Al-E-Oops Restaurant owner shares experiences after 28 years in business
McGowan spends seven days, an average of 83 hours a week, at the restaurant. He works in the kitchen while his mother, Patricia, who is also his business partner, manages the front of the restaurant.
“My mother is my inspiration,” McGowan said. “She is the heart and soul of the restaurant. We have worked together for 28 years and we still work together. My mom’s 77 years old and she still runs around here like a 20-year-old.”
McGowan, who is a certified cook, realized his passion when he got the opportunity to study culinary at the Harkness Center and from there he accepted a four-year apprenticeship at the Sheridan and his passion just continued to flourish.
“I was pretty serious about it,” McGowan remarked. “I found this building and when I came here I tried to put a lot of different sauté dishes on the menu that I had learned and found what we were serving was chicken wings, hoagies, and subs and through the years I stuck with that. I failed at what I was doing and finally ran into the barbeque. I have been doing that for around 17 years. I am the first one in the area to have authentic hickory barbecue. So, what we are known for here is the ribs.”
In 2007, McGowan said he saw a change in his business. He went from serving roughly 300 dinners on a Friday down to 100. The next three years McGowan said those were some difficult times. The business suffered a financial setback. To turn it around he improved the consistency, quality, and made sure he served the freshest foods, with these changes McGowan slowly watched his business improve.
“I thought, I am going to succeed on quality and fresh foods,” remarked McGowan. “People will return for a good meal. I have good intentions every day.”
McGowan said he also had to do something he didn’t want to do and that was raising his menu prices.
“I held my menu prices for as long as possible and found by doing so I reached a point I couldn’t pay my bills,” said McGowan. “So, a quick fix was to raise the menu prices, but now what I am trying to do is write a new menu, a smarter menu. I am trying to come back to have not just $20 and $15 meals, but to offer $12 and $14 meals and make a profit. I have to be more on my A game from what I purchased to the end result, the plate.”
McGowan added he always reminds his staff that customers are paying a good dollar for their meal and they need to give them excellent service and great food.
“Even after 28 years, there is not a day I walk through that door I am not nervous,” said McGowan.”That’s the truth. The day I am not nervous that’s the day I should leave here. You know what drives me, fear. Fear of going out of business.”
Also, McGowan has lost an incredible amount of money due to the age of the building, which was built in 1823 and started out as a Pony exchange station on a route of the Pony Express.
“The costs of running these places are phenomenal,” remarked McGowan.
Al-E-Oops offers a wide variety of fresh sea foods, meats, salads, and sandwiches.
“This is a place where I am most noted for the barbecue,” said McGowan. “I built a reputation around the ribs, but I am much more than that.”
Being smarter about running and surviving in this business, as all businesses are doing, you have to diversify, added McGowan. A take out room has been built and will open in the near future.
“I have learned that people will forgive a lot of things for good food, but what they won’t forget rudeness,” said McGowan. “I would like to thank the staff that works here because I am blessed with a great crew. My mother takes the time to remember everyone. It is really her that has done so much. I am just the guy in the kitchen that’s trying to put out quality meals every day.”
Al-E-Oops, located at 5389 Genesee St, in Lancaster, is opened from 3 to 10 p.m. Monday through Friday and 1 and 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. To contact the restaurant, call 681-0200.