In November 2014 construction began on the former Crown Imports building between Missouri Avenue and Bethany Home Road.
The planned $7.8 million project transformed this decades old structure into Crown on 7th, a midcentury modern North Phoenix space including 18,000 square feet of restaurant and retail space, patio dining areas and a large parking lot.
Chef Cullen Campbell, known for his successful Arcadia restaurant Crudo, was the first to open in the space in late 2015.
Okra Cookhouse and Cocktails focuses on Campbell’s love of the American South, with distinct Southern cuisine, a beverage program designed by co-owner and mixologist Micah Olson, and old-fashioned Southern hospitality done right by general manager and co-owner Maureen McGrath-Campbell.
“Immediately after opening Crudo, our team started thinking about what we could do next,” said Campbell. “We had so many ideas and started looking seriously for a space when Crudo started doing well.”
The team wanted something unique and with the recent trend of infill development, as well as the growth of restaurants in Central Phoenix, Campbell had his sights set on the Crown Imports building.
“We liked what was being done with old buildings,” said Campbell. “We jumped on this opportunity.
Infill development focuses on the reuse and repositioning of obsolete or underutilized buildings and sites, revitalizing structures and communities.
Originally from Memphis, Tennessee, Chef Campbell felt an urge to bring the food he grew up with to the city he now calls home.
“I missed the stuff – the style of cooking – that I got back home,” said Campbell.
For Olson, the decision to open a Southern-style restaurant was a no-brainer.
“As a Kentucky bourbon drinker, when he said, ‘Southern,’ I said, ‘Perfect,’” said Olson.
Designing the menu was simple for Campbell. Fried chicken was a must. Different versions of barbecue, chicken wings and okra were easy decisions. Pushing the envelope on creativity was also required.
“I want to make fun things that I eat when I visit my hometown,” said Campbell. “I want to provide things you don’t normally see around town, but in a more straight-forward way than I would approach them at Crudo.”
Examples include fried chicken skins with honey hot sauce or fried headcheese and herbed vinegar.
“I’m using Southern ingredients for what I do on a regular basis,” said Olson, of his bar program.
For the look of the restaurant, the building’s clean, modern lines inspired the team.
“We wanted a place that looked nice and somewhat fancy,” said Campbell. “But with really casual, good food.”
Campbell uses local produce, Hayden Flour Mill’s freshly ground grits, and meats from local meat purveyors.
“I thought Southern food would be an easy concept in Phoenix because many of the same ingredients grow well in the South that grow well here.”
Potato chips served with Campbell’s Wednesday night special Soul Burger, however, are being flown in to match the ones he enjoys at his favorite Memphis bar back home, Earnestine & Hazel’s.
“Earnestine & Hazel’s Soul Burger is the only thing on their menu,” said Campbell. “The space has been there for over 100 years and is iconic to the city. I had to bring a taste of it to Phoenix, even just one night a week.”