The Phoenix Grill Ltd
The Phoenix Grill Ltd. (Phoenix Grill) is not your average meat and potatoes eatery. When Darrell Achen, now president of Phoenix Grill, established the Calgary-based premium, casual restaurant in 2005 he knew he wanted to do something a little different.
“We’re a modern grill with some of the classics, but there’s also Pacific Rim and Asian influences in our cuisine,” reveals Darrell. “For example, instead of traditional grilled salmon, we’ll do salmon with an orange soy glaze. We make something you cannot buy at the supermarket, and the hope is that entices our customers enough to keep them coming back.”
Taking a Leap
After years as an executive chef starting some of the industry’s most recognized casual dining chains, Darrell decided it was time to take a daring leap. “I’m the owner of the grill, but I’m also a chef and I’ve worked in this industry my whole life,” he shares. “I grew up working in Earl’s restaurant chains and then helped start the Joey’s concept. After doing that for seven or eight years, I decided it was time to try something on my own.”
With the help of his wife Mandy, Darrell opened the first Phoenix Grill in Calgary in 2005. “At that time, the Asian food trend was growing rapidly in Canada and the states,” shares Darrell. “P.F. Chang’s took off like crazy and I wanted to focus on a similar concept, but keep some of the classics.”
Darrell’s idea for a dining experience that combined modern flavors of the grill with Pacific Rim influences began to emerge and his stylish, made-from-scratch food along with memorable service and customer recognition was an immediate hit. “As we began to grow I brought in more sous chefs and trained them myself,” says Darrell. “We make everything on premise, from our soups and sauces to stocks.”
Darrell goes on to note that Phoenix Grill’s service side is also pristine. “We do a great job of getting to know our customers,” he continues. “My wife and I frequently work the floor and our customers know they can talk with the owner and ask the chef how something was made.”
Phoenix Grill now occupies two locations in Calgary, one in Westhills and another in Shawnessy. “We can seat about 150 people with 5,000 square feet of space at both locations, including outdoor patios in the short summer season,” shares Darrell. “We’re conveniently located in more of a suburban area near the movie theaters so on weekends, there’s always a good crowd. Friday through Saturday night we’re always busy.”
As the restaurants have grown, Darrell has made necessary upgrades, including new carpets and flat-screen televisions. “We also added new granite countertops, because we have an exposed kitchen at the south location,” he adds.
Keeping it Current, Fresh and Flavorful
Phoenix Grill combines traditional flavors with authentic infusions from around the world. “We don’t have nachos,” says Darrell. “We do have Peking dumplings and ginger beef. Our pastas are unique, as well. We’ll do an island curry bowl rather than something more familiar.”
Although the restaurant isn’t a typical meat and potatoes joint, Darrell says Phoenix Grill does offer certified Angus choice steaks, ranging from sirloins to New York Strip. “We bring in a new menu about every six months,” he explains. “We have a feature sheet where we put out fall and winter or spring and summer specials depending on what we like that’s seasonal. We import all of our seafood from the British Columbia coast and our cheese comes from a local dairy farm.”
Darrell says it’s all about accommodation and keeping things interesting. “The gluten-free trend has become a significant part of our business,” he reveals. “This summer we introduced a berry spinach quinoa salad that was so popular customers are demanding we leave it on the menu for the winter months. That’s an example of a good problem.”
Additionally, the restaurant partners with Gordon Food Service to source the best, high-quality ingredients. “Our suppliers are very helpful when we’re looking for a specific item, such as quinoa,” shares Darrell. “We asked them to bring us several kinds to try and we ended up with a great organic version that’s been a hit.”
While business is certainly booming, Darrell admits it wasn’t always so easy. “When I started the grill I had opened 12 Joey’s restaurants, but it was a huge step to start something completely on my own,” he reveals. “I didn’t realize the support I had working for another company until it wasn’t there. I had to find a way to do things with a smaller budget and I ended up doing a lot of the work myself in the beginning.”
But even amid the economic downturn, Darrell says Phoenix Grill has remained a go-to establishment. “While some downtown restaurants took a hit, we’ve done all right being in the suburbs,” he adds. “The oil economy in Calgary and Edmonton also help drive the local market. If oil is doing well, then everyone in Calgary is out spending money.”
According to Darrell, it is about small improvements every day. “We’re always competing against last year’s sales,” he says. “Our POS system tracks what we did on the same day last year and we try to top that.” With no plans of slowing down, The Phoenix Grill Ltd. will continue delivering a unique dining experience, combining fresh, seasonal food with Pacific Rim flavor infusions and unparalleled friendly service.