Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

Arizona Sonoran News

Student Newswire of The University of Arizona School of Journalism

Arizona Sonoran News

    Serving Up Success


    Lutes Casino Foot 1918010_114901963428_5281608_n
    A boot hanging from the ceiling at Lute’s Casino. Photo by Bill Lute

    There are more than 9,077 locations that serve food and beverage in Arizona with a projected total of $11.0 billion in sales for the 2014 year, according to

    However, with all of these restaurants accounting for 10 percent of the employment in the state, it has created competition between restaurants. Owners are coming up with creative models to keep customers coming through the door.

    Four Arizona restaurants have stood the test of time and have found their own secret to success.

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    The Palace Restaurant & Saloon, Rock Spring, Lute’s Casino, El Charro, and Café created their niche that has lead all of these restaurants to consistent success.

    First opened in 1877, The Palace, located in Prescott, continues the traditional western theme with steaks, dinner theater and period costumes. Dave Michelson, owner for the last 18 years, knows that the restaurant business is never easy.

    When asked about his main focus daily, he said, “You have to start going full speed the moment the doors open. If you are not you can fall behind and it is always harder to catch up.”

    The restaurant business can be very high paced, which can put stress on the employees. “We do everything we can to keep our employees motived,” Michelson continued, “We offer discounts on meals, rewards for production and help out any other way that we can.”

    Rock Springs Café, founded in 1924 about an hour north of Phoenix, found its key to success through its pies, which now have statewide interest. From Jack Daniels Pecan to Tennessee Lemon, their specialty pies continue to create interest.

    Secret recipes dating back to the origins have sustained the success of their pies, said owner Augie Perry. He continued to say that evolving the business to be able to order pies online contributed to their success.

    Lute’s Casino in Yuma happened to find its success partially by accident. Bob and Bill Lutes bought the then saloon in 1940 and have slowly changed the focus of the restaurant.

    “We actually aren’t a casino, the business was used for illegal gambling before we bought it and decided to call it Lutes Casino because we thought it just fit the décor of building,” said Bill Lutes.

    Over the years, the Lutes and the locals collected interesting memorabilia and put it all around the restaurant to create a friendly environment. The décor of the building can only be called eclectic with a gigantic bear, a foot coming from the sealing and a massive hanging bass fish on the walls.

    Bob Lutes said, “We like the interactions with the locals and people donating some of their belongings only creates a better environment.”

    The locals are what continue to drive their business and the motto, “You haven’t been to Yuma if you haven’t been to Lutes Casino” continues to bring in now customers everyday.

    El Charro, founded in 1922 in now downtown Tucson, evolved into the business it is today because of the local community. Offering military discounts, two for one specials for teachers on Tuesdays, and a neighborhood discount are some of the ways El Charro tries to help the locals who continue to come in.

    Brandon Gandara, manager, explained that the style of the restaurant has people wanting to keep coming back. “The location is an old house with a beautiful porch for outside seating which creates an at home atmosphere with restaurant service,” he said.

    Along with the at home décor, El Charro promotes its famous natural margaritas and carne seca. Visitors to the restaurant can see the carne seca being sun dried in cages hanging above the roof of El Charro.

    Gandra said, “We have people come in all the time just for the home cooked food with a relaxed atmosphere.”

    All of these restaurants found their own key to success. Dave Michelson summed up why he enjoys his own unique style of restaurant.

    “With all of the restaurants that are in Arizona, I enjoy that we stand out from the rest and helps us create the restaurant we want people to keep coming back to,”he said.

    Thomas McGinnis is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service offered by the school of journalism at the University of Arizona. Reach him at: [email protected]

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