The Tale of Aunt Chilada’s
A Lady with a past
Return with us now to those thrilling days of yesteryear, shortly after the reluctant surrender of Geronimo. Arizona was still an untamed territory, and Aunt Chilada’s Banquet Room was built on the foundation of the only general store serving the laborers working the Rico Mercury Mine. The mining smelters were in full operation throughout the nearby mountain range and in what is now The Pointe at Squaw Peak Residential Community. The largest of these ore smelters has been preserved and stands near The Hole in the Wall River Ranch. The mines, quite unintentionally, also gave the area its name. After a long day deep in the mines, the men emerged appearing somewhat inebriated and dreamy-eyed from inhaling the mercury fumes. As they walked down the dusty road to the general store, people were heard to remark, “The men are back from The Dreamy Draw.”
Following the repeal of prohibition, Dave and Jesse Noble, the land’s owners at the time were granted the first liquor license issued by the State of Arizona. The store was later reopened as The Peak Steak House, getting its name not from the landmark mountain towering over the restaurant but from a uniquely placed and somewhat revealing window set in the ceiling of the bar (now the Tienda). Throughout the night, scantily-clad women would climb into the attic and perform a hootchy-kootchy dance while patrons sneaked a peek through the window. This unusual entertainment proved to be very popular as guests from as far away as The Camelback Inn and The Biltmore Hotel would ride over on horseback, just to enjoy a cool libation while keeping their “heads up”.
This infamous bar and restaurant found notoriety again as it began a new life as George’s Ole! George Cocherham was not only a captain in the Phoenix Fire Department but an extremely ambitious restaurateur. Using over 3,000 Santa Fe railroad ties, native stone from the area and a little help from his off-duty firefighter friends, he expanded the building to its present size. George made one other important purchase Arizona’s Original smoker from Gentleman Jim’s Barbeque at the corner of 16th and Oak Street and moved it to the Garden Patio where he not only smoked traditional meats and fowl but would also smoke game animals brought in by his customers. In fact, George claims to have prepared everything from quail and venison to javelina and even elephant. The same tradition exists today, with George’s Granddaughter working at the restaurant. Aunt Chilada’s still slow roasts a variety of delicious meats, chicken and vegetables over aged mesquite wood every day for your enjoyment.
In the early 80s, Bob Gosnell bought the restaurant, renamed it Aunt Chilada’s and made it a member of The Pointe’s growing family of restaurants. “The Hideaway”, as it affectionately became known, was a favorite with the locals.
Ken Nagel had been working at The Pointe since its inception, designing, implementing and overseeing the food and beverage operations. As the company continued to grow, Ken saw the food and beverage operations expand to become the largest in the state. However, Ken still had an itch that needed scratching. He dreamed of someday owning his own restaurant, a place where he could focus all his energy. That restaurant was Aunt Chilada’s, and in January of 1995 Ken realized his dream along with his partner Lee Midtun, a bean counter at The Pointe for over 20 years, they purchased the restaurant – lock, stock and chili relleno.
The Nagels—Ken, Candice and their four daughters along with a dedicated staff now greet and serve guests visiting this remarkable piece of Arizona history and continue the tradition of good food and good times served with warm Southwestern hospitality that has made Aunt Chilada’s popular for over 100 years.