Chompie’s has been serving Valley residents and travelers authentic deli classics since its first location opened on February 14th, 1979. But believe it or not, this locally owned restaurant chain may never have existed if it weren’t for a New York serial killer.
According to Neal Borenstein, one of the current owners of the Chompie’s franchise of restaurants, his family was living in New York City during the seventies when local newspapers started reporting horror stories about the so-called “Son of Sam” – a serial killer who was eventually given six life sentences for committing murders across the city.
“It had everybody on pins and needles,” Borenstein said. “My sister, she had some really good friends of hers that decided that they wanted to move out to Arizona. So, they came out here to look around for an opportunity, and they realized that Arizona didn’t have any good bagels.”
Before moving to Arizona, Neal’s father Lou had run a large art supply store in Manhattan for nearly thirty years. Neal said he was sixteen years old when his family began to relocate to the Valley to pursue their restaurant concept, which they decided to call Chompie’s after a nickname Neal had growing up.
“He used to call me the Chomper, my brother-in-law, because of the way I ate… because I always chomped food,” he said. “And I don’t know what led to another, but they thought, ‘you know, what a great name Chompie’s would be.’”
The Borenstein family opened their first Chompie’s restaurant in a small 2,400 square foot location off 32nd Street and Shea Blvd in Phoenix. That location started off without any table service option for customers, Neal said, but as business started to pick up, the Borenstein family nearly doubled the location’s size to expand the restaurant’s offerings.
“We did all our own baking, we made all our own products, and that’s kind of how we started to become a real New York deli,” Borenstein said.
Forty years after the original Chompie’s opened, and after relocating several times, the restaurant settled in its current location near Paradise Valley Mall in Phoenix. Chompie’s also operates four other locations across the Valley in Scottsdale, Tempe, Chandler and Glendale, with the latter location opening most recently in 2016.
The Chompie’s brand is continuing to expand in new ways for the company. While Chompie’s has sold a selection of bagels, breads and other baked goods in grocery stores across Arizona since its early days, Borenstein says the company is currently working with a food distribution company, El Hefe Distributors of Fine Foods, to introduce its products to grocery store shelves in Mexico. The idea to expand into Mexico, he said, came from John Mahr, Managing Partner at El Hefe.
“He thought it was a market that hadn’t been tapped,” Borenstein said. “Hispanics eat bagels, judging by all the bagels we sell in and all around the Valley, so he thought that it might be a good idea to expand down there as well.”
That’s not the only way the company is increasing its presence in grocery stores. Through an expanded partnership with Fry’s Food Stores, Chompie’s is planning on opening two experimental express-style locations within Fry’s grocery stores. The first location is opening at the Fry’s Marketplace on Tatum & Shea Boulevards sometime this summer. A second location is planned to open inside the currently under-construction Fry’s in Downtown Phoenix – which is also notable for being the first grocery store located in the heart of the downtown area.
“Being in the Valley as long as we have, we’ve never had any type of presence Downtown,” Borenstein said. “People will be able to find us during the week and won’t have to make a trip up to one of our stores here in Northeast Phoenix or Scottsdale.”
With numerous new business ventures in the pipeline, the Chompie’s brand continues to expand but according to Borenstein, what makes Chompie’s unique hasn’t changed in the forty years they’ve been open.
One thing Borenstein claims hasn’t changed since 1979 is Chompie’s bagel recipe. To try and make their bagels taste as similar as possible to New York City bagels, Chompie’s reduces the amount of minerals in its water to get “soft water” like what is found in New York.
“You’ve heard like, the water West of the Mississippi is hard and it’s no good… and we’ve kind of foiled that thought,” he said.
Borenstein also says Chompie’s has never changed portion size for their menu items and that he would rather raise prices if necessary than give customers less food.
“If I go to a restaurant and you give me too much to eat, I’ll always go back,” he said. “If I go to a restaurant and you don’t give me enough to eat, I probably won’t come back.”
Borenstein says he loves hearing positive feedback from customers—especially out-of-state visitors—and that ultimately, what’s most important is making sure they leave happy. That’s a big reason why Borenstein says he thinks Chompie’s has lasted in the restaurant business for over forty years.
“Without our customers we’re nothing,” he said. “I always tell my cooks, my managers, we’re only as good as the next meal we serve.”