Country music legend Toby Keith said he "expects great things to happen" at his new bar and grill at Mesa Riverview during the club's official grand opening ceremony Wednesday.
The self-proclaimed "big dog daddy" of country music mingled with fans and received a die-cast model of an Apache attack helicopter from Mayor Scott Smith at the official opening of Toby Keith's I Love This Bar and Grill, 1065 N. Dobson Road.
The real Apaches are built at a Boeing helicopter plant in Mesa.
Smith said Keith's restaurant is the type of attraction that will bring people into Mesa as well as serve the local population.
"This happening is important not just for Mesa but for our entire area," he said.
The bar, inspired by Keith's 2003 hit "I Love This Bar," actually opened in mid-April and has been regularly packed ever since.
Developed by the Capri Restaurant Group, one of Keith's business partners, it is the fourth in the chain. Others are in Las Vegas, Oklahoma City and Kansas City, Mo.
Keith ranked 59th in Forbes magazine's list of the most powerful celebrities in the world, in part because of his business ventures that include the restaurant chain, a clothing line and his own record label. Keith earned $31 million on tour in 2008, the magazine said, and sold more than a million copies of his latest album, "That Don't Make Me a Bad Guy." He has conducted seven United Service Organizations tours for U.S. troops overseas.
He also famously feuded with the Dixie Chicks over President George W. Bush's military policy.
In comments to fans, employees and the press Wednesday, Keith said he was well acquainted with the Apache because he usually gets an Apache escort when he flies to forward bases in the Middle East to give performances for U.S. troops.
"It's cool that's in Mesa," he said of the Apache assembly plant.
Keith said U.S. armed forces personnel will receive free drinks at the Mesa bar if they show their military identification. That's an offering Keith has made at his other locations, and "we're proud to have that here," he said.
Keith said he's happy with the performance of the clubs, especially the one in Las Vegas, which is attached to a Harrah's casino and ranks among the top 75 restaurants in the country.
"These things work," he said, adding that "I can get (customers) in here one time, but the food and the liquor and the whiskey girls have to bring them back."
Keith said he plans to expand the chain further to get more synergies with bands rotating among the various locations.
Keith himself occasionally performs unannounced at his bars and may do so in the future in Mesa, said publicist Elaine Schock.
"You never know. He's done it in Las Vegas. It depends on his mood," she said. "The backup bands usually know his music."