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Palm Coast Saturday, Nov. 23, 2019 1 week ago

The Bantam Chef expands to St. Augustine, brings in more customers at home

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The Bunnell eatery brings its winning recipes to a new locale
by: Joey Pellegrino Staff Writer

Updated on Nov. 26

The Bantam Chef, a Bunnell institution since the 1970s, is no longer a standalone venture. Owners Robert and Rhonda Kretzman opened a second location in St. Augustine on Nov. 10, bringing the same beloved recipes to a new clientele. 

Jenny Raymond, manager at the Bunnell location at 101 East Court Street, stresses that the opening took much time and consideration.

“It’s been a long process,” she said. “Two years in the making.”

Raymond, who’s managed the Bantam Chef for five years, spent some time in St. Augustine training the new restaurant’s staff in food safety, and the place feels different.

The second Bantam Chef has indoor seating, unlike Bunnell’s covered patio, and despite the “Victorian feel” created by its venue being a renovated gingerbread house on Grenada Street, its greater staff size and point of sale system makes it feel more modern than its predecessor.

That, however, is the extent to which Robert Kretzman has been willing to alter the Bantam Chef’s winning formula, and he’s even considered forgoing the new location’s sleek, touchscreen POS system for the printed tickets customers receive in Bunnell; the tickets can’t crash or malfunction.

“He doesn’t want anything to change,” Raymond said. “That’s why he hasn’t taken any of the staff here to St. Augustine.”

The Bunnell staff is different from the teams at fast food joints, she said, because they have all been with the restaurant for years. There is no more than half a dozen people in the kitchen at any time, but they have been working as a team for long enough to develop a flow to their cooking and customer service.

“We have it down to a science,” Raymond said. She thinks the St. Augustine store will develop its own, given time.

It will just as surely develop a dedicated customer base, as the Bantam Chef has in Bunnell for three decades.

“It’s like a cult following,” Raymond said. “You’re not a number here. You see the same faces, same names; it’s comfortable.”

Comfort is the key, according to Robert Kretzman. 

“It’s comfort food at a reasonable price,” he said. “We bread our own seafood, cut our own steak, we make our own tartar sauce. When you come here, you know what you’re getting.”

That trust of homemade quality in burgers or the Bantam Chef’s famously massive fish sandwich is why Kretzman said the St. Augustine location is “exceeding expectations.”

While the original Bantam Chef has largely relied on word of mouth for much of its life, the publicity around the new opening is echoing back in Bunnell, too.

“I think it’s brought in more new business,” Raymond said. “I keep hearing people say,‘This is my first time here,’ or ‘Oh, I just heard about this place! I never knew it was here!’”

Now, she said, those first-timers will surely stick around.

Editor's note: The original story said the restaurant opened in 1989. That has been corrected to say it's been open for over 40 years.

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