With Help From His New Partners, Julian Wright Is Taking Over Mill Avenue: Revitalizing Robbie Fox, Re-Opening Canteen as El Hefe Super-Macho Taqueria and Opening a Tiny New Speakeasy Called Nickel
You really do have to wonder if Mill Avenue mogul Julian Wright (who owns La Bocca Urban Pizzeria, Canteen Modern Tequila and The Handlebar on that street) ever sleeps. The restaurateur and CEO of Fork & Dagger Restaurant Group just opened Gringo Star Street Bar (also on Mill) not much more than two weeks ago, and earlier this spring, he debuted Modern Margarita in CityNorth.
And already, he has three more ideas for turning Tempe's main drag into the Wright Stuff. Here's how he plans to stay busy for the next few months.
Robbie Fox Public House exterior
Courtesy of Juilian Wright
Project One: A few weeks ago (right around the time he was opening Gringo Star, in fact), Wright and his new 50-50 partners Ryan Hibbert, John Wright and Mike Troyan (who own El Hefe Super Macho Taqueria in Scottsdale) bought Robbie Fox's Public House, which they plan to revitalize.
Wright says he and his partners plan to "breathe new life" into Robbie Fox -- ironically, by taking it back to its original concept: an Irish pub. The first order of business? Scrap the DJ's for Irish bands. In fact, a band has been booked for this coming Saturday.
Meanwhile, the large menu (which, Wright says, was becoming more and more watered down from its original Irish inflection), will be reduced, featuring half Irish specialties and half American dishes. Recipes, he says, will also be tweaked for improvement.
He promises a nice brunch down the road and he's toying around with the idea of adding games as "something to keep people occupied." He says he and his partners will also do some renovating, possibly adding garage doors and opening up the small, seldom used front room. We're going to "throw more love" into the concept, Wright says, adding that they hope to roll out many of their ideas this very week.
Future home to Nickel, a speakeasy
Courtesy of Julian Wright
Project Two: When Wright learned that the El Hefe boys were looking (to no avail) for the right space to open an El Hefe on Mill, he figured "if you can't lick 'em, join 'em" and invited them to partner with him on the space that currently houses his own Canteen Modern Tequila Bar. Canteen will close mid-July and re-open late September as El Hefe Super-Macho Taqueria, which Wright says will actually be a hybrid of the two restaurants. They want to keep the business clientele Wright had already earned at Canteen and to that end, they'll keep the vibe slightly more sophisticated, pouring over a million bucks into remodeling the space. If all goes well with the city, we can expect an expanded front patio as well as a whole other bar near the front entry, which will be re-configured. There will be new furniture throughout and cabanas on the back patio as well.
Project Three: A month from now -- on July 3, to be exact -- Wright plans to have Nickel, a 1,000-square-foot speakeasy, rocking and rolling. Wedged between Gringo Star and the Valley Art, this venture (his own, without partners) will focus on live music (much of it acoustic, given the size of the venue), mixology and a 15-item menu with a decidedly Southern accent.
Wright plans to decorate around the historic building, bringing in antique furniture and custom lighting.
And here's some great news: Wright recently hired Mark Dow to be his corporate chef. Dow, who most recently worked at The Mint and before that at Aaron May's Iruña, has a great pedigree. He worked under Douglas Rodriguez as chef de cuisine at Deseo back in the early days, so he brings some chops to the table.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Phoenix dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.