PINETOP-LAKESIDE — With signs in the window and a dumpster out front, it’s clear that change is coming to the former Porter Mountain Western Grill.
The restaurant originally opened in 1993 as the Chuck Wagon Restaurant, owned by Keith and Victor Williams, who made it a landmark in the White Mountains. Due to financial issues, they had to close the restaurant in 2011. Since that time the property has changed hands and had multiple tenants, most recently Porter Mountain Western Grill, Saloon & Museum, which served customers their last meal on Sept. 7.
With signs proclaiming “The Hungry Buffalo Coming Soon” and “New Ownership,” people are asking the usual questions. First and foremost is — who bought the old Chuck Wagon Steakhouse?
Answer: Arizona City Golf Course owner Scott Waddle.
Waddle has been in the Casa Grande area the last 38 years, but he and his wife bought a home in the Torreon community seven years ago. Waddle said he is selling the Arizona City Golf Course and his home to focus on his new venture in the White Mountains.
When Waddle and his wife first came to Show Low, he recounted a visit they made to Kmart to purchase linens. “An older lady asked us how we were doing, and then said, ‘You are not from here, are you? Let me show you where the sales are.’ Then she told us where to eat and got us some coupons. It reminded me of what Casa Grande used to be like 30 years ago — the time when people actually cared about you. I love golf and love the people, but this is a complete (180 degrees difference) from the golf course,” Waddle said.
“You go into Lowe’s and somebody says, ‘Hi Scott.’ I think, how do they remember me? They care. Most places you do not know your neighbors. People have been stopping by the restaurant just to make sure we are doing OK. ‘Is everything all right? Let me know if you need anything?’ It is new to me.”
There is much to do before the tentative opening date of Nov. 17.
“There’s a lot of fixing up,” said Waddle.
He is having a new roof installed, putting on a new facade for the restaurant sign — complete with bullet holes — and is cleaning up things. The first thing he did was to open the front door that was blocked off so older people could park out front. What was formerly a gift shop will now be a happy hour sitting room.
“I may own the restaurant,” said Waddle, “but it really belongs to the community.” He also met with former Chuck Wagon owner Victor Williams and purchased some of the things from the original restaurant.
As a former Nike instructor, Waddle will also add paraphernalia from teams such as the Denver Broncos and Dallas Cowboys, and those he met at Mile High Stadium. He said, “It is going to be a combination of sports and country.” Blue Ridge and Show Low helmets and jerseys will also add to the décor.
Waddle hired the former sous chef from Salt Restaurant, which recently closed. Three of his employees from Arizona City have followed him here to work. One of those is his Duffer’s kitchen manager, Chris Oliver. Oliver started working in his family’s restaurant in Prescott at age 9. He knows food, including desserts.
Of course the next question people are asking is, what is on the menu and will you bring back Chuck Wagon’s Early Bird menu?” The menu will include a mix of cowboy classics and steakhouse favorites.
(Waddle answered “Yes” to the Early Bird special).
“I was taught to cook at an early age. For over 100 years my family has been one of the Western families who are farmers and ranchers,” Waddle said. “Everything was homemade. It is how I was raised. You do not grab food out of the freezer. We have fresh meats, vegetables, cheese. We’ll buy from the local ranchers and farmers and 4-H.”
Though the official menu has not been printed yet, Waddle painted a picture of what to expect: chicken wings smoked and finished in a convection oven, buffalo burgers, scallops, cod — baked, grilled or fried, salmon, a huge porterhouse steak, homemade mac-’n’-cheese with homemade noodles, a blooming onion and twice-baked potatoes.
“Our big burgers are killer. They come out with a steak knife through it when we deliver them to the customer. When it goes by a table, people look. When you see people look at those and the signature steaks, you know it’s good,” he said.
Waddle added, “We make our own rubs and sauces. I also believe that what hits the table before dinner matters. We have a sweet cornbread we bring to the table. If someone says they don’t like cornbread, we say, ‘How ‘bout a biscuit?’ We make great biscuits. We are always morphing the menu to what the people want.”
Oliver chimed in to talk about the dessert menu. When he was a boy, twice a year his mother and dad would have an “un-dinner” for them. The parents would make all their favorite desserts and then have something special like scallops or shrimp.
“We could eat all the dessert we wanted,” said Oliver, “but you had to finish your dessert or you couldn’t have any dinner. By the time we finished with our desserts, we didn’t want any dinner.”
For dessert, Oliver said The Hungry Buffalo will have a Snickers cheese cake, a New York cheesecake with berries or strawberries, a deep-dish apple pie, apple and blackberry cobbler, strawberry and rhubarb, bread pudding with Bourbon sauce and seasonal desserts.
He has handwritten recipes dating back to 1700 by trail bosses and also their shopping lists.
“In the restaurant business if you think you know it all, you are not going to survive. There are three things that I do know,” Waddle said, “People need to be happy with the food, happy with the service — you do not want them leaving unhappy, and you need to listen to the people.”
He has learned many things in life thus far, but a heart-riveting lesson from his dad shook him to the core when he was still a young man.
“My dad was caddying for me on the Hogan Tour at Grand Canyon University. I was living the dream but not applying it. He asked me, ‘Are you ever going to commit yourself to anything in life?’
“I was devastated. My dad was my best friend. I went home and thought about it, and I had a job offer. I was not even 21. It was for Beaver Creek and to run the resort. I called up my dad and told him about it and told him, ‘I am going to commit to that.’ My dad grabbed my chain and yanked it. I’m glad he did,” said Waddle.
“We go home whipped at the end of the day, but to see the people happy, and when you see them outside the restaurant and they say they enjoyed it, it is all worth it,” said Waddle with a smile.
Waddle plans a soft opening for The Hungry Buffalo before the tentatively planned official opening to the public on Nov. 17.
The Hungry Buffalo is located at 4048 Porter Mountain Road in the Lakeside community.