The Big Ass Burger saved Scottsdale restaurant Roaring Fork from diner disinterest and the brand’s likely demise, said co-owner Guy Villavaso. Now the popular eatery is on the fast track to whet lots more appetites.
Villavaso and partner Larry Foles are pushing their upscale seafood specialty restaurants Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille and Wildfish Seafood Grille into new markets and taking Roaring Fork along for the ride.
The entrepreneurs have seven locations now, three Eddie V’s and two each of Wildfish and Roaring Fork. The plan is to more than double that in the next three years, Villavaso said.
Upscale DMB residential-office-retail project One Scottsdale gets the city’s second Roaring Fork, Villavaso said, but seven more restaurants on his to-do list will go out of state.
Eddie V’s, which debuted in Austin, Texas, in 1998, and Wildfish, which opened in 2005 in ultra-upscale Newport Beach, Calif., are the stars of the plan, Villavaso said.
Roaring Fork, which Villavaso, Foles and Robert Mc-Grath, the James Beard “Best Chef: Southwest,” opened in 1997, is still a work in progress, he said.
The small American Western cuisine bistro, aimed at a “boutiquey niche,” languished in its original spot on Camelback Road just east of Scottsdale Road, Villavaso said.
“It just never really took off,” he said. “Then we came up with the Big Ass Burger, and it turned happy hour around. For the first time, it was a place full of fun and energy.”
Full of diners, too. So many that Roaring Fork moved to a bigger location at Portales, Scottsdale and Chaparral roads. “And in the first year, sales doubled,” Villavaso said.
But Villavaso and Foles recently bought out McGrath’s interest, and the pair plan to tinker with Roaring Fork as they grow the brand. “Eddie V’s and Wildfish are proven home runs,” Villavaso said. “Roaring Fork is still under the hood. When you lose Robert McGrath, you lose a lot of the identity — the face of the business. Now we’re ready to build in new components.”
The Eddie V’s partners co-founded another popular Austin-and-Scottsdale-based chain, Z Tejas, in the late 1980s, and sold their interest.
But they were persuaded to jump back in and fix it when the brand faltered, Villavaso said.
Villavaso said when the new owners tried to scatter Z Tejas restaurants around the country, it was tough to market the chain.
He and Foles won’t make that mistake, he said.
The restaurateurs have mostly concentrated their locations in Austin and Scottsdale.
They plan to do the same in new markets, opening the concepts in each metro area, sometimes more than one of each.
It makes it easier to market and to get the best food, goods and services, Villavaso said.
“We think it’s important to geographically tighten jumps (between restaurants),” he said.
While Roaring Fork is set for One Scottsdale, Eddie V’s has been a big hit at developer DMB’s Market Street district in pricey north Scottsdale residential community DC Ranch, said Robert Mayhew, DMB vice president.
“Since Market Street’s opening in 2002, Eddie V’s Edgewater Grille has been an integral part of the dining experience,” Mayhew said. “The unique concept adds (to) our broad tenant mix and offers our visitors an elegant dining destination.”