By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski
Matt Brice didn’t come from money. He worked as a dishwasher at age 12 out of necessity. There, he learned how to cut fish, and about the perils and triumphs of being in the restaurant business.
“School wasn’t really my thing,” Brice says. “It wasn’t working out for me. I love people, and the moment I knew I could touch as many people through the restaurant experience, that was it.”
The Houston-based Brice parlayed that knowledge into Federal American Grill, which has four locations in Texas and a new one on Mayo Boulevard in North Phoenix. Opening its doors on January 20, the Mayo Boulevard store will soon have its anticipated “gorgeous” patio.
The Federal name has been in the family since the 1960s and stems from the Brice family’s obsession with hospitality, great food, and ensuring a fun environment for guests.
North Phoenix was the ideal location, he says, because his best friend/operating partner, Steve Parker, moved to the Valley from Connecticut.
“We were friends running restaurants together way back in the day at Chili’s and Ruth Chris’ Steakhouse,” he says.
“I’ve been asking him for a long time to do a restaurant with me. I have four, going on five, restaurants in Houston. When he said he was moving out here, he said, ‘Let’s do this. I’m ready.’ His kids are off to college. This location, it fit exactly.”
He’s impressed with the quality of nearby restaurants, including Trevor’s on Mayo, which features artisan pizza kitchen, golf simulators and a full-service bar, and Buck and Rider.
Brice’s Federal American Grill is notable in its own right. Everything is made from scratch. They make their own fries, cut their own fish, age the steaks, and create every sauce and dressing.
“Everything’s made in-house,” he says. “We take pride in it and serve it at a good level. We are known for our whiskies. We’re an old-fashioned bar. When someone orders an old-fashioned, we light them on fire for The Smoking Gun Old Fashioned. It’s awesome.”
Diners who order the flaming oldie, created with Elijah Craig bourbon, house bitters, 151-brûléed orange and cherry, will be delighted by the smoky cocktail prepared tableside. Other notable drinks include the bourbon peach smash, rosemary blush and paper plane.
Brice says the top-selling dish is its two seasoned RC Ranch Craft Wagyu fried cheeseburger eggrolls.
“They’re to die for,” he says. “It comes with spicy ranch and kung pao sauce.
“People love Janice’s meatloaf, too. It’s my mother’s meatloaf. We’re not a steakhouse, but we sell prime steaks. If you want to come and have an amazing steak, you’re going to have the same quality. It’s wet-aged for a long period of time. You don’t have to buy things a la cart. If you order the filet, you’re getting truffle mac and cheese and spinach on the plate. You pay one price and you’re done.”
Brice grew up in Massachusetts but has lived in Houston for the last 16 years. Even though he doesn’t live in Phoenix, he’s still a hands-on owner.
“I don’t take a backseat,” he says. “I’ll be at the restaurant every day that I’m here.”
He’s in the restaurant business for the people. Every move he makes regarding Federal American Grill, he knows, affects his 400-plus employees.
Brice admits that the first two years he struggled with his first restaurant, as he says, “We didn’t know what kind of concept we were.”
“I created the bar menu, which is affordable,” he says. “You can split three different things with friends — sliders, truffle fries — all that stuff you can come in and split. You can spend $10 to $15 per person, or you can come in and spend $70 to $100 a head.”
Federal American Grill is well known throughout Texas. He hopes that reputation carries over to North Phoenix.
“No matter what your request, yes is always our answer,” Brice says.
“We can’t wait to get involved and give back to the community surrounding our new location. We want to make sure that we do everything perfectly. When you’re in Houston, people know us all over Texas. We do a really good job. I know that for a fact.
“Sales and the flow of people have proven that. Here, they don’t know who we are. We just go one handshake at a time. We’re learning everybody’s name. I’m very personalized. We meet as many people as possible. We have texting for the reservations instead of going through a computer program.”
It all comes down to Brice’s personal beliefs.
“This has been such a blessing,” he says. “Like I said, I love people. The only thing I don’t like about it is I don’t know every single one of them.”
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