Keep it fresh and simple – that’s the mantra of Tammy Yates, co-owner of Chubby’s, the popular restaurant on the southwest corner of the Macomb square. Yates and business partner Chad Hunziker strive to provide the freshest food possible with Yate’s unique spin on it. Yates credits Hunziker for being the personality behind the business saying he makes friends with everyone who enters, while she sometimes hides in the kitchen.
From age 14, Yates bussed and waited tables and eventually went on to become area director for a national franchise, and managed other eating establishments. She admits to following the road map of Ramsey’s, located in Lexington, Ky. – a restaurant known for its fresh, not processed selections. Since December 2012, Chubby’s has become a mainstay in the community and surrounding area.
Its lunch menu includes items such as an open face pot roast sandwich, hand-breaded pork tenderloins, a Cuban sandwich and shrimp po’ boy tacos. The evening menu includes steaks, pasta, fried chicken, salmon and smoked ribs. Lunch is available from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and then it closes for two hours to prep for dinner service reopening at 4 p.m.
“We are a big proponent of making from scratch. It’s better,” she says. “We cook our pot roast for about 6 hours, smoke our ribs and hand batter our chicken. We want everyone to have good fresh food.”
Yate’s father was from Kentucky and made a lot of southern dishes. Her mother was Chinese and made many Chinese dishes while she was growing up. She says, “I’m not a chef — I’m self-taught. I learned from my parents, the other restaurants where I worked, and I research a lot. Then I try to put my spin on the foods.”
She occasionally makes ramen from scratch in homage to her mother who passed away last year. “It’s a complex dish. I don’t do it very often,” she explains. “The stock takes a long time to make. The bowls are beautiful and colorful. I think people eat with their eyes, so the presentation needs to be really good on a dish like ramen.”
Specials vary from the house smoked rosemary prime rib to lasagna to a Vietnamese pork chop Yates decided to try out. She premieres specials on Facebook, and in the case of the Vietnamese pork chop, it sold out before they opened their doors for dinner service.
“People have come to know that we think outside the box,” she says. “I try to do things that aren’t available in town, and we try to keep people in town supporting local.”
One of their most popular nights is Cajun night, which no one else does locally. They offer an authentic gumbo – the roux cooks for an hour to get it right where she wants it. Other dishes include crawfish etouffee and shrimp and grits. The shrimp is sauteed when ordered, never before, and served with smoked gouda grits. Cajun night is the most requested. Once done quarterly, patrons request it monthly.
“Our biggest night of the year is St. Patrick’s Day,” Yates says. “I literally stay up the entire night making corned beef and cabbage, cooking it slowly. Chad started a St. Patrick’s Day parade a few years ago. He and about 15 others dressed up for the holiday and walked the square throwing out candy. One of our regulars was a part of it and had such a great time, she grabbed the idea, and it is now an annual community event.”
Always looking for new ideas, they purchased a smoker and started smoking ribs, brisket, wings and pulled pork – low and slow so it comes out perfect. “It’s funny,” she says. “We smoke pulled pork but don’t do pulled pork sandwiches. We use it in our popular Cowboy Pasta – a sort of beef and noodles dish but with pulled pork. We make our own nachos with it and use our own spice blend.”
All pasta dishes are made fresh to order – no premade batch of alfredo sauce here. Yates says they start out sauteing butter and garlic and add in heavy cream and parmesan. “It makes it hectic on the weekend, especially now that it’s getting cold and pasta sounds good,” she says. “We also do a lobster stuffed ravioli with a chardonnay butter sauce. I like to keep the food simple so my team can easily duplicate it.”
Both owners credit their staff for pulling together when COVID-19 occurred and times became very tough. “We got a restaurant revitalization grant,” Yates explains. “One of the first things we did was look at staff. The minimum wage keeps going up in Illinois and when you invest in your team, they invest in you. Across the board, we gave them a livable wage and they are happy. When staff is happy, customers are going to be happy.”
Yates and Hunziker credit the greater community for getting through the worst of the pandemic. A McDonough County Facebook page generated interest in supporting local restaurants, and the Chubby’s team figured out the best way to do takeout without losing the integrity of the food.
“Having my own place has always been a dream of mine,” says Yates. “This industry is very addictive and you either love it or hate it. Chad and I love our customers. We, and our staff, are always looking for ways to make their eating experience better.”