Spotlight: Julian Wright

Leah LeMoineJanuary 2020
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Photography by Blake Bonillas
Photography by Blake Bonillas

Pedal Pusher

He’s known for creating convivial bars and restaurants, but the end of 2019 found Fork & Dagger Hospitality founder and CEO Julian Wright in a pensive mood. “Even though I’m 20 years into this, I’m still learning,” he says. “Every single deal we do, whether they’re successful or miserable failures, I pull a little nugget that we put in our tool belt, or we just learn a lesson.” Last year’s lesson was another concept revamp for his Chandler space, which started as Las Palmas Cantina and was slated to become Chandler Yacht Club before it was again reconceived to be the first of a few planned satellite locations of Pedal Haus Brewery. “For 2020, I think our main focus is expanding Pedal Haus,” he says. “Pretty much offer the same experience as the mothership in Tempe, minus the delicious brewing smells and the occasional clank of a fermentation tank.” He ruminated on industry gambles and inspiration for his forthcoming concepts – Lucky Lounge and Sake Haus, coming to the Roosevelt Row area this year – on a sunny winter afternoon at Ted’s Refreshments, his Mill Avenue dive bar that may also get a few tweaks soon.

How do you conceive ideas and read the market for new concepts?

There’s no magic formula. Trust me, I don’t know. I know very few – including Sam Fox and some of the big guys in town – who have [not] misread the market and have opened something and subsequently closed it. I think almost all of us have been victims of that. I think the most important thing… is you can’t get too married to your own idea. You can’t get too high on your own supply, because it’ll cloud your judgment.

That gives you the space to evolve or tweak it.

Or abandon it. Lucky Lounge, that was slated to be Brothers Pub. It was going to be a chef-driven pub, and we were just – kind of like the Yacht Club – we were just running into all kinds of snags, from the cost of the kitchen to the cost of human resources… We said, “F**k it, let’s take a step back. Let’s do something more manageable, and perhaps better suited to the neighborhood.” We’re doing a bunch of landscaping and having room for food trucks to pull in. We just love the whole concept 10 times better.

And you’re super jazzed about Sake Haus.

We’ll have cocktails made with shochu. We’ll have a good sake selection and knowledgeable sake staff. We’re also taking the sake [and] sushi concept in a little bit different direction. As opposed to being very sterile and clean and minimalist, we’re going the opposite… We plan to put a DJ behind the bar, like I saw in Montreal more than once. So literally on the inside of the bar, where the bartenders are, there’s a DJ spinning… sort of the dive bar version of a sake and sushi place.

You love going out, and creating memorable nights out for your guests. But what do you do on a typical night in?

Typically, relaxation for me is laying on the couch and researching breweries, sake places and dive bars. Just going through Pinterest, I can do that for hours. Pinterest is a great resource, Instagram is a great resource, Yelp is a great resource. Those are really the three I use. Or my news feed. Like, I follow Eater. Eater might do an article on some concept in another city, and then I’ll go on Yelp to see all the pictures. Doing that stuff is fun and relaxing.

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