Stockyards Restaurant restored to old glory - East Valley Tribune: Business

Stockyards Restaurant restored to old glory

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Posted: Saturday, April 9, 2005 7:48 am | Updated: 8:53 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

A little faded since its 1954 debut, the "Face on the Barroom Floor" mural again looms grandly over patrons hoisting Jack Daniels-spiked root beer floats at the 1889 Saloon in The Stockyards Restaurant.

The venerable Valley landmark at 5001 E. Washington St. in Phoenix had been closed for a year while the new owners restored it to its heyday glory.

The former busboys who bought and resuscitated the historic eatery quietly started serving dinner there last week.

They will begin lunch service sometime mid-month, said Tom Lentz, who has been working at The Stockyards since 1986 when he got a busboy job to help fund his education at Arizona State University.

The restaurant, Arizona’s first real steakhouse according to the new owners, dates to 1954.

E. A. Tovrea started his meat-packing operation in 1919 next to the massive stockyards — the world’s largest feed lot operation at the time, Lentz said. In 1947, his son Phillip Tovrea built an office building to house the family business and included a cafe in the plans. The building burned down in 1953, and when Tovrea rebuilt, he included the restaurant that stands today.

For decades The Stockyards Restaurant served up steaks to the cattle barons and the rest of the Valley’s movers and shakers, outlasting the industry that spawned it.

It has been added to the Phoenix Historical Register.

Lentz was general manager of the place in early 2004 when then-owners decided they wanted out of the business.

Mark Wagner and JB Grantham, also ASU students who started bussing tables at The Stockyards in 1989 but went on to other careers after graduating, teamed up with Lentz to buy the old place.

"I was a bar patron and ate a couple of lunches and a couple of dinners here a week," Grantham said. "It was always one of my favorite places. We believe in the history and want to keep it going."

The trio would not say how much it cost. Or how much they spent to fix it up.

After 50 years, the restaurant was still a favorite among the long-lunch bunch, but the decor had become worn and tired, Wagner said.

The three saved the best of the 1880s era look — the hammered-tin ceilings, the stained-glass room divider in the dining room, the rich, black-leather booths, even the yellowed photos of the prominent cattlemen that line the walls of the foyer.

And just about everything in the saloon — the crystal chandelier, the terrazzo floors, the song-themed, handpainted murals and the massive, 30-foot long, intricately carved, cherry mahogany bar.

"They had to build the bar on site," Grantham said.

In the main dining room, they removed chunks of walls to open up two smaller rooms into one big one, added hardwood tables and classy china and glassware.

The Rose Room, a smaller dining room named for its pink leather booths, isn’t completely finished its makeover. The old crystal chandeliers still need to be restored.

Most of the fix-up budget went into the all-new, state-ofthe-art kitchen, Wagner said.

What comes out of it is a mixture of classic Stockyards favorites — prime rib, aged steaks, calf fries — and what the owners label "new west" cuisine — prickly pear butter, blue - cornmeal encrusted trout, duck enchiladas.

"We kept the original steaks and added flair with the sauces and sides," Wagner said.

In the bar, the locally brewed root beer floats are a big favorite, Lentz said.

But the place itself, maybe even more than the food, is the big draw for the locals that have been salivating for a year waiting for the reopening, he said.

"There is probably more Arizona history on this site than just about any place in Maricopa County," Lentz said.

"And there is not a better bar in town," Wagner added.

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