To hear John Schrowang tell the story of how he landed on the path that he’s been following for most of his life, the passionate restauranteur started in the industry practically as a baby. Though maybe not quite literally. At 18 years old, Schrowang began working at Steak and Ale, where he spent the next five years while he worked his way through college at FSU. It was then that he tapped into the very thing that would keep him steadfastly focused on the restaurant industry as a career: his love for people and giving them an experience to remember.
Schrowang’s drive took him up the ladder to management—first, with Steak and Ale, and later with Applebee’s after moving back to his hometown of Tallahassee to marry his high school sweetheart, Melanie. After five years with Applebee’s, the blessing of triplet boys made John realize that he needed to up his game. His hard work recognized, he was awarded proprietorship of the Outback Steakhouse in Tallahassee, where he stayed until 2006. During those 11 years at Outback, John had the seeds of a dream planted—along with the addition of a baby girl brought to the nest—and, soon enough, they came to fruition.
“I had this dream for an upscale pizza concept, but I didn’t have a name for it,” Schrowang recalls. “Just a vision. Fresh food, great atmosphere, with service to match.”
Months later, with much assistance and care in creating his vision, the first restaurant opened —and it had a name. Called The Red Elephant as an homage to a beloved stuffed animal from childhood, that simple toy is iconic to the company in a way, an embodiment of the way that Schrowang wants all of his guests to feel each and every time they come in for a meal. “We hope you get a feeling of warmth, welcome, and goodness when you come into our restaurant,” he says. Each restaurant has a modified version of the original stuffed red elephant in a shadowbox in the lobby, serving as a reminder of its namesake.
At its heart, the concept for Red Elephant is simple: high quality, scratch-made food and great service in a casual setting. Within their two locations, their standard of excellence is unremitting, something which Schrowang instills in his staff at each restaurant bearing the name. “We try every day to go the extra mile, even as far as only using Hellman’s mayonnaise for our ranch dressing,” explains Schrowang. “We take our food seriously, and each plate is checked by a manager for quality before it is served to the guest.”
Serving a varied menu that offers something for any craving, Red Elephant is known, of course, for their pizzas. “Our morning crew spends hours preparing everything from scratch, from the pizza dough and sauce to freshly grating all the cheeses,” says Schrowang. Clearly, the pizzas are a labor of love—as are all of the other dishes created in the kitchen, from their salads and grilled veggies to their burgers, sandwiches, appetizers, and desserts. Even their dressings are made from scratch. Best sellers include their pizza and salad lunch special, Pasta Yaya, Blackened Chicken Pasta, and Rebecca’s Salad.
As much as “quality” is a buzzword at Red Elephant, being unique is just as much a priority. And, while the restaurant obviously accomplishes that objective with their uniquely inspired name and that ubiquitous red elephant keeping watch over the lobby, the artwork on the walls—different to each location—is also a feature that makes them stand out from the typical pizza joint. Created by Southern folk artist John “Cornbread” Anderson, the paintings add another layer of flavor to an already delicious experience.
“The Red Elephant passes the vibe check when it comes to a fun dinner night out with the kids!” says Tallahassee Foodies founder Jennifer Leale. “I love that their menu is family-friendly for adults, too.”
Agrees fellow Tallahassee Foodie Barby Moro: “We recently had a baby and are managing our schedules (read: delirium) as best as we can while also timing school for our five year-old and food pick-ups. We have so much love for The Red Elephant for not only keeping their curbside services post-pandemic re-openings, but also executing it so well. Every. Time. The food is always packaged really well to go and is always as ordered and delicious. We like places that have something for everyone, including healthy-ish options and vegetarian.”
Celebrating their 16th year in business, Red Elephant is a company that has proven its concept of uniqueness, quality, and family atmosphere. Built on Schrowang’s vision and passion, combined with the support of his family and an incredible team, the brand has become synonymous with good food and good times that, like an elephant, you’ll never forget.