Story by Ryan Kryska
Photos by David Kadlubowski
GCU News Bureau
The kitchen at Canyon 49 Grill is in new hands — but they aren’t new to each other.
The restaurant’s Executive Chef, Marcus Maggiore, and its Sous Chef, Mike Willison, met more than a decade ago at a Four Seasons Resort. For six years, Willison worked alongside Maggiore as his No. 2 in command before they reunited this year at the Grand Canyon University Hotel and Restaurant.
“We both have the same kind of mindset,” Willison said. “We just work hard.”
Maggiore started at Canyon 49 in January. And when his sous chef position became available, the hire was a “no-brainer,” he said.
“It’s like we never stopped working with each other,” Maggiore said. “It’s helpful to me because I have someone who has already seen the vision of where I want to take the place because we worked together in the past and had a lot of success. He only got better in the five years that I didn’t work with him.”
Willison, who started in May, said that when he answered Maggiore’s call for the job he was surprised to hear about the restaurant, located in the University’s 27th Avenue office complex but open to the public.
“A lot of people don’t know,” Willison said. “I came in and walked around with him and was like, ‘Oh wow, yeah. This is nice.’”
Both chefs say they’re confident word will get out about what Maggiore calls a “hidden jewel” in Phoenix.
“The sky is the limit with this place,” Maggiore said. “We’re already fairly busy.”
The chefs know popularity will grow over time but said they will start to participate in promotional events along the way. One of those coming up in July is the Arizona Governor’s Conference on Tourism, where Canyon 49 staff will prepare hundreds of short-rib slider sandwiches for attendees.
“We’re trying to get the name out there a little more and start getting more locals in here,” Willison said.
As for the menu, Maggiore says the biggest sellers by a long shot have been the barbecue burger and wings.
Those meals aren’t going anywhere. But the chefs do have some seasonal changes in mind. Willison said the goal is to make each dish its own for the new menu debuting in August.
It won’t be too elaborate but will feature fall tastes such as braised cauliflower and sweet potatoes, Maggiore said.
“At the end of the day, I’ve done the fancy food, but when I go out to eat I want good-priced value,” Maggiore said. “We’re refining the food. Keeping it approachable but trying to freshen it up, revitalize some of the dishes.”
The restaurant also will start to dress salads so customers do not have to do so on their own, he said. Another change could come in the burger selection, where pretzel buns might be replaced with a brioche bun.
“It’s, ‘What’s going to eat better?’” Maggiore said. “Not, ‘I’m going to change this because I want to change it.’”
Overall, Maggiore said he’s been nothing but impressed with working at GCU.
“I don’t think I’ve really met anyone who doesn’t abide by what Mr. (Brian) Mueller has for giving back to the community and being a part of the team,” he said. “Everyone here seems like they want to be here, all the way down to the student workers. … Here, it’s about making the team awesome. There isn’t that cutthroat where people are trying to undermine each other. It’s, ‘How do we grow as a team?’”
Willison agreed, saying tensions rise in every kitchen, “but here, it seems like people are still fun.”
“It’s just fun, a fun atmosphere,” he added. “And it just makes service and everything so much better. … Here, it’s like a family.”
Contact Ryan Kryska at (602) 639-8415 or firstname.lastname@example.org.