Unseasoned salsa sauce can be a source of insomnia for Aaron Pool.
The restaurant entrepreneur often obsesses over the tastes and flavors of his menu items to the point where he will start to lose sleep over a bland salsa combination.
“That’s what will keep me up at night,” Pool joked.
He said this dedication to quality and consistency allowed his enchilada franchise, Gadzooks, to flourish in the Valley and prompt him to open a new location in Chandler.
Known colloquially as the “Chipotle for enchiladas,” the fast-casual restaurant allows patrons to choose which meats, toppings and sauces go into the rolled tortillas.
Pool’s gourmet enchiladas and soups have carved out a niche in the Valley food scene since the first Gadzooks opened in 2013, resulting in lots of press coverage and glowing reviews from customers.
“There are no words to describe what happened to me today,” one Gadzooks reviewer wrote on Yelp. “I went to this place for the first time and my life will never be the same!”
One of the chain’s most popular items is its festival taco.
It consists of a spicy cornbread and chicken mix - topped off with a blend of jalapeno-flavored ranch dressing and honey-vinaigrette guacamole. The cornbread is meant to add an extra layer of creaminess to the dish.
Pool said the uniqueness of his business brand earned Gadzooks a special type of reputation.
It’s gotten to the point, he said, where a customer will recognize Pool in public and ask him questions about enchiladas.
“We’re kind of a cultish brand,” Pool said.
The new Chandler spot is located down the street from City Hall on the corner of Arizona Avenue and Frye Road.
The city has the perfect demographics for another Gadzooks location, Pool said, and the right place to expand their presence in the East Valley.
The arrival of Gadzooks adds another option to a growing list of eateries that have opened in Chandler’s downtown area within the last year. Over Easy, Hidden House, and Cheba Hut have all created a bundle of new flavors for downtown visitors to try.
Pool’s success in the competitive restaurant business seems unlikely considering the founder had little experience back when he started Gadzooks.
He was a business student attending Arizona State University when he came up with the original idea for the restaurant.
He was on vacation with his family and thought about the tasty enchiladas his mother used to make.
“The light bulb went off,” he recalled.
Taco shops are a dime a dozen in the Valley, but Pool noticed few had focused exclusively on the enchilada.
There’s only so much that can be done with tacos, he said, yet enchiladas offer more creativity for the culinary artist.
“You’re putting in all these different layers of flavors, colors and textures,” Pool said.
His mission was to redefine the enchilada to a level that would defy the customer’s expectations.
Pool spent the following years crafting a business plan and experimenting in the kitchen. Several days were spent cooking awful sauces, but Pool said he remained persistent until he found the right flavor profiles.
Gadzooks doesn’t attempt to be one style of Mexican food, Pool added, he pursues flavors and ingredients from all over the world that blend well together.
So, it’s almost fitting that Pool used a non-Spanish word to name his enchilada business.
“Gadzooks” is a German phrase meant to express shock or surprise. Pool said the phrase had the right sound for a restaurant name and was strange enough to get someone’s attention.
Gadzooks doesn’t have any more locations opening in the near future, but Pool said the business is planning to form a partnership with Gilbert’s Agritopia Farm.