Hot Table: Creating a Culture Around ‘Doing the Right Thing’

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During his 18 years in corporate sales, John DeVoie became a connoisseur of fast-food sandwich shops while traveling all over New England.

As a purchaser of catering products, the Springfield native was always fascinated by the food business, and it got him thinking about the possibilities for an alternative to eating on-the-go. He shared his thoughts with his brother, Christopher, and their brother-in-law, chef Donald Watroba.

Fast-forward to 2007, when the three established their first Hot Table restaurant, located near Western New England University in Springfield. The fast-casual dining features made-to-order grilled panini sandwiches served within a welcoming and warm décor. In the last four years, two more Hot Table restaurants popped up in downtown Springfield and Enfield.

The brothers’ formula for success is something to be admired. At a time when some food-related businesses are struggling, Hot Table is sizzling. In addition to plans for a fourth restaurant in the Greater Hartford area in 2014, John, 46, and Chris, 42, also expect to offer Hot Table as a franchise opportunity by the end of the year.

Although Watroba is no longer a partner, his experience having owned and operated four western Mass restaurants was one of the ingredients that made Hot Table successful: three owners with combined experiences in marketing and real estate, finances and running eateries.

“To be successful, it’s very important that you have great food, great customer service, great real estate and market the heck out of your products,” John said. “We are very fortunate with the foundation that we had in those areas.”

It’s not like the trio pencil-sketched exactly what Hot Table was going to look like.

“We experimented with a lot of different products, but we came to the point where we decided Hot table was going to be a panini company,” John said. “That’s what we focused in on and branded as our company. It’s an evolution, and it’s still evolving.”

Go into any of the three current locations and you can order up a panini sandwich for breakfast, lunch or dinner as well as soups, salads and desserts. Customers can watch as their panini or wrap is assembled one ingredient at a time right in front of them before being placed onto the piping-hot panini press.

John and Chris also believe in setting a positive environment for employees, which they find gets translated into exceptional customer service. As part of that, they respect their employees’ need for time away from work. Unlike many area restaurants, Hot Table is closed on Sundays. That’s because the DeVoie brothers are Christians and want their employees—whether they practice a faith or not—to enjoy Sunday with their families, friends or spend it any way they want.

“We like to create a culture of doing the right thing and treating people the right way. We don’t push our religion on anybody,” Chris said. “It’s who we are but you don’t have to be Christian to work here. There’s no litmus test when you come in.”

I know from firsthand experience that Hot Table’s good customer service is alive and well.

Whenever I have eaten at their three locations I usually order the “Vermont” breakfast panini, which consists of a fresh cooked egg, sausage, cheddar cheese, a dash of maple syrup and grilled in the press on ciabatta bread.

But the best part is that the staff calls me “Miss.” At age 53, I like that.

To learn more about the Hot Table, visit http://www.hottable.com/.

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