”Crazy Ed” Chilleen and his wife, Maria, opened the Satisfied Frog in Cave Creek more than a quarter-century ago.
The Chilleens’ restaurant was about as iconic to the real cowboy desert town as you could conger up — hearty ribs, beverages served in Mason jars, sawdust on the floor, free serve-yourself popcorn and freshly brewed beer with a chili pepper in it.
But the economic downturn and tourism tumble that began in 2000 and sped up after the 2001 terrorist attacks proved to be a disaster for the Chilleens and their by-then world-famous eatery.
They sunk deeper and deeper into debt, eventually accumulating as much as $500,000 in financial obligations to various creditors and attracting a significant number of liens, said landlord Marc Peagler, who took over the operation Feb. 15.
Peagler said he saved the restaurant, which was doomed by the Chilleens’ rising debt.
“We are keeping it open and will bring it back to the standards it once had, when it was fun, when it was good,” Peagler said.
Maria Chilleen sees it differently. She acknowledges the mounting debt, but said they were working on resolving it.
“They took the buildings away from us and the name,” she said. “After 25 years what they did was just not right. They left us with nothing.”
Except for the chili beer. The small microbrewery in the restaurant long ago became too small for the spicy brew’s international demand, she said.
The company contracts with other breweries to produce Crazy Ed’s famous beverage.
Last week, the Chilleens shipped 700 cases of the stuff to Russia, Maria Chilleen said. It is sold throughout the United States, and in Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, she said.
But the Chilleens also want the name back, she said. They are suing Peagler to retain the Satisfied Frog moniker and slap it on their son’s restaurant in Black Canyon City, she said.
Peagler said he’ll “let the lawyers sort it out.”
Other Cave Creek business owners, such as Bart Krasson, who owns Indian Village, a gift, jewelry and Mexican food shop, are torn by recent events.
“I love Maria and Ed. They inspired me,” Krasson said. But he said keeping the Satisfied Frog cooking is critical to the small businesses that depend on the restaurant to persuade tourists and even metro area residents to come to Cave Creek.
“I don’t ever want to see the Frog gone,” Krasson said. “Us little guys need them. I need them. I can’t tell you how many people stop in my shop and ask where it is.”