Atomic Omelette and Grill puts a bold twist on traditional American breakfast and lunch foods.
By: Kathleen Naderer
Photos by: Dark Lab Photography
Customers of Atomic Omelette and Grill know they will receive a warm welcome from both staff and owners alike in addition to their mouthwatering meal. Owner Mike VanSyckle and his sister, Dana Aultman-Bazinet, prefer being visible to their customers rather than working in a backroom. As VanSyckle explained, “The best part of this business is seeing the smiles on people’s faces. It really brightens up my day and helps me remember why I’m doing this.”
Business is booming, with people willing to wait anywhere from 30 minutes to almost an hour on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays for their turn inside the cozy diner. “People are outside, sitting on the bench and standing to wait,” Aultman-Bazinet said. “So you know we’re doing something right!”
Atomic Omelette and Grill creates breakfast and lunch items using only the freshest, most flavorful produce. Some items, like the Buttermilk Pancakes, are traditional family recipes, while others, like the Big Tamale Omelette, are creations unique to their kitchen. “Everything we serve is made from scratch,” VanSyckle said with a smile. “I’m always looking for bigger, better things, and willing to try new recipes.”
Owning a restaurant is not an easy business, however. “It was a hard road getting to this point,” VanSyckle recalled.
VanSyckle, along with his friend and business partner, James Greer, decided to leave behind the world of corporate restaurants and strike out on their own in 2010. With over 70 years of combined experience in the food industry between the two of them, the men had a solid foundation from which to grow. The two also shared a common love of breakfast that helped them establish their niche and their name.
“James thought ‘atomic’ would be a good way to describe the explosion of flavor,” VanSyckle said, miming an explosion with his hands. “This is not bland food!”
VanSyckle and Greer began building their business plan for Atomic Omelette and Grill in 2011. After struggling to get funding, a difficult challenge most locally owned startup companies face, they managed successfully open their restaurant in February 2012. Sadly, Greer passed away not long afterwards in April 2012. VanSyckle found himself mourning his friend and struggling to keep his new restaurant afloat.
His sister quickly came to his aid and stepped in as Atomic Omelette and Grill’s manager. Aultman-Bazinet, who previously worked in the financial industry, moved from Montreal, Canada, to Corpus Christi, Texas. “I knew Mike was on his own after what happened,” she said, “and I thought, ‘I could do this for a while.’”
This is not the first time the brother and sister have worked together in the food industry. Aultman-Bazinet got VanSyckle his very first job in the restaurant industry as a kitchen manager, under her supervision, which helped him recognize his passion for food. He joked, “It’s like a circle! I started out working for her, and now she works for me!”
Business remained very slow the first year. “We were putting flyers under windshields in parking lots,” Aultman-Bazinet said.
“Being the little guy competing with corporations, we constantly have to remind people ‘We’re here!’” VanSyckle said. He continued to invest in advertising and promoting his restaurant at local events, such as the annual Taste of the Coastal Bend.
The hard work paid off. Atomic Omelette and Grill began turning a profit during its second year and established itself as a popular brunch destination soon after. VanSyckle is grateful for the success his restaurant has experienced. “We’re still open after five years, which not all new restaurants can say.”
According to VanSyckle, the skills he honed by working in the food industry have helped his restaurant thrive in a competitive market. “I learned a lot from working for big corporations. We probably wouldn’t be open today if not for them.”
However, he does not regret leaving his job at a corporate chain in order to create a local business. “I’m happy every time I open the door,” he said as he discussed the perks of being his own boss. “It’s a dream come true! I wish I could have done this 30 years ago.”
Like many Corpus Christi business owners, however, VanSyckle continues to face some challenges. The biggest one? “The labor market is tough,” he stated. “There are so many restaurants in town, and it’s hard to find people with the same passion for the restaurant that I have.” Aultman-Bazinet agreed with her brother. “Retention can be difficult,” she elaborated. “Some employees are here one day, gone the next.”
Atomic Omelette and Grill may need more employees in the future, as plans for expansion are on the horizon. The weekend rush has vastly outgrown the restaurant’s current capacity, and VanSyckle is considering expanding the menu to include dinner items, as well. Whether it moves to a new location or opens a second one, Atomic Omelette and Grill expects to continue its dynamic growth.
Experience the full Atomic Omelette menu for yourself at 6313 Wooldridge Road, Ste. 10. The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, and 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information about Atomic Omelette, call 361-334-3942 or visit www.atomicomelette.com.