By Annika Tomlin | May 10, 2021
The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen opened in October 2020, several months after being conceptualized by 10 owners and 12 investors. The owners and investors decided upon a low-risk investment approach, and so far, it has paid off.
“It takes a lot of work to do what was accomplished with renovation of the building, especially the inside; we didn’t do much to the outside,” says Jim Ebel, one of the owners and investors.
“Took a lot of careful watching over expenses, and we did hire some really good contractors and designer and interior decorator who were just happy to do this project, not on the cheap or anything — just did a great job for the cost.”
Fellow owner and investor Jim Prendergast adds, “I’ve always read and learned that you have three times more likely chance of success if you open it in a down market than you do in a high, booming economy. One of those reasons is because you do things differently — you do things frugally.
“Really, it’s about getting a whole bunch of people that we knew, getting friends in the industry and saying we don’t really want to throw millions at this. This is an uncertain time with an uncertain economic future going forward, but if we can do it right and if you can do it at this price, we are in. At the end of the day, we had a lot of takers.”
While the restaurant’s concept began prior to the pandemic, the opening was continually pushed back due to COVID-19 regulations halting renovations and setting back the opening date.
“It was certainly our intention to buy as much time as we could before we had to open, but we did know we needed to get open in the fall,” Prendergast says.
“If for nothing else we needed to show who we were, even if we were still under some sort of occupancy restrictions. If we were not open in the fall, we can show who we are, what we are, and we could be there in the spring as things get better and better into 2021 and 2022.”
After knowing The Craftsman executive chef Chris Nicosia for about 18 years, Ebel spoke with him about creating a new restaurant with Nicosia at the helm.
“We wouldn’t have started this restaurant or gone into it — I don’t think any of us would have — unless Chris was going to be our chef,” Ebel says. “He was a critical element to making this thing happen.”
Prendergast was not “looking to go out and do anything like this. As a matter of fact, I had probably sworn off more restaurants.
“When Jim came to me and threw around the idea around the opportunity of bringing our long and historic experience in the restaurant side of things and marrying that with a chef who we both knew, who came available — he’s a hall of famer here in Arizona and someone who we thought had the unique concept, but I know unique ideas.
“We can’t really create new food products, but we can create new ways that the same kind of food can be delivered. What Chris pitched to us was very creative and very unique. It was American food that I particularly like more than the rest and done in a way that is unique with good-sized portions.”
When it came time to choosing the name of the restaurant, “that originated from my dad,” Ebel says.
Victor Ebel was a dairy farmer who retired from a farm and, for 10 years, made furniture and other items from wood.
“When he did pass away at the age of 93, I had to put on his tombstone ‘a craftsman,’” Ebel says. Ebel’s sons also own restaurants in Chicago that carry the same name Craftsman.
“We thought this would be a good name for this particular restaurant. We are trying to follow through with food and materials that identify with the word ‘craftsman.’”
Both owners have a list of favorite menu items that incorporate the American style of food that have a craftsman twist.
One of Prendergast’s favorites is the rancher’s pork sandwich ($16) with roasted pork shoulder, Craftsman sausage, sauteed rapini, snowy cheddar, herb aioli and house bread.
“Every time we go in, the staff already knows Jim is going to get the chips ($10) and the chicken lollipops (three for $10/6 for $18), and if I want an entree, I usually get the Volcano Pork ($34),” Prendergast says.
“You just can’t beat the Volcano Pork from an entree perspective. It’s the first thing I tell everyone to try if they go there for dinner.”
Ebel enjoys the scallop toast ($10) with a diver scallop spread, focaccia toast and bacon corn dipping sauce.
“(One of my favorites is) what Chris calls Fresh and Chips ($24), which is fish and chips, but he uses the freshest fish every day that he has ordered,” Ebel says. “For starters, his meatballs ($12) are terrific. They’re the same meatballs he made at Sassi, but they’ve always been just outstanding. He has a large following because of the meatballs, honestly.”
Another element that adds to the “polished casual” menu, according to Ebel, is the liquor wine and beer made specifically for The Craftsman.
“Part of my interest (in this venture is because) I was putting together a wine label and I was interested in doing some spirits and stuff and that was something that they had pitched was doing our own spirits,” Prendergast says. “I was really eager and anxious to get involved in that and be able to taste them.
“I just love our bourbon,” he says. “That was part of the deal, that we were going to do our own spirits, our own wine, our own beers and stuff like that. To me that’s a really big part of the Craftsman pitch — craft spirits, craft food.”
The spirits and other drink choices are available for sale and can be brought home.
Cocktails available in-house include Turning Violet ($11) made with Craftsman gin/Rothman, winter violette, lemon juice and JP Chenet, and Craftsman Crush ($13) made with Craftsman citrus vodka, merlet strawberry, simple syrup, lemon juice and mint.
“I would say that we are high end but not high priced,” Ebel says.
The Craftsman Cocktails and Kitchen
20469 N. Hayden Road, Scottsdale