By Alex Gallagher
Robert Eckhardt has helped several restaurants find success, but he still felt unsatisfied.
So, in early 2021, Eckhardt unveiled Dad’s Pizza Co., evolving from a stand inside OdySea Aquarium to a full-service restaurant and cocktail bar near Scottsdale Road and Shea Boulevard in January 2022.
“I just didn’t want to go back to work for somebody else’s shop,” Eckhardt says.
“I’d helped multiple restaurants get up and running and then they’d move on to the next guy. When my son was born, hence the name ‘Dad’s,’ I decided to do it for myself.
“To have a restaurant and to know that my son can see me grow up and grow with this restaurant is pretty cool to me.”
The perfect spot
After a year of serving pies inside the aquarium, Eckhardt searched for a spot to call his own.
“We probably looked at about 14 or 15 different locations before we settled on this one, which was originally the home of Fate Brewing Co.,” Eckhardt says.
“Fate” was written on the building, but Eckhardt found a stronger calling.
“We’ve always wanted something a little bit more intimate and smaller scale, and when we saw this spot, we thought, ‘That’s Dad’s,’” he says.
After moving in on December 15, Eckhardt says he realized he needed a hand with the bar at the new Dad’s Modern Cocktails & Eatery.
He called upon 30-year industry veteran and former co-worker Mike Anderson to run the bar and front of house.
“I called Mike and said, ‘You’ve got to come to do it with us,’” Eckhardt recalls. “We needed the front of the house to do the cocktails. I can cook things in the back, but when it comes to cocktails, I don’t do cocktails. That’s where Mike came into the scheme of things.”
Anderson brings a wealth of knowledge to the restaurant and the mixologist role.
“My biggest kicker was mixology can be fun and it doesn’t have to be fast. You can easily go to a cocktail bar and expect the cocktail experience … but the mixologist is going to give you a show with that because that’s what you came here to see,” Anderson says.
Dad’s Modern Cocktails & Eatery opened on January 28 and has witnessed steady growth.
“We have people that are coming in here three or four days a week to try the whole menu,” Eckhardt says. “That’s the excitement for us: that people are wanting to come back and try everything on our menu because they haven’t had something bad yet.”
With a menu that includes pasta, brick-oven pizzas, chicken sandwiches and the signature Dad’s short ribs, Eckhardt whips up dishes everyone can enjoy.
“When I looked at the menu and designed it here, it was kind of a crapshoot in terms of what were our demographics,” Eckhardt says. “So, we went back to some of the dishes that have always been staples on a lot of my menus at the clubs and restaurants that I’ve opened here.”
Anderson ensures the cocktails pair perfectly with each kitchen dish.
“If we can be that restaurant that’s consistent on three levels of food, customer service and drinks, then we’re doing something right,” Anderson says.
The staff recommends pairings of dishes and cocktails before diners order.
“I’m a big fan of balanced cocktails with a balanced meal,” Anderson says. “At the end of the day, they should be able to coach you through your experience here, and that’s kind of one of the things that I pride myself on my staff does, too. We can easily educate.”
Eckhardt says eventually he would like to expand Dad’s Modern Cocktails & Eatery.
“We’re happy with the one restaurant right now, and we’re focused on getting this fully operational and supporting itself,” Eckhardt says. “We plan to add some other concepts for the Dad’s brand.
“We’re contemplating going back to the Dad’s Pizza Co. in the West Valley, and we’re also hoping to pop in somewhere in the East Valley again with a bar concept called Three Drunk Dads. The Dad’s brand is something that we can see growing.”