Chow Bella

Modern Steak: Behind the Scenes with Designer Catherine M. Hayes

Just a second -- Catherine Hayes is fluffing the decorative pillows in the outside dining area. She comes here, to Modern Steak, nearly every day.

Hayes and her team at Hayes inc. were behind the architecture and design of the recent addition to the Fox Concepts empire. Hayes' Phoenix-based firm is also responsible for a handful of local hotspots including La Grande Orange Grocery & Pizzeria, Chelsea's Kitchen, Revo Burrito, Delux and Delux 2go.

Sam Fox's vision of a "female-friendly" steakhouse is evident -- the inside of the restaurant looks more like the interior of a Tiffany's jewelry box than a traditional dark, smoky joint where the color of the meat trumps the color of the decorative pillows. Our critic Michele Laudig dished on the menu options last week, but when Hayes offered to give us a design tour of the restaurant, we couldn't resist.

Hayes incorporates furniture, artwork and accents from French, Italian and Moroccan design throughout the restaurant. But more than international influence Hayes notes her desire to create a restaurant that brings people together in the greater Phoenix community.

Two years after the design process began, Modern Steak emerged, complete with detailed-lattice ceilings, a seemingly-organic outdoor awning, and a Dorothy Draper-style dresser next to the ladies restroom, just to name a few details. (Sidenote: Ladies, do check out the restroom.)

"Designing something like this is like having a baby," says Hayes." I tell people, for the first nine (or however many) months, the incubation is taking place in me. And at the end of the process there are apron strings that have to be cut ... I wish there was a way I could be way more objective and less emotional, but in the end I've just decided that this is my way of doing it."

Modern Steak has been described as posh, upscale, stylish and sometimes overdone. While Hayes admits to reading (and rereading) reviews of her work, she says she thinks Phoenix restaurant goers are developing a new mindset: "I think there are more sophisticated restaurant people in this town than there used to be ... people in Phoenix didn't use to be up for this kind of experience."