In a case of one Valley legend aiding another, Christopher Gross, the James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Christopher's and Crush Lounge in Central Phoenix, is helping to overhaul the Wrigley Mansion, the 1930s-vintage manse that overlooks the area surrounding the Arizona Biltmore.
"We're going through everything top to bottom," Gross tells me, "from the back of the house to the office to the staff to the menu -- even the computer systems and software."
No secret to Valley residents, Wrigley Mansion has not been a destination dining spot for years, depending mostly on the banquet business to show off its vintage digs and scenic views. So, two years ago, Gross and girlfriend Jamie Hormel, owner of the Wrigley and widow of Geordie Hormel, an heir to the Hormel meat-packing empire, decided to focus on a mansion revamp.
Who best to lead the charge as the new CEO? None other than Paola Embry, Gross' ex-wife and partner at Christopher's and Crush Lounge.
With a focus on Geordie's, the restaurant and lounge inside Wrigley Mansion, Gross tells me the goal is to showcase the eatery by offering an approachable menu and flavorful wines that will be priced at or below retail.
"We're going to do things like make the bread on-site," Gross says. "And the wine list won't be as big or as varied as Christopher's, but it will be nice, mostly from California, and we'd like to expand it in time."
The Wrigley also seems to be enjoying the benefits of Gross' team, current and former. Chad Bolar, Gross' former chef de cuisine at Christopher's, is the executive chef, Ben Sinon is doing double duty as the food and beverage manager at both locations, and Paola Embry has been the CEO of the Wrigley Mansion for almost a year, in addition to running Crush and Christopher's.
"The Wrigley takes a break in the summer, so we hired some of their servers to work at my place for a while," Gross adds.
Along with a re-organized kitchen and a new wine cellar, Gross tells me the overhaul also included throwing out a lot of junk, utilizing found treasures like stemware, finding savings in the little things, and making better use of the space the mansion has to offer.
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"There are wonderful places in the courtyard that would truly make you feel you were the only ones there," Gross says. "We're also considering doing dinner and a movie when the weather gets nicer."
Gross tells me many of the changes are already in place, and that the new menu as well as a brunch will happen in October.