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Southern hospitality: McAlister's Deli boasts good food, service

Calie Turner delivers a pizza and sandwich
Calie Turner, 22, of Winchester, delivers a pizza and sandwich inside McAlister's Deli at Riverton Commons in Front Royal. The deli held its grand opening last month, and is the first of several McAlister's restaurants planned for the Northern Virginia area. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Jon Benthall carries an order to the counter
Jon Benthall, of Linden, carries an order to the counter from the kitchen. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

A Greek chicken pita
A Greek chicken pita is shown at McAlister's Deli. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

Calie Turner delivers food
Calie Turner, 22, of Winchester, delivers a pizza and sandwich order inside McAlister's Deli at Riverton Commons in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily (Buy photo)

By Linwood Outlaw III - loutlaw@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Boasting a menu that accentuates its signature sandwiches and spuds, the owner of the newest restaurant in the Riverton Commons shopping area says he hopes to attract customers with good food and "a little southern hospitality."

Last month, local officials and others in the community celebrated the grand opening of McAlister's Deli, a self-proclaimed quick-casual restaurant chain, at 70 Riverton Commons Plaza, Suite 100, in Front Royal. The location is the first of several McAlister's restaurants being planned for the Northern Virginia area.

The business is surrounded by a bevy of other restaurants near Riverton Commons, including the likes of T.G.I. Friday's, Applebee's and Cracker Barrel. But, Steve Ricks, owner of the new McAlister's location, says the restaurant will rely on its unique "McAlister's touch" to stand out from the rest.

"It's service with a little southern hospitality, and a lot of charm," Ricks said. "We greet people as they come through the door with a very friendly, warm 'Welcome to McAlister's'. Our staff are trained to help people order. Obviously, we have a very extensive menu. And, our staff help people find their way to the correct choice."

McAlister's wants to establish a reputation for its attentive table service, where waiters bring customers their food orders and other items they need. "When guests are shown to their seats, we take care of them from there," said Ricks, who has been in the restaurant industry for more than 20 years. "We deliver the food. We refill drinks. We clear tables."

In addition to its dine-in and take-out services, McAlister's Deli also offers catering services with a selection of deli and sandwich trays, box lunches and desserts.

The menu, meanwhile, gives customers more than 100 items to choose from, including Italian panini sandwiches, soups, spuds and assorted salads. Meatloaf platters, chili, chicken wraps, pizza and pot roast classic are also among featured dishes.

Ricks says the spuds -- giant baked potatoes -- are easily among the restaurant's most popular food items. The potatoes are stuffed with ham, turkey, cheese, chicken, bacon and other toppings. However, McAlister's prides itself on serving a variety of healthy meal options, Ricks said. Club sandwiches are often served with a choice of wheat bread, lettuce and tomatoes, he said.

The nutritional aspect of the restaurant also helps make it a more family-friendly environment, said Heather Ricks, Ricks' wife and director of human resources and marketing for the restaurant.

"You can bring your kids in and they can have a great meal, and they're not loading up on burgers, fries and shakes," Mrs. Ricks said. "Parents can get a big healthy sandwich. Or, dad can get meatloaf for dinner. There's something here for everyone."

Then, of course, there's the McAlister's Famous Sweet Tea. Restaurant officials are generally tight-lipped about its recipe, though they are quick to dispel rumors such as the beverage being made from a rare leaf found in the Amazon or filled with anything illegal.

McAlister's Deli, which is based in Ridgeland, Miss., has more than 290 locations in the United States, and 20 new restaurants are expected to be opened this year. The original deli first opened in 1989 in a converted gas station in Oxford, Miss. Mrs. Ricks said she and her husband share a common goal of making the Front Royal restaurant involved with the community outside of simply selling food to customers, including efforts to sponsor local charitable causes.

"We want a strong community bond. What we're finding is a lot of people have already heard of McAlister's and were very excited to have us come here," Mrs. Ricks said.

Officials want to open McAlister's restaurants in Winchester and Leesburg sometime in the near future, Ricks said.


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