For Lloyd Melton, 2018 wasn’t much better than a car wreck.
He was finishing work on his fourth Biscuits Restaurant and he was jazzed.
It would occupy a big piece of the Club West Clubhouse, with a patio dining overlooking the placid pond and the lush green golf course that had just been restored by what seemed to be the imminent new owner, Richard Breuninger.
But he hadn’t even served his first Friday night all-you-can-eat fish fry when troubling signs emerged. County inspectors didn’t like the way he was bringing in fresh water after the city turned off the spigot because Breuninger had accumulated a $160,000 delinquent water bill.
He got that resolved and the restaurant became popular with Club West locals even though the course had gone brown.
But as Breuninger’s financial situation deteriorated, Biscuits Club West’s did too. Finally, Melton called it quits.
Yet, he wasn’t about to give up on his belief that the Club West area is an ideal place to run a quality breakfast-lunch restaurant.
And this month – 10 years after he opened his first Biscuits on Elliot Road and 48th Street – Melton opened one on the southwest corner of Chandler Boulevard and Desert Foothills Parkway.
The new Biscuits offered a different challenge for Melton, a longtime restaurateur.
“I’ve had a lot of restaurants, but I've never built one from scratch,” he said.
The building Biscuits had been home to a video rental store and the quickly-doomed Sun Cup coffee shop.
He had driven by one day as he was still closing out of his Club West restaurant when he saw a “for sale” sign on Sun Cup.
He was not surprised Sun Cup was closing because he had thought when it opened that that the owner’s plan to build a business by selling specialty coffee wouldn’t fly.
“If you look across the street and you have a McDonald’s,” Melton noted. “They have pretty good coffee and a drive-thru. And if you want, there’s a Starbucks not too far away and a Dutch Bros. I thought they were in trouble from the get-go.”
The Sun Cup owner was trying to get out of his lease, which Melton thought was attractive enough and cheap enough that he could buy it and then re-sell it for a profit.
But when he approached the building owner, he was told, “You can’t buy it.”
Melton and the owner eventually became partners for the fourth Biscuits.
Melton had hoped to open last September but the building presented a bigger challenge than he had anticipated.
He had to gut the video store side because it didn’t have the necessary electrical and plumbing infrastructure to support a restaurant kitchen.
“It was a learning experience because I had never done that part and if I ever have to do it again, kick me,” Melton laughed, recalling how he had planned to put the all-electric equipment out of Club West to use “except that whole corner is all propane.”
“I had nothing in there I could use,” he said.
Now that he’s up and running, Melton is focusing on what he said has worked for him at his eateries in Ahwatukee and those in Tempe and Gilbert – a family-friendly place to find reasonably priced good meals.
Although he said “I don't push liquor” because “that’s not family,” Melton has a bar for weekend brunch Bloody Marys and mimosas.
He’s only open for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights.
“I do a big surf and turf because the market's there,” he said. “So, you can have prime rib and fish or shrimp.”
Otherwise, its mainstay is breakfast and lunch seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m.
From a business standpoint, Melton said, breakfast makes the most sense because “it's one of the few affordable meals dining out.”
It also keeps employee turnover low.
“Most of my employees have been with me five, six, nine, 10 years. They have a life. They come to work at 7 and go home at 2, so if their grandmother’s taking care of kids, they're not out till 1 in the morning. Every holiday, they’re home.”
He’s also optimistic about his location – just down the street from Altadena Middle School and Cerritos Leadership Academy and with no major competition to what he specializes in.
Long before he opened, he said, “teachers were dropping by asking me when I was going to open.” Ditto with parents who drop their kids off to school.
He trains his servers at his other restaurants so they can continue the best practices he has developed over the years. And the cooks are the ones he had at Club West.
Melton also takes a personal interest in the food – and sometimes will even work in the kitchen.
All his restaurants have the same menu based on the same recipes. He personally drops by his restaurants and does taste tests to make sure his recipes are followed.
He has the same approach with his employees that he takes toward his customers – personable and friendly.
“I feel so lucky with the staff I have,” he said, noting his cooks at the new Biscuits have been with him for nearly 10 years.
“Good help is hard to find. It's harder now than ever before,” Melton said. “They’ve been offered a lot more money to go different places.”
But most of his employees stay with him, he added, because “they know they're going to get treated with respect and get a fair wage.”
“I think if you don't know that much about the restaurant business, it's hard to be successful at it,” Melton said.
“You better know the front of the house, the back of the house and the outhouse. A lot of these places, you see them folding not long after they open up. You got an 87 percent failure rate.”
“Unless you really love it or know it, I think you're not going to have a successful restaurant,” he added.”
And he stresses quality at a reasonable price.
“You know, it takes money to make money,” Melton reflected. “You can't give the guys cheap food and charge a high price.”
He recalled how before he opened at the golf course, “I bet some people in Club West that they'll all like the fact they can get a real breakfast instead of an Egg McMuffin.”
Melton doesn’t think the new freeway will have any impact on his new restaurant, and he’s focusing instead on his belief that “I need to be successful in a three-mile radius.”
“It's the population here,” he said. “If I give people good food at a fair price and treat them right, they're going to come back. Why should they go anywhere else?”