By Patty Talahongva
Change is in the wind at TEXAZ Grill, 6003 N. 16th St., with the retirement of co-founder Steve Freidkin, who is passing on the torch on to another family. “I’ve been in this business since I was 10 years old, starting in our family delicatessen in Louisiana,” says Freidkin. “It’s time for me to hang up my apron.”
The popular neighborhood eatery was started by Freidkin and business partner Jim Mitchell in 1985. Mitchell sold his share of the business to Freidkin more than a decade ago, but came back as a contractor to help with the bookkeeping. The two have been friends for more than 30 years.
During their time together, the partners developed customer favorites like the hugely popular Chicken Fried Steak (more than 950,000 sold so far), Texas Red Chili, and Pecan Pie. While Freidkin is leaving, those favorites are staying on the menu.
Among Freidkin’s top memories in his 33 years of owning TEXAZ Grill include meeting and developing friendships with his customers and employees. Having an amazing staff, he says, made the work truly enjoyable. Some of the crew has been there more than 20 years.
Through the years the restaurant has built a strong following. “We’ve had loyal customers coming in since we opened. We’ve watched kids grow up and have families of their own,” he says.
“It’s cliché, but we tried to treat everyone like a guest in our home, and took a lot of pride in the product we served,” Freidkin points out. To that end, the restaurant’s “regulars” were happy to learn that the staff and menu will remain the same.
In fact, it’s one of those loyal customers who bought the restaurant. Long Nguyen and his family, who officially took over the restaurant in November, say they will keep TEXAZ Grill intact, with a few minor changes. The Nguyens immigrated to Houston in 1989, and moved to Arizona in 2007.
“Steve has done an amazing job and it is very hard to surpass what he’s created,” says Nguyen. “We owe it to our loyal customers to do the best we can to continue and meet the high standards Steve set and accomplished over the years.” The only immediate change to the menu will be adding a few more vegetable dishes.
The iconic décor with the license plates and kitsch will stay. “It just works so we plan on keeping everything the same,” Nguyen emphasized.
Nguyen has had experience in the restaurant industry. “Like many, my first job was also starting out as a dishwasher. Over the years, I have always been more on the business management side in another industry, with a few hours here and there helping out the family restaurant in Houston. It wasn’t until 2015 that we decided it might not be a bad idea to see what we can accomplish in the hospitality industry.”
Last year his family purchased St. Francis at 111 E. Camelback Road from owner-chef Aaron Chamberlin, and they also operate two other restaurants in the West Valley. “We hope to be able to bring the fabulous food from TEXAZ Grill over to the west side so more customers can experience the amazing food without having to travel across town,” Nguyen explains.
Change can be worrisome for many people and Nguyen is quick to reassure Freidkin’s long-time customers. “We are doing everything we can to keep everything the same, and keep TEXAZ Grill around for another 33 years so everyone can enjoy great down-to-earth, homestyle Texas cooking right here in the heart of Phoenix. If you haven’t gotten a chance to give us a try, please stop by.”
And you can bet that Freidkin will not be a stranger. Even though he’s retiring and will spend time traveling, volunteering, relaxing and enjoying, as he puts it, “long-neglected hobbies,” he will also become a “regular.” You may even occasionally find him shucking oysters behind the bar.
“It’s still my favorite restaurant in Arizona,” Freidkin says.
TEXAS Grill is open 11 a.m.-9 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Sunday. Call 602-248-7827 or visit www.texazgrill.com.