August 21, 2018
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  • Simple Sands is now open again during daytime and evening hours. Owner John Sparkman has fresh ideas for the menu and the future of his business.
    Photo by Zach Sparks
    Simple Sands is now open again during daytime and evening hours. Owner John Sparkman has fresh ideas for the menu and the future of his business.

Operational Changes Haven’t Slowed Down Simple Sands

Zach Sparks
View Bio
February 7, 2018

The emails to John Sparkman poured in as people drove past Simple Sands at night only to see that the “open” sign was not illuminated. That trend continued from March 2017 until this fall, when the restaurateur was able to again open his store in the evening, extending close time from 3:00pm to 8:00pm.

Sparkman, who is celebrating Simple Sands’ eighth anniversary in February, said that the hours of operation were shortened due to staffing, and even though he could have sustained the business from revenue generated by its morning and lunchtime customers, he felt compelled to bring back dinner hours.

“We were missing some of the regular customers who were not able to come in during that time, and I didn’t feel like I was doing justice as a business owner to my customer base,” Sparkman said. “As soon as the hours changed [this fall], we didn’t miss a beat. We didn’t even have to advertise because people were coming in.”

While still continuing to serve up customer favorites like the Cuban sand, the turkey Brazilian sand and the Reuben — along with an assortment of other homemade sandwiches, deli salads and breakfast treats — Sparkman trained new employees on the art of food preparation and customer service.

“We went back to the basics, making sure everyone gets the same quality product no matter what time it is,” Sparkman said. “The past year, we have had the same staff and they have taken more ownership of the product.

“We make 95 percent of signature sauces in-house and 100 percent of our deli soups, salads and chili,” he added. “It’s important that everything has that homemade flair but also that we’re providing quick service and a quality product.”

Also in that time, the catering and delivery side of the business has grown, with Simple Sands preparing school lunches at Severn School and Arnold Christian Academy. Renowned for its school fundraising days, Simple Sands has temporarily ceased those events until a more profitable venture for the schools and the business can be found.

“We’re still a big supporter of the community,” Sparkman said. “It’s important that people look at us as a part of the community and not something that’s just taking from the community.”

Area residents may have seen a Simple Sands food truck parked around town, but a new franchisee is looking to occupy the food truck starting this spring. Sparkman also emphasized that the addition of new establishments like Firehouse Subs has only helped business.

“A lot of times, people will ask about the corporate places that open in the area and they will question if it has a negative impact on us,” Sparkman said. “Actually, when a new place opens, we see increased traffic flow those first two weeks because people will say, ‘Have you tried this new place?’ and someone will say, ‘No, but have you tried Simple Sands.’”

Those loyal customers who frequent Simple Sands, as well as newcomers, will witness some changes to the menu in the coming months. Sparkman is working on a pulled pork sandwich with some “Old Bay flair,” and a cheesesteak. “My criteria for adding something to the menu is that it has to be as good if not better than anywhere else,” he said.

Sparkman also wants to expand the business to other locations, but for now, he is taking it day by day. The best part of his job is interacting with people.

“It’s having great conversations with people like this guy,” he said, smiling at a customer, “and talking about some of his struggles in business as well as my struggles. You get to meet many different people, and I enjoy building on those relationships.”

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