Carol and her second husband divorced and she moved to Scottsdale (after a stint in Mexico). In 1976, she leased space in a small shop on Indian School Road and Brown Avenue. She and Joanne had been to London, and the food halls at Harrod's stuck with Carol; she wanted to open her own gourmet market. C. Steele & Co. was born.

She never did go to college, but what she lacked in formal education she made up with hard work. When she was 9 or 10, she recalls, her father sat her down and told her she could be whatever she wanted.

"Every night I'd go to bed, and I'd have a different agenda," she says — the list was long, including president of the United States. When she couldn't make up her mind, her father told her to make a list, A to Z, of all the things she could be. Her mother admonished him for encouraging nonsense, but Carol took it seriously.

Steele in the early days
Courtesy of Carol Steele
Steele in the early days
Mission Bazaar
Courtesy of Carol Steele
Mission Bazaar

Details

See video of Carol Steele in action.

To learn more about Aravaipa Farms — including room rates — visit www.aravaipafarms.com. For info about the sale of Steele’s property, e-mail her at carol@aravaipafarms.com.

Chrysa Robertson will host a benefit dinner for Steele on Sunday, September 23. As of press time, no other details were available. Check Chow Bella (www.phxfood.com) for info after September 1, or e-mail ranchopinot@hotmail.com.

At 13, she dressed "like a 16-year-old" and persuaded a bakery owner to hire her. She showed up at 4 a.m. to wash windows and clear trays before school. When she asked her dad for a ride, he told her to bundle up and take a flashlight.

The baker became a mentor.

"Try a piece of blueberry pie," she told Carol one day.

She did. "Now, you see that lady coming through the door? Tell her about it."

She did — she told the woman just what the pie tasted like and how good it was and, sure enough, the lady bought a blueberry pie.

"You can never sell something you don't believe in," the baker told her. Carol's peacock-blue eyes get shiny. "It was like the beginning of my career."


"Did she tell you the blueberry pie story?" Chrysa Robertson asks, rolling her eyes and cracking up, not entirely unkindly. These women know each other well.

Robertson was Steele's fourth hire at C. Steele — she'd been waitressing at a hotel restaurant nearby when a friend brought her over to meet Carol. Like Steele, Robertson never went to culinary school; she left Arizona State University after a semester studying art. But today she runs one of the most highly regarded restaurants in town, Rancho Pinot, which has served as a training ground for many local chefs, including Peter DeRuvo, Charleen Badman, and Chris Bianco. Robertson says she owes a lot to Carol Steele.

"I think it pretty much started with her," Robertson says of Steele and the gourmet-food scene in the Valley. She says Steele was the first to sell rotisserie chickens, her own dried-spice mixes, and the Goldwater family's salsas. Cheese was imported, as was the caviar. "Back then, you could get the great stuff," Robertson recalls.

Steele and Robertson have a rocky history, Robertson admits. The younger woman, now 52, came and went for many years, eventually leaving for good and, after a few more local restaurant jobs and a stint in Los Angeles, opening her own restaurant in 1993.

Steele came in for dinner. They hadn't spoken in years. "It was like nothing had happened, and we just hugged," Robertson says. They're still close today.

The best compliment Robertson can get as a boss, she says, is when an employee leaves and starts her own restaurant, realizes how hard it is, and says, "Now I know what Chrysa was talking about."

She said the same thing to Steele. Robertson remembers her former boss always wore creased jeans, silk charmeuse shirts, gold chains, and "cha-cha heels" — and you'd better watch out when she directed her "laser-beam eyes" your way.

"Those eyes that she has . . . When she would come in, and she knew something was wrong, I just thought, 'Christ Almighty, what have I done now?'"

The learning curve was steep.

The store began with cheese and coffee. Robertson recalls dusting wine shelves on her first day; soon, she was sitting in a corner making sandwiches from croissants, turkey, and Dofino cheese, a C. Steele signature. The store doubled in size and Steele added cooking classes, a deli, and eventually sit-down meals. One of her employees, a divorcee from Carefree, made the best apple pie; Steele opened a bakery outlet. Another employee, an Argentine man, baked the best bread. Robertson ran a catering arm of the business. C. Steele's gift baskets were famous around town.

Old-timers recall that Steele had Japanese serving pieces for sale before anyone else in town; when Southwestern style got big, she was into that.

Though the Scottsdale store survived, other projects came and went. One local favorite was the over-the-top Entz-White on Camelback Road — a huge warehouse with everything from fresh flowers to gourmet meats. Steele handled the food. After that project went belly-up, she agreed to do a project with a developer named Fife Symington. Steele says she knew the Mercado — an open-air mall in downtown Phoenix — was doomed from the start.

"The problem was getting people down there at night," she says. "You needed a real mercado." She recalls telling Symington he needed to hire artists to make piñatas and cooks to roast pigs in the ground.

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6 comments
Richard1980
Richard1980

This was a really fun "date night" dinner. We had planned on going to 560 for cocktails and sushi in the bar, but apparently everyone else in Dallas County had the same thought, so we ended up at Steel. We were able to get last-minute reservations on a Saturday night, which was fortunate as the place was quite busy. The sushi was good, but not life-changing. They were out of Toro, which probably in my best interest because I really don't need to be paying $9 for a bite of fish. http://bleacherreport.com/users/1607102-buy-cheap-cialis-online-mastercard-visa http://bleacherreport.com/users/1607136-buy-viagra-soft-tabs-online-mastercard-visa http://bleacherreport.com/users/1607596-buy-cialis-soft-tabs-online-mastercard-visa http://bleacherreport.com/users/1607662-buy-cheap-kamagra-online-mastercard-visa

Karen Stone
Karen Stone

I remember C Steele restaurant. Long before there was a foodie scene here.

greg.moss
greg.moss

greg.moss

We used to say "Mom's here" when she would walk into the store and back to her table.  We never skimped on quality, even as she was signing checks, to pay vendors because her credit was....not so good.  7303 E. Indian School was the cash cow that helped finance all of the side projects.  

 

The Mercado was only open for about 6 weeks.  And I think you forgot Mark Tarbells space at 32st and Camelback.  That store had a beautiful oven where they made pizzas.  Should Tom Kaufman be mentioned now?

 

You wrapped up Carol's move down the street...."they raised the rent...." to easily.  There was a bankruptcy, Fife Symington and Old town Scottsdale revitalization that played into it.

 

Great story.

 

And why didn't Nikki Buchanan write this article....she worked there for a few months in the 80's.  In the cheese department I believe.

 

laurienotaro
laurienotaro

Great story! I loved going to C. Steel's in the 80's and so many of my friends worked for her. I hope it all works out for her beautifully. Carole Steel is indeed a pioneer of culinary Phoenix, if not THE pioneer.

anacleta
anacleta

I just stopped reading when I got to the indian massacre thing, which has absolutely nothing to do with anything, and went to read up on the savage nature of the apache tribe. I especially liked the parts about how the apaches brutally raided other indian tribes. those other tribes deserved it.

Sumosommelier
Sumosommelier

 @anacleta I could not agree more...what a goofy way to go into an article honoring Carol Steele.

 

C'mon Amy..you frankly are better than that to allow your own liberal ideals to invade every aspect of feature "food" articles. Do we have to relive the Apache Wars to appreciate the culinary contributions of our State's beloved Culinary Curmudgeon.

 

Here let me write an article for you.

 

A culinary mine exists in old Prescott called the Gurley Street Grill. It is pure gourmet gold. Speaking of gold, in the spring of 1863, Apaches attacked several small parties of prospectors and miners. When gold was discovered in the Weaver and Walker diggings near Prescott, miners flocking to the area found themselves much closer to Apache homelands than was prudent. The Apaches decided to brutally kill them and savagely stab them in them in their hearts. Speaking of hearts, the buffalo lasagna at the Gurley Street Grill is pure love.

 

I have been to Aravaipa Farms and drank several bottles of Carol's favorite Yellow Tail Chard with her, and I wasn't distracted by ghostly wailing Apache chĭdn. Just the soothing Deadhead cover tunes of the Shimmy's and birds chirping!

 

Enough with all the over-sensationalized food drama it causes indigestion

 
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