Jimmy Seidel, chef-owner of Snarf's: "I'm having a love affair with fried chicken"
This is part one of my interview with Jimmy Seidel, chef-owner of Snarf's and Snarfburger; part two of our conversation will run tomorrow.
If you've ever wondered why Jimmy Seidel, owner of Snarf's and Snarfburger, named his joints what he did, all you have to do is consult a dictionary: The definition of "snarf," depending upon which dictionary app you have, is to eat or drink quickly, voraciously or greedily. But the dictionaries of the world could just replace that terminology with two words: Jimmy Seidel. "[Snarf] was my college nickname, because I grubbed my food, my cocktails, my life. I snarfed down everything I could," recalls Seidel, who just turned fifty and plans to enter his "silver decade" by snarfing every day for the next year. "It's going to be one year-long party of snarfing," he quips.
Born in St. Louis, Seidel traveled around the world with his parents, and food, he says, was always first and foremost in his mind. "It was always about eating. We'd be having lunch while we were discussing where we were going to have dinner," he remembers. Although he was immersed in restaurants, he never worked in one until he was in his thirties.
"I actually wanted to be a fireman until I was about five, and then I took one of those career personality tests in high school that suggested I should be a highway patrolman, which was hilarious, because they were always chasing me," says Seidel. Instead, he graduated from Drake University with a degree in economics and finance and spent the next decade in the stock market, starting as a broker. "I pretty much hated it," he says. "There's nothing worse than making cold calls all day and having people slam the phone down." He did time as a floor trader, too, in Chicago, but "wasn't that good at it." Besides, he points out, "The world changed because of computers, so business started drying up and there were no more floor traders."
That's when he started to focus on the sandwich industry. "I'd always wanted to open up a sandwich shop, and to be honest, I was pretty sure that I could create a very good sandwich shop that I could duplicate; I thought I could make a better mousetrap," says Seidel, who notes that he never even wrote a business plan for the original Snarf's, which he opened in Boulder in 1996. "I didn't have any restaurant experience, but I understood the business side of things, and I have a knack for knowing what people want, so I sat down and wrote out a menu of all of my favorite sandwich combinations and soups that I knew and loved, and opened the first Snarf's in a market that I thought would appreciate my sandwiches," he explains.
Four years later he opened another Snarf's, also in Boulder. "We wanted to build a good reputation before opening our second location, so we waited until we were sure that we'd done that before embarking on more growth," says Seidel, who now owns ten Snarf's outposts in Colorado, plus two in Chicago and two in St. Louis -- and before the end of this year, he'll add another location in Highland, two more in Chicago, one in Austin, and another in St. Louis.