Curtis Drane’s experience in the food industry and passion for restaurants gives him the optimism to turn his business into a franchise.
By Katia Faroun
Photos courtesy of Curtis Drane
A mentor once told a young Curtis Drane that if he ever wants to change his life, he has to change his environment.
When he was 19 years old and hungry for success, he did just that.
Drane left his home of Chicago, Ill. to join a culinary school in Fort Myers, Fla., where he started his career as a short-order cook at a bowling alley. Today, after 30 years in the industry, Drane is the executive chef, owner, and general manager of Flavors Famous Street Food in the Northside, the sixth restaurant he’s opened and the first one on his own.
Flavors opened in January 2019 and is a takeout restaurant with a Chicago-style, street food-themed menu, offering authentic Chicago classics such as the Maxwell Street polish sausage, Italian beef sandwich and Jim Shoe—also known as a Gym Shoe—hoagie. Born and raised in a food mecca like Chicago, Drane wanted to bring a piece of the city’s street food culture to Pittsburgh by creating a menu that offers the same items found in his hometown.
Drane’s diverse experience in the food industry led him from the bowling alley to chain restaurants, country clubs, and casinos, where he held the positions of cook, assistant and executive chef and front house manager.
His passion for restaurants grew while working at a country club in Florida. Aside from frequently seeing celebrities like Deion Sanders and MC Hammer, Drane learned from the gourmet atmosphere and the mentors that helped him develop his skills.
“When I walked up in there, I barely knew how to do anything in a gourmet setting, and when I left there, I knew how to make more soups than Campbell’s and I knew how to organize restaurants very well,” Drane said.
His time working in a range of positions at different companies taught him the ins and outs of starting a restaurant, from construction and design to administration and management. While planning the opening of Flavors, Drane used his years of experience to pull all the parts together. With the help of his wife, Melissa Coleman, in administration, Drane acts as the CEO, executive chef, and general manager of the restaurant, while also taking charge of marketing and design.
“I wear a lot of different hats,” Drane said.
Flavors offers authentic, street food-style cuisine, and Drane says his staff is dedicated to providing their customers with an overall experience. The bright colors of the restaurant’s exterior give off “happy vibes” and reviews frequently applaud the restaurant’s customer service and friendly staff, which Drane attributes to how he was trained in the corporate restaurant industry.
“I am very customer service oriented,” Drane said. “Customer engagement is a very important piece overall—making them feel like that’s the place to be.”
Like most small businesses in the Pittsburgh area, Flavors has experienced its own challenges due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Because Flavors only offers takeout and delivery, the restaurant’s main operations have remained the same, but the staff has seen an overall decline in the number of customers. They have adopted more safety precautions, namely through the installation of a plastic window at the order counter, but Drane explained that his staff had already been trained in proper sanitation procedures and protocol.
“We’re very careful back here. We go through a lot of precautions and protocols that I’ve learned over the years,” Drane said. “Fortunately, corporate restauranting has taught me a level of cleanliness where I didn’t have to do anything extra than I was already doing.”
Despite the setbacks the economy has experienced due to the outbreak, Drane is optimistic about Flavors’ future and plans on transforming the Northside restaurant into a franchise. He aspires to open seven more sites across the country to make Flavors “a household name in street food.”
“With the support of the people here in Pittsburgh,” Drane said, “I think we should be able to make it.”
Flavors Famous Street Food is located on 3231 Brighton Rd. and is open Tuesdays through Sundays for takeout and delivery.