| AandE

Larger text Larger text Smaller text Smaller text | Order Photo Reprints

Chip-n-Wich meets Middle East in food court

Email Newsletters

Click here to sign up for one of our email newsletters.
Food Network
Craig Jones during a challenge at a minor league baseball park in Michigan during 'Food Court Wars'

‘Food Court Wars'

“Oasis vs. Chip-n-Wich,” 8 p.m. July 28, Food Network

'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Friday, July 26, 2013, 7:47 p.m.

Nobody really expects great — or even good — food from a mall food court. The goal of such places always seems to be to feed you as quickly as possible, to get you back to spending money at the stores.

But just as food trucks are now mobile purveyors of exciting new food concepts, mall food courts are being affected by Americans' rapidly evolving tastes.

Food Network's show “Food Court Wars” tries to explore this idea — in the tried-and-true form of a reality TV competition, of course.

Two teams must test their concept, market it and run it for a full day. The team that makes the most profit wins space for their eatery, a prize estimated by Food Network at $100,000.

“I don't want anybody to think I have some grandiose opinion about food courts and what they serve,” says the show's host, culinary superstar Tyler Florence, in an online interview. “I see it just like everybody sees it — it needs to be fixed — and that's why I love the show.”

Craig Jones, 29, originally from Johnstown (with a bachelor's degree in culinary management from the Art Institute of Pittsburgh), is one of the competitors. His episode, “Oasis vs. Chip-n-Wich,” will premiere at 8 p.m. July 28 on Food Network. He and business partner Jonathan Neely are up against a pair of women with a Middle Eastern food-court concept. The winner gets $10,000 in start-up capital and a year rent-free at a mall in Midland, Mich.

“There are a lot of advantages — especially at a high-traffic mall,” Jones says. “Lots of people are coming in and out. In this case, the winner would get free rent for a year. That's a high value. Rent can be $3,000 to $5,000, depending on where you're at.

“Most restaurants, if you're good, you just break even the first year. This way, you can immediately be profitable.”

Plus, the visibility for his business, Chip-n-Wich, is pretty much unparalleled when it's on a Food Network show. Especially one hosted by Florence.

Jones' concept for Chip-n-Wich is “sandwiches, chips and floats.” In a Pittsburgh-style twist, the unique, homemade potato chips are placed in the sandwich.

One typical sandwich features pulled chicken in Jones' signature BBQ sauce (which is also sold online, and at Market Basket grocery in Johnstown), smoked gouda cheese, bacon, caramelized onions, cilantro and handmade chipotle ranch-flavored chips.

“Yeah, Primanti Brothers (influence is) all over it,” he says. “This is something I've been doing since I was a kid, and this is a way to elevate it.

“With the floats, we only use local pop,” Jones says. “We only use Faygo (based in Michigan). We do it all-natural. We use fresh fruit and soak it in water, then use the soda stream to carbonate the water. So it's fruit-flavored soda with half the sugar of a regular soda. That's something different.”

Jones isn't supposed to go into details about the specific challenges that Florence gives them, but there is one that takes place at a minor-league baseball game (the Great Lakes Loons).

“That was a marketing challenge,” Jones says. “We were supposed to go to the game, and you set up a booth, and have to draw customers to the booth. Everything was timed. You just have to draw the most customers in.”

Regardless of the outcome of the show, Jones sees a future for his Chip-n-Wich concept.

“This is going to be a franchise,” he says. “It was from inception designed to be a multiunit restaurant. (‘Food Court Wars') could be the platform that would take us there.”

For more information about Jones and his BBQ sauce (Jones'en Barbecue Sauce), see

Michael Machosky is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at or 412-320-7901.

Subscribe today! Click here for our subscription offers.



Show commenting policy

Most-Read Stories

  1. Kang’s 9th-inning home run gives Pirates wild victory over Twins
  2. Officials identify pregnant woman shot, killed in Brighton Heights
  3. School credit ratings a problem for several in Western Pennsylvania
  4. Rossi: ‘Hockey guy’ Sutter will be missed
  5. Steelers’ Wheaton adjusting his game moving to slot receiver
  6. Steelers RB Le’Veon Bell gets suspension, fine reduced
  7. 5 face trial in beating of black man in Pittsburgh
  8. Pirates notebook: Prospect Tucker unaware of ‘trade’ frenzy
  9. Hempfield cyclist to cool wheels in jail during appeal
  10. ATI workers retire early to ensure pension
  11. Penguins trade Sutter to Canucks, sign free agent center Fehr