Breakfast Beat

Surrounded by Scottsdale Glitz, The Original Pancake House Has Been Slinging Stacks Since 1988

Ron Horton (center) is proud of the business he has built with staff like manager Connie Miller (left) and server Liz Cabrera (right).
Ron Horton (center) is proud of the business he has built with staff like manager Connie Miller (left) and server Liz Cabrera (right). Natasha Yee
Palm trees sway behind an off-white adobe building with teal awnings on Camelback Road, just east of 68th Street. The little diner located near Scottsdale Fashion Square, connected to a Motel 6, has been here since 1988. It's not particularly swanky like the spots that surround it, and one could drive right past without even knowing it was there, disappearing into the glitz and glamour of Old Town Scottsdale.

The Original Pancake House is a humble joint, a place where upholstered booths and speckled tables hold coffee in white porcelain mugs. People sit on wooden stools at the counter to watch chefs plate their short stacks and breakfast burritos.

click to enlarge
The Original Pancake House has served pancakes and eggs in Old Town Scottsdale since 1988.
Natasha Yee
Ron Horton, known as "The Pancake Man" is the one behind the magic. He opened the restaurant, a franchise of a chain spanning 29 states, in 1988. He and his then-wife Nancy Horton, moved to Scottsdale from Illinois four years earlier and he dabbled in other industries before franchising the breakfast spot, working as a commodities broker and going to school for real estate.

Prior to that, he studied philosophy at Milwaukee's Marquette University in the 1960s. The wisdom Horton gleaned seems to have stuck with him.

"You don't just quit when times are tough. That's what measures a person," he says, in his soft-spoken demeanor, sitting in a booth near the host stand.

click to enlarge
The French Crepes are topped with whipped cream and fresh strawberries.
Connie Miller
Horton has an old-school type of grit. He didn't pay himself for two years after he opened the restaurant, making it through a short-lived 1990 recession that only made matters worse. The restaurant industry is not for the faint of heart, he says.

"I don't think most people know what they're getting themselves into. Before you open a restaurant, ask yourself, do you have the stamina to make it through?"

Horton has made it through the last 34 years gracefully. Some of that grit and grace, he says, he learned at his Illinois high school where he was one of only seven Black students in a student body of 3,500. There, he was co-captain of the track team.

"You can make color a differentiating factor if you want to, but I wasn't brought up to feel that way," he says.

Horton joined business and civic groups when he moved to metro Phoenix in 1984 to get the lay of the land, refusing to feel like an outsider.

"I wouldn't want to be anything but Black because I know your struggle will never be as hard as mine," he says. "And in the end, my achievement will be bigger."

Since opening the diner in the late '80s, he has been serving dishes like the Dutch Baby, a descendant of the German pancake that puffs up like a soufflé when baked in a cast-iron skillet inside a hot oven, then falls once it's removed. Topped with powdered sugar and served with whipped butter and lemon, it's one of Horton's favorite dishes alongside the 49'er Flapjacks, plate-sized crepe-like pancakes similar to the ones miners ate during the California Gold Rush in 1849.

click to enlarge
The Dutch Baby is Ron Horton's personal favorite. It puffs up like a souffle in the oven, then falls once it's served.
Connie Miller
The restaurant offers short stacks of their pancakes and "juniors" of some of their specialty items for health-conscious customers.

Restaurants come and go frequently in Scottsdale, but Horton remains at his humble diner alongside manager Connie Miller, who has been there for 17 years.

Prior to working at the Original Pancake House, Miller ran a sub shop in Arcadia with her husband Jim for 25 years. She knows a little something about keeping regulars happy.

click to enlarge
Guests enjoy a hearty breakfast at The Original Pancake House.
Natasha Yee
"I get people's names and I remember them. We have lots of regulars," Miller says, pointing outside to a customer getting off her candy apple red motorcycle. "She rides up here on that thing every day, such a badass! Can you believe that?"

Horton keeps a level of familiarity with customers, stopping to say hello to a family or asking how the food was multiple times throughout our conversation. Amid the high pace and flashiness of Scottsdale, the Original Pancake House is a homey spot to slow down with some pancakes, bacon, French crepes, and sunny-side-up eggs amid friends and family. Horton favors the classic way of doing things.

"For 27 years, I had a sign on the door that said turn your phone off. We were cash only until 2015," he says, pointing to an ATM machine in the corner that now reads, "Out of Order."

click to enlarge
Specials are on the chalkboard and guest thank yous fill the wall.
Natasha Yee
All the tales of years gone by conjure a certain curiosity, but Horton isn't amused with the new line of questioning. "I don't tell my age," he says.

Horton looks around, content with what he has built. He's thinking of what's next, spending time with his five stepchildren and enjoying life without so much hustle.

"I'm going to sell this restaurant one of these days," he says. "But I put so much blood, sweat, and tears into it. I don't know if other people are willing to do all that."

The Original Pancake House

6840 East Camelback Road, Scottsdale
Open Tuesday through Sunday, 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
KEEP PHOENIX NEW TIMES FREE... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Natasha is a dining reporter who loves to explore the Valley’s culinary gems. She has covered cannabis for the New Times, politics for Rolling Stone, and health and border issues for Cronkite News in conjunction with Arizona PBS, where she was one of the voices of the podcast CN2Go.
Contact: Natasha Yee