Perhaps one of the strongest selling points at Alphy’s Broiler and Coffee House is the bargain it offers customers: generous helpings of seasoned burgers, tacos, quesadillas and salads as well as home-baked sweet treats, breakfast sandwiches and specialty coffees, mostly sold for less than $10 each.
The price is a fraction, some might argue, of what these meals and beverages are truly worth.
Nestled in the historic, small coastal Village of Arroyo Grande, Alphy’s traditional and fresh menu items attract a socio-economically mixed clientele, a steady stream of dedicated customers who have flooded the eatery since it opened nearly 10 years ago.
“We have such a broad client base from the average income person to the super rich,” said Lance Simpson, a chef who co-owns the restaurant with his brother Doug. He says Alphy’s return customer base stands at about 98 percent. “They come on a regular basis — twice a week, almost every week.”
The priciest item at Alphy’s is the prime rib sandwich, a special that tops off at $12.95. Average menu prices range from $7.95 to $9.95.
“We try to keep it low, so people can eat here a couple times a week, instead of just one,” Simpson said.
Fine price and taste coalesce at Alphy’s. For the owners, taste is particularly important. Simpson says that he would never prepare a customer a meal he wouldn’t serve his mother — a point he drives home with his workers.
“That’s what I tell my staff: ‘If you wouldn’t serve it to your mother, then don’t serve it to our customers’,” he said.
Marinating each dish in spices that linger has become paramount.
“Everything we serve you has flavor,” he said. “We’re not afraid to use the seasonings. It ties the food together.”
Alphy’s Baja Fish Tacos have emerged as genuine crowd-pleasers; the Simpsons give them a healthy spin.
“A lot of people think baja tacos are deep-fried, but they’re not. It’s just a way of making tacos with the fresh cabbage and tomatoes and salsa fresca,” Simpson said.
Alphy’s sauces and dressings are also unique creations.
“We make our own sauces from scratch; even our ranch dressings are from scratch. There’s no packet,” he said.
The Simpson brothers oversee a staff of more than a dozen. Lance, who has been a chef for more than 35 years — including 20 years in the Morro Bay region — and Doug, who has been cooking professionally for 40-plus years, are from California’s Central Valley. But they “used to come here on vacation a lot,” said Lance, before finally settling on the Central Coast for good.
The brothers have spent a great portion of their lives here, having moved to the area more than 30 years ago.
They opened Alphy’s for one very human reason.
“We decided to open our own place because we didn’t want to work for anyone else,” said Lance. “At a certain point, you only go so far in the restaurant business and then you figure out who is really making a living and who is not. And so working for yourself is the best thing.”
Doug initially opened Alphy’s as a breakfast and lunch venue, but it has evolved into much more. In 2009, the restaurant began staying open until 7 p.m. In 2010, Alphy’s Coffee House opened next to the main restaurant, serving everything from freshly brewed artisanal coffees and teas to baked sweet treats and breakfast sandwiches. Alphy’s also offers catering services. The restaurant includes indoor or al fresco seating areas for its diners.
The Simpsons have opened a similar eatery, Alphy’s Adobe Grill, in the Pismo Coast Shopping Plaza, located at 561 Five Cities Drive in Pismo Beach. It’s open Monday to Saturday, 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.
As far as training, Lance said he gained his culinary experience “California-style.”
“Other cooks trained me and then I (interned) a year and a half with a Cordon Bleu chef in Morro Bay,” he said. “... my brother is the same way — just hard knocks first and then we got some real formal training.”
Staffing, maintaining a quality level of service, and ensuring food retains freshness are among their biggest challenges. Aside from customers, freedom, Simpson says, is the best part about owning a restaurant. Feedback has been overwhelmingly favorable.
“They love us,” Simpson said of Alphy’s patrons, adding that some even offer to bus tables if the restaurant is crowded. “They help out; they’re part of the family,” he said. “We like crowd participation.”
And customer comfort is key.
“If they’re not being treated properly elsewhere, they need to come here,” Simpson said. “... It’s service 101. That’s what we’re about.”
Here’s the recipe for Alphy’s Baja Fish Tacos for a family of four:
5 oz. of broiled Ahi tuna per person
1 head of napa cabbage
4 diced roma tomatoes
1 lb. Jack cheese
1 bushel of cilantro
4 sticks of green onions
4 corn tortillas (per person)
Roasted garlic aioli (optional)
Chop the broiled Ahi tuna.
Shred the napa cabbage.
Shred the Jack cheese.
Dice the cilantro.
Dice the tomatoes.
Dice the green onions.
Dice the scallions .
Pick the stems off the cilantro (optional) and dice.
Add roasted garlic aioli to salsa fresca, as desired, to help create Alphy’s baja sauce (optional).
Double-up the corn tortillas for thickness (each diner gets two).
Add the contents to each doubled-up corn tortilla.
Add salsa fresca to each, as desired.