It is early morning on a Monday, but Mike Devish is clear eyed, full hearted, and ready to win. As I walk around the corner from my parking spot into what will soon be known as the original Ziggy Bombs (72 Franklin St. Worcester), I make note of my own curiosity about meeting the flavor fanatic himself, Mike Devish.
Inside Ziggy Bombs, there are red and black booths, as well as a few diner style tables. On the walls there are stylistic photos of local dining cars, many of which I already recognize as belonging to Worcester. I notice Devish, or Ziggy as he is often called, already hard at work.
It is easy to like Mike Devish. For someone who has done an amazing job at promoting his culinary skills, he’s terribly uninterested in talking about himself. In some ways, his story is unique more by the outcome than the minutiae leading up to it. The city is teeming with restaurant industry lifers looking to open up shop and become the next hot spot. Devish is more aware of this than most, but none of it seems to get to him.
“I grew up in Main South, Worcester born and bred. All I’ve done my whole life is cook. I started cooking when I was around 15 or 16 years old. My first job was being on the line at Friendly’s in the Auburn Mall. I’ve worked in countless places both in Worcester and all over Central Massachusetts. All my training has been in the field. I’ve worked the grill in various locations for 24 years now. I only started promoting myself around 2011. Back then I was working at Mom’s Diner in Leicester.”
In addition to growing a budding franchise, Devish is also raising his 11-year old son. “I’ve been a single parent for his whole life. Doing that and trying to grow my brand and business, that was hard. Especially in the beginning.” Indeed Devish has memories of cooking on the grill one handed, using his other hand to rock the baby or hold a baby bottle. “Those times were crazy. Those were crazy times.” He credits his mother with so much support and childcare during early days of his career. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without her. Even with her help, I felt like I was doing the impossible. It was a lot of juggling and rolling with the punches.”
It was while Devish worked for the Grille at the Crossroads (1060 Main St. Leicester) that he first became known for his steak and cheese sandwiches. The Grille only had burgers and dogs on the menu, but Ziggy started running steak & cheese sandwiches as specials. The sandwiches quickly gained popularity and notoriety. In fact they were selling hundreds of Ziggy’s steak and cheese sandwiches a week, and pretty soon the Ziggy Bombs were becoming a consistent recurrence on the menu.
It was becoming clear that he was onto something. While Devish was working at Lucky’s Café (formerly on Grove St.) he began doing his own pop ups.
“Even the first pop up I did, hundreds of people showed up. We started out with the pop ups, and people kept coming. It was obvious that we were onto something.” Slowly Devish built his following and then finally was able to invest in a food truck.
“During my ‘pop-up’ era I piqued the interest of two investors, who saw that I could draw in these large crowds. We teamed up to do the food truck. I was taking the truck parking lots throughout the city, although one spot in particular more than others. It was actually right on Prescott Street, where I rent a garage. We did a few other locations throughout the city. And then once we did the food truck for a few months, we were looking for a brick and mortar shop. Finally we found this location. We opened on December 6, just last year.”
Despite the rapid fire changes, Ziggy shows no sign of slowing down. “We’re opening two new locations soon. We’re doing one in Leicester. We actually have had the space for a while, but it’s taking a little time to set up the shop. That’s really the place where my career started taking off, so it feels especially important. The space is actually right where I used to cook; we acquired the old Uncle Sam’s Pizza spot. However, it’s looking like Leicester will be our 3rd location. We are opening up our shop near Boston University in Boston the next couple of weeks.”
Devish is very insistent that he gets to do these things largely because of the support that he has from his team. In fact, while Devish will be preoccupied with overseeing the final construction push at the Boston location, his longtime employee Oscar Sanchez will be taking over the supervising duties at the Worcester location. Sanchez is a Mexican immigrant who moved to the US when he was 10 years old, and has his own storied tale of growing up in the restaurant industry. “I started working at Golden Pizza, alongside my dad. He showed me the ropes.” After that, Sanchez worked in a wide range of places, including Volturno’s, Lock 50, Deadhorse Hill and Simjang. “I was actually working at Volturno about a year ago the Framingham location as Executive Sous Chef. One day, I saw that Ziggy was opening up his own place and he offered me a full time job. It seemed like a cool idea.”
Sanchez was there from the very beginning of the Worcester location. “I started working for Ziggy when he opened this restaurant almost a year ago now.” The connection is new, but it’s clear to see that Devish is readily admired. “ He does his own promotions. He follows his own ideas. He knows how to move himself so well. You just want to learn so much from this method. I know food business but a lot depends on utilizing social media properly. If you don’t have good marketing skills the business won’t move. And, Ziggy is great at that. Lucky’s it was very successful. Bushel and Peck was successful, largely because of him.”
Already displaying a lot of loyalty and camaraderie with his employees, Devish is sharing the wealth of his growth and helping others realize their dreams. “I am excited to be taking more of a leadership role. Ziggy Bombs is looking to become a franchise, and I wanted to do more in my role. Now I have this opportunity to step up into a leadership role.”
Another person who owes Ziggy some of his recent opportunities is another right hand man, Andrew Hollingworth. Hollingworth has also been with Ziggy bombs from the beginning of the brick and mortar shop. “I was walking right by while they were building this restaurant. Like literally during construction, when Ziggy invited me to work for him. I was working at Russo’s Italian Restaurant then, and I kind of just went for it.”
Hollingworth also comes with a wealth of experience. “I have 20 + years of working as a chef all over the city. I’ve been working in Worcester area restaurants for 12 of those years, and I’m originally from Southbridge. Local, too, born and bred.” Hollingworth will be heading up the Boston location under Devish’s supervision, and he’s definitely up for the challenge. “Now we are going to a big school, and it’s going to be awesome. A lot of work and we will be two city guys, working hard everyday. I’m stoked.” When I ask Hollingworth what made him choose to move forward on Ziggy’s offer, the answer comes easy. “He’s so driven and has worked his way up from the bottom, which I trust. It’s very appealing to work for someone who knows the business from the ground up, see his ideas and how he does things. You get to have fun and make specials.”
To round out the visit, I had to ask everyone to name their favorite sandwhiches. Hollingworth recommends The Rodeo, (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, American Cheese, Onion Strings, Bacon Bits, Topped With BBQ Sauce). Sanchez & Devish both go for the classic Boom Boom (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, Monterey Jack Cheese, Fried Onion Stings, Topped With Ziggys Boom Boom Sauce), though Devish also recommends the Pu Pu Platter (Shaved Steak, Sautéed Onions & Roasted Red Peppers, Monterey Jack Cheese, Chinese Chicken Fingers, Boneless Spareribs, Crab Rangoons, Topped With Duck Sauce)
Devish is easy to like and easy to root for. Ziggy Bombs is flying on wings made almost entirely out of Ziggy’s talent and stamina for his work. His philosophy on success is simple. “I eat like a kid. I am coming at this process like a kid. I just want to keep opening more and more locations. That’s pretty much the goal right now. Before this, my biggest goal was to open a restaurant by 40, and I did it. Now it’s time for bigger goals.”