorful I didn’t even mind eating it even with the gelatinous chunks of pork floating around. If you’ve read my pieces you know I have a weird food textural aversion to gelatinous types of food (I hate you pork belly)!
However, for me, probably the single most appealing aspect of the restaurant wasn’t the delicious food or the hip/retro décor, but rather the people. Jimmy and his team have it right! They understand that customer service can make or break a diner’s experience. This was thrown into sharp light for me when I returned to NYC the week after dining at Pancito & Lefty’s, as I often do, still splitting my time. What I found this time is that Charleston’s charm is having more of an impact on me than I ever could’ve imagined.
I was suddenly sharply aware of the lack of customer service, focus, passion and dedication several of my favorite NYC eatery’s displayed – Rosemary’s - I’m looking at you. We had to flag our waiter down several times to get refills on our drinks… hello, we’re a table full of attractive females… isn’t that savvy-waiter training 101? The higher the alcohol consumption the bigger the tip? Perhaps the most upsetting was finally having to ask our waiter who was leaning down to speak to the table next to us after several moments to kindly remove his backend from our table and dinner that had been delivered. “I like big butts and I cannot lie,” but not with my delicious Italian dinner!
Back to the point of this piece. I will keep going back to Pancito & Lefty’s again and again. Yes, I will order the delicious guac and cheese fondito, but more because the team there is so passionate about the experience and it shows in everything they do. From being greeted by several folks to them accommodating our rather large crowd at the last minute it was a GREAT DINING experience. Not only did we interact with our waiter, but we talked to several other staff members casually stopping to check on us and chat us up about the rationale behind each tasty treat.
This was a refreshing throwback for me… people in service caring about that service and what they were putting in front of you! It really is about the people and aspiring restaurateurs should remember that. Fill your place with passionate, dedicated team members and you’ll win loyal customers who will help your business thrive. Pancito & Lefty’s I would totally join your gang!