By Tyler Hurst.
Lisa Khnanisho, co-founder of four restaurants and the co-owner of three, doesn’t cook. But Khnanisho figured out a long time that restaurants were about far more than that.
“I don’t even like to cook. My husband cooks really well. Our strength comes from the fact that we understand customer service. You could put me in any business, just tell me what you want me to to do, and I’m going to run it and make it happen,” Khnanisho said.
Since opening Tryst Café in Desert Ridge and Mama Gina’s Pizzeria in Westgate four months apart nine years ago, and opening, running and selling Sami’s Gyros between 2008 and 2016, Khnanisho and her business partner/husband have had continuous success in the restaurant business. They had originally thought about getting into the yogurt business after buying Sami’s, but couldn’t find the right location. After hearing about a dearth of breakfast and lunch options in Desert Ridge, they opened up Tryst Café with a full bar for brunch. Only a few weeks later, customers were clamoring for dinner.
“It’s really about the people. It’s not about what I want, it’s about what the people want… how do we do it well, and how do we do it within the context of a great environment – where you have community, where you’re treating your employees well, where everyone is happy. Your customers are happy, your guests are happy. That’s what we did,” Khnanisho said. She shared that they added about seven items when expanding their dinner menu at Tryst, while including many of the sandwiches and burgers already available at lunch. Since then, they’ve tweaked the menu to include gluten-free items, with many coming from local shops like Jewel’s Bakery and Cafe. “It was flavor first, so if we couldn’t get the good flavor, we wouldn’t make it gluten-free. But 99 percent of the time, we were able to make it really great,” said Khnanisho.
Planned Chandler Expansion
Khnanisho, having previously worked in the design and development industry for building projects, has plenty of experience adapting restaurant ideas to available building space. She’s now hoping her soon-to-open Tryst Cafe Chandler location will have the same success as her previous three restaurants. Her focus on organic food at Tryst Café at Desert Ridge, an idea that came to her when she saw an organic cleaners next to their location upon move in, has inspired her to offer more plant-based items. She experimented with Beyond Meat’s new offerings to provide more clean eating options but found those had a lot of soy and were highly processed. “If I want a burger, there are so many ways to do a bean burger, a mushroom burger, a vegetable burger, a lentil burger. I don’t know why it has to taste like a [meat] burger,” Khnanisho said. “I just felt as though it went against who we were.”
Their expansion into Chandler didn’t come without a lot of forethought, and they looked at more densely-populated areas like downtown Phoenix first. But Khnanisho didn’t want to have to partner with outside investors, so up-and-coming, more affordable areas became their focus. Tryst Café’s Chandler location is on highly visible Gilbert Road next to a gym and down the road from a Sprouts, creating a perfect synergy of clientele. She likened the new location to North Scottsdale, saying there just isn’t enough selection for people down there right now, making the newest Tryst Café an ideal fit – just like the existing Desert Ridge location filled an organic breakfast, lunch, and then dinner niche. Planned at three times the square footage as the Desert Ridge location, the Tryst Café in Chandler will also serve breakfast, lunch and dinner, but will have a heavier focus on its dinner menu, as opposed to the Desert Ridge location which has more breakfast and lunch options. The decor is planned to be more upscale and contemporary, but with the same focus on organic food made with high-end ingredients. And, of course, the outstanding customer service that has already brought them so much success.
Tyler Hurst is a freelance writer, yoga trainee, & podcast host living in Phoenix, AZ. His work has appeared in Willamette Week and the Burning Bush podcast, as well as kontakt, CIDERCRAFT, and DOPE magazines.