Family Friendly

Azool Grill thrives, thanks to its loyal neighbors

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski

The Azool Grill just reached a landmark not many restaurants can claim: its 15-year anniversary.

But owner Mary Hultman doesn’t take credit for the eatery’s success.

“I attribute it to our customers,” Hultman says. “We have great customers. Our staff is really consistent, too. They’ve been here a long time. It’s just a really, really loyal neighborhood. The neighborhood is something you don’t find anywhere in the whole Valley.”

Neighbors come for the food, the atmosphere and the Minnesota Vikings, whom Hultman supports. She and her husband, former Dodgers relief pitcher Jake Kenady, run Azool Grill like the fictional bar Cheers.

The menu is created with fresh ingredients, from scratch by Azool Grill’s staff, including head chef Ismael Moreno.

“We’re a bar and we’re definitely a neighborhood sports bar, but all our food is fresh and everything,” Hultman says. “We make all our sauces from scratch. We make all our own hamburger patties. We don’t buy the pre-made frozen items. For the burgers, we use ground chuck, not ground beef. I think good food really makes a difference.”

The baby back ribs ($15.99 for half rack; $20.99 for full) with chipotle, pineapple orange barbecue sauce, she says, are “off the charts fantastic.” In terms of appetizers, the Azool Grill serves “the biggest wings in town.”

“We make everything from scratch,” Hultman says. “I think it comes across in the flavor of the food. At the end of the day, the plates look better. The food tastes better.”

Creative dishes include the spicy andouille angel hair pasta ($14.99); cilantro lime chicken sandwich with spicy pepper jack and chili mayo ($11.29); spicy Thai wings ($11.99) and the Arizona cheesesteak with marinated sirloin, roasted chilies, grilled onions and pepper jack ($11.99).

“We’re always playing around with different pasta,” she says. “In the summertime, we featured a strawberry salad, which is excellent. It’s gone for the season now, but we made our own strawberry vinaigrette dressing. The salad had romaine and spinach with blackened chicken on it, along with walnuts and strawberries. It was amazing.

“It took off.”

The bar has 10 draft handles.

Hultman was trained well, citing her mentor Gwen Herndon, the late owner of Handlebar J’s in Scottsdale.

“She was a wonderful woman,” she says. “I took a lot of my knowledge from watching her run her business. She single-handedly ran the place. Well into her seventies, she was still out there on the floor running the business herself and just entertaining and being face to face with all the customers.”

She learned about the importance of customer service.

“I learned from the old-school people,” she says. “It’s not the same business it used to be. Customer service is key and knowing people’s names. I learned a lot of the back-office stuff, too. It’s a pennies business. You don’t make tons of money at one time. You just make little attempts.

“I don’t ever want to not be behind the bar. I’ll take kitchen shifts, too. I think if my staff sees me doing exactly what I would ask them to do it makes a huge difference.”

Live music fills the room on Fridays and Saturdays, same with the sound of successful off-track betters. When football is out of season, Azool Grill hosts a Sunday fun day from 4 to 8 p.m. with a beach vibe. Brett Favre autographs and other Vikings memorabilia line the walls.

“The neighborhood is obviously growing very rapidly, and we’re trying to grow with it,” she says. “But it’s family owned and a friendly place. The staff and the customers are what makes it important.” 

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