"He didn't listen to me."

That one failed spectacularly. And by 1990, the economic downtown had hit Scottsdale. Steele's landlord raised her rent, and she was out. She quickly found a backer and turned an old church on Indian School Road into Mission Bazaar, another fabulous space with plants, housewares, hand-painted furniture, and gourmet food for sale. After six months, her backer showed her the door, saying they could do it themselves; they lasted another three weeks.

Her last project in the Valley was developing a restaurant at The Farm at South Mountain. "He didn't want a sign," she says of her boss. "I thought, 'That's going to be an interesting proposition.'" But Steele hired her favorite apple-pie baker, designed salads, had 30-pound organic turkeys brought in from Dewey.

A collection
Jamie Peachey
A collection
Wares for sale today at Aravaipa Farms
Claire Lawton
Wares for sale today at Aravaipa Farms


See video of Carol Steele in action.

To learn more about Aravaipa Farms ‚ÄĒ including room rates ‚ÄĒ visit www.aravaipafarms.com. For info about the sale of Steele‚Äôs 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.

And people came to sit under the big trees in a rural setting a few miles from downtown. Steele poured iced tea and listened to doctors and lawyers talk about how much they enjoyed it, and when things fell apart at this gig, she got an idea.

Steele called a real estate agent and said, "I'd like to buy a hunk of country .  . . as far away from civilization as possible."

She heard about a fruit farm for sale, including two casitas — one with no roof and another with no floor. The only decent structure on the property was a barn.

She credits Lazaro Cervantes — a local man she met when she first arrived at the farm — with getting her up and running and keeping her going all these years. Every bit of flagstone and every fireplace and rock wall are his doing. And he keeps the tractors running. But the vision is pure Carol Steele. She's totally self-taught, she says, thanks to a giant collection of cookbooks. "When I read a cookbook, I can taste it as I read it."

Carol was 59 when she bought Aravaipa Farms; her father had passed away and her mother was 88. She told her about her idea.

"She says, 'Without a doubt you are certifiably insane,'" Carol recalls. Her mother asked if she ever had run a farm? No. had she ever remodeled anything? No. "'How are you going to get anybody to come there?'"

"I'll figure it out," she told her.

"Mom said, 'I knew your father never should have encouraged you along the way.'"

Carol's mother lived long enough to see Aravaipa Farms become a success.

The picnic basket is empty, iced teas are drained. Steele has been talking for hours. And she's done — literally.

"The end of the story," she says, "is that it is time for me to retire. I'm going to sell it."

In fact, Steele's been talking for months (at least) about selling Aravaipa Farms. And now it's officially on the market. There are a number of options — you could buy the mountain behind the farm or the house Carol's son once lived in or the orchards or the casitas or pretty much the entire property. Steele says she'll keep a spot for herself. But the bed and breakfast, the canning, the dinners — she'll likely be done soon. Times are tight. She can't afford to keep going. And she's getting tired.

No time to dwell on that now; the guests are starting to gather on the porch, looking for wine.

"Do you have a computer?" an older man from Iowa asks Steele.

"I don't touch it," she replies. (She means it; her stepdaughter Sheryl, who lives in Maricopa, fields all e-mails sent to Steele and the farm and reads them aloud to Carol on the phone.)

"Can I touch it?" the man asks. He needs to print a boarding pass. Steele shrugs and motions toward the living room. He disappears, grumbling something about no cell phone service.

Steele wouldn't have it any other way. She does watch television and has a phone, but otherwise keeps it simple. The prominently placed Obama bumper sticker on her pickup truck sends a big hint, she says, but doesn't necessarily prevent dissent around the dinner table.

Tonight, there's a couple celebrating a wedding anniversary, so Steele's prepared their favorite, carrot cake. The meal is simple, as is the wine, but everything flows, including the conversation, and everyone raves over the sauce on the fish.

Carol Steele has been gone from the Valley for years, but in a lot of ways, her influence still is felt. And now that she needs help, her old friends are there.

Steele left Phoenix in the early '90s, just as the local food movement really started to take off. Chrysa Robertson started Rancho Pinot, and a year later, her employee, Chris Bianco, took over his lease, starting his first pizza restaurant. Bianco moved to Phoenix in 1986 and remembers C. Steele & Co., particularly the baskets hanging from the ceiling.

"Someone like Carol was important and continues to be important," he says, adding that both Steele and Robertson have "buttery hearts. In a beautiful way, I'm afraid of her, a little bit," he says of Carol, whom he's gotten to know during vacations at Aravaipa Farms.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help

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.



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.



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.


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.


 @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 chń≠dn. Just the soothing Deadhead cover tunes of the Shimmy's and birds chirping!


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