Michael O'Dowd, the chef responsible for turning Kai into a culinary destination with national recognition, is setting his sights on another challenge: starting his own business.
O'Dowd, who's currently the executive chef of the Sheraton Phoenix Downtown (a sister property of Kai) will leave his position at the end of the month after starting at the hotel in October 2012. (O'Dowd was with Kai, the restaurant serving Native American cuisine inside the Sheraton Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa, for 10 years.)
His new business, called Vivid Lifestyle Concepts (VLC), which he'll operate with partner Ed Leclere, a former promotions director at Chester's Harley-Davidson in Mesa, will be O'Dowd's first foray into being a restaurateur.
And O'Dowd tells me VLC's first restaurant, Renegade Tap & Kitchen in North Scottsdale, will act as a "base camp" with more concepts to come.
"I can do what I want to do now," O'Dowd says. "There are no boundaries."
O'Dowd tells me he plans to re-launch Renegade Tap & Kitchen (the former home of chefs Robert McGrath and Aaron May) with the same name, but as a brand new concept and with a possible new tag line.
"It's a nice place, but almost too nice," O'Dowd says. "I want it to be more comfortable and I want the food to reflect more of a connection -- with farmers, the earth, people, and the arts. It's going to be a reflection of the things I enjoy."
And although O'Dowd, who plans to launch Renegade's new concept at the end of May (he'll also be its chef), is tight-lipped about specifics he does say this: "It won't be Kai."
O'Dowd adds that in addition to Renegade, his new company also has two or three more projects already in the works, and that as a restaurateur, he hopes to differentiate his business from others in the Valley by bringing everyone in on the vision.
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"This restaurant is a brand, I'm a brand, everyone is a brand," he explains. "When you're in my kitchen, you won't just cook and go home. You're going to learn."
Of his new restaurateur title and it's responsibilities, O'Dowd says he welcomes the opportunity and enjoys the pressure.
"I was told Kai would never work," he says. "If I don't make a difference in my food, than I'm not doing my job."