One of Northern Arizona’s premier resort properties is undertaking a major overhaul of their flagship dining space. The Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock recently announced and began a $2 million renovation of its restaurant, the Grille at Shadow Rock. The project is expected to be completed early this month.
General Manager Jay Kriske said the consumer is driving the project. “Everything we do, whether it’s a lobby renovation [in 2014], a guest-room renovation [in 2015], it’s the consumer telling you to do it,” Kriske explained. “The consumer is getting more affluent and they expect the full experience. This consumer expects us to have a nicer facility for food and beverage.”
Like with the revamped lobby, the restaurant will utilize natural elements such as copper, wood and earth tones. The windows are being replaced by doors so the space can open up and merge with the outdoors when weather permits. In addition, the ceiling is being raised by 18 inches to add depth and light. “We wanted to bring the outside in, to bring light into that space,” said Kriske. “The allure of being in Sedona is being outside.”
With modularity to host a few dozen dinner guests or much larger parties, the new design will also include 16 TVs featuring a variety of sports, indoor games such as shuffle board and foosball, and table tennis and “cornhole” bag toss outside. The porch area will include shade seating for diners, four fire pits in a cocktail area, a small stage, and will host an occasional telescope garden in conjunction with the Verde Valley Astronomers.
“People don’t talk about our dark skies much but we were pleased with guest interest and interaction when we first tested out the telescope evening,” added Kriske. “It’s about taking advantage of every natural asset we have. Our style will be casual yet refined, trying to stay fun and whimsical as appropriate. I want a space with a certain level of sophistication so that you can have multiple things happening in there at once.”
Kriske explained that the resort is repositioning itself as a hub for discovery and recovery. The restaurant renovation and the numerous on-site health and fitness options are key to each guest’s recovery options. “Resorts typically try to get people to come and stay at the resort, but that’s not Sedona,” said Kriske. “The red rocks are what bring people here. They check into the hotel, go discover Sedona, then come back and recover here, in the spa, by the pool and in the restaurant. That was part of the continuum where we continue the experience with recovery in the food and beverage realm. It’s really about a great breakfast experience that gets you started for the day, gets you excited. And instead of stopping in Uptown Sedona or elsewhere for dinner, we hope guests say they want to go back to that restaurant and hang out there. We saw the need – that some customers just really want to get back to the hotel and eat instead of having to eat in Sedona.”
While resort guests are the main impetus for these changes, Kriske knows that the long-term success of the restaurant depends on the local community. “We want and need locals to really use it because that’s what our customers are looking for. They want a flavor of Sedona,” Kriske said. “I see guests interacting with locals, learning from one another and becoming friends. I see it as a human Facebook page. We want to create a fun, social environment that people will talk about. It’s always a challenge to get locals to come to a resort. The food and feel are key and pricing will play a role in it, too. Our pricing will be very fair.” Kriske added that the eclectic Americana menu will be largely the same for lunch and dinner, with six extra offerings in the evening. (The resort offers other lunch options at its poolside snack bar.) As for the renovation’s price tag, Kriske pointed to the complicated nature of the project. “When you take something down to the studs, remove pools and such, it gets expensive really fast.”
Part of Kriske’s motivation comes from the successful and still-nascent food and beverage scene in Cottonwood. “Old Town has become an attraction,” he said. “I love the vibe in the Village but it felt like it had to be awakened. If we did something spectacular, then it would create more competition in the Village. People will see it and believe in it, I hope.”
One natural partner for the Hilton is the commercial plaza below, now known as The Collective. Kriske works closely with two important stakeholders there, Lisa Dahl, executive chef and owner of the Dahl Restaurant Group, and The Collective’s managing partner, Thomas McPherson, whom Kriske meets with monthly.
As the vanguard of fine dining in Sedona, Dahl’s establishments are a fit with many resort goers looking for an upscale evening out. In no way is the renovated Grille at Shadow Rock meant to rival Dahl’s Cucina Rustica, Kriske explained. “They are fine dining at its best and do a great job so this is where we can create a symbiotic relationship. When people want that upscale experience, we refer guests to her.”
In fact, Dahl opened Cucina Rustica more than 14 years ago because of the Hilton’s extreme proximity. She sees the renovations as a win-win. “My commitment to excellence with serving guests staying at the beautiful, newly renovated property grows stronger every day,” said Dahl. “My vision for this area is one of many spontaneous dining and guest experience opportunities.”
McPherson is fully on board, working with Kriske to create a “food and beverage mecca.” Despite some disappointments since managing the property, including the short-lived Producers area meant to showcase local craft wine and beer brands, McPherson is excited about the adjacent Hilton’s renovations.
“The Village of Oak Creek now offers a full spectrum of experiences for travelers looking to visit and experience the true red rock culture,” said McPherson. “The Collective Sedona values every Hilton guest and we look forward to exceeding all of their expectations.” And Kriske keeps one vision in mind as he and McPherson talk about taking the VOC to another level. “If my dream comes true, we’ll have a traffic jam from Sedona to the Village!”
The Hilton’s meeting spaces will be renovated next, starting later this year. The restaurant space is also for corporate and social events, as well as weddings and reunions. Part of the behemoth conglomerate Hilton Hotels & Resorts, Hilton Sedona Resort at Bell Rock is located on the southern edge of the Village of Oak Creek and has 219 guest rooms, including 171 suites. The resort has 20,000 square feet of meeting space, direct access to an 18-hole golf course and a spa. QCBN
By Tom Vitron, QCBN