I'm feeling a bit sad and nostalgic this week after reporting that Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery will be closing its doors Saturday, June 25 after serving the Ahwatukee Foothills area since 1999.
You see, it's not just another story for me, it's a personal thing. I once went over to what we journalist like to call "The Dark Side," and worked in the public relations industry for many years. I was so excited when this cool new restaurant and brewery wanted to hire my agency to do PR for its latest location in the up and coming Interstate 10 corridor booming between Ahwatukee Foothills and Chandler.
Then when I learned that not only did Rock Bottom brew its own beer, they also brewed their own root beer, I was instantly sold on the idea of becoming the restaurant's local spokesperson.
I spent last night looking over the old press packet I put together on March 17, 1999, introducing Ahwatukee to "a high-energy, contemporary brewery restaurant with an ambiance of warm woods and comfortable and stylish design elements conducive to ‘neighborhood' dining."
We stressed the Rock Bottom philosophy of "lagniappe" in the company's service style, which means "that extra something special that is all the sweeter because it is unexpected."
Then five years ago I came to work for the Ahwatukee Foothills News and we used to have lunch and host company parties at the "neighborhood" restaurant. Yes, I am a card-carrying "Mug Club" member!
Things started to noticeably change last fall after CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc., parent company of Old Chicago Restaurants, Gordon Biersch Brewery and Restaurant and Specialty Brands, took over Rock Bottom . The menu changed a lot and there seemed to be fewer employees to provide the same fast and friendly service we had come to expect from our "neighborhood" restaurant and brewery.
I went in for what will be my last visit to the restaurant earlier this week and tried to find out more details about why our beloved Ahwatukee Rock Bottom was closing this weekend. Manager Justin Mosley told me that "corporate" has asked all employees not to talk with media and that although he would be leaving the company after Saturday's closure, he wanted to respect their wishes.
So I talked with my nice waitress, a graduate of Ahwatukee's Desert Vista High School, who asked me not to use her name for the same reasons Mosley gave me.
I asked her how she felt about the closing after working at the restaurant for almost two years.
"It sucks, I'm not ready to leave," she said. "The company would have transferred me to Gordon Biersch but I just didn't want to work on Mill Avenue and the SanTan Village location in Gilbert is too far for me to drive so I got another job at the new Grimaldi's pizzeria opening up next month across the highway (in the Casa Paloma strip mall)."
She told me that due to the merger with Gordon Biersch, Rock Bottom had been under new ownership and that those owners just decided to not renew its lease on the building.
When I inquired with "corporate," I received the following email on Monday from Lindsay Killian, marketing coordinator with CraftWorks Restaurants and Breweries, Inc., owners of Rock Bottom and Gordon Biersch: "It is with a heavy heart that we inform you Rock Bottom Restaurant & Brewery in Phoenix will be closing their doors. It was only after much consideration that the company made this difficult decision to permanently close the doors after over 12 years of business at this location."
Killian went on to say that the Rock Bottom locations in Desert Ridge and Glendale will be the company's only remaining Arizona locations.
Regular patron Grace Kraus was dining with a good friend of hers on my last day there and I asked her how she felt about the end of Rock Bottom.
"I think it's sad and a sign of the times and who we have in the White House," the 21-year resident of Ahwatukee Foothills said. "I don't go out of Ahwatukee for anything, I keep my tax dollars here.
"I moved here when Ray Road was still gravel and right here at 48th and Ray was just a bunch of tires and junk," Kraus continued. "I watched this area develop and a lot of great businesses come in. Now I see them all closing. I'm afraid it's going to go back to being junk here. It's just a shame."
Olivia Salcido, who lives just across I-10 in Chandler, was another regular customer of Rock Bottom and was there on my last visit this week.
"It's not good for anything to close right now in our economy," Salcido said. "It's still sad to see it go, regardless of the reasons behind the closing."
Then there was resident Mike Powell, who emailed me this week: "Rock Bottom has been a stable business in the Ahwatukee community since 1999. They were recently bought out by Gordon Biersh. It is not really clear why they are closing but the parent company seems to show no interest in the community and the building owner does not seem to want to renegotiate the lease. In the end, the Ahwatukee community is losing."
Like me, Powell has been going to Rock Bottom since it opened 12 years ago.
"They have sponsored our hockey team - made up of fathers, sons and residents who live in Ahwatukee and whose kids attended local high schools - on and off since 1999," he wrote in his email.
Ahwatukee resident Gretchen Beers told me on Wednesday that she was shocked and disappointed in CraftWorks' decision to close the Ahwatukee location.
"I loved going there for healthy food and great beer," Beers said. "One of the employees told me that the landlord was also getting greedy and upping the rent on them. I think too many landlords in Ahwatukee are getting a bit too greedy. Some of them are ending up with nothing because of this.
"Hopefully, someone will come in and keep it a fun, family place to go for good food and drink," she added.
As for me, I just hope that 10,000 square feet of restaurant space, which can accommodate 323 guests, and those beautiful copper brewing tanks don't stay vacant for long.
I raise my mug in hopes of another quality restaurant and brewery opening soon in Ahwatukee!
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