By Alex Gallagher
When Maple & Ash came to Scottsdale in August 2019, hospitality group What If Syndicate knew that its sister concept was not too far behind.
That idea is Etta — short for “Henrietta,” the French word for “keeper of the hearth”— which opened in July 2018 in the trendy neighborhood of Bucktown, Ill., to strong success. What If Syndicate expanded to a second Chicago location, Los Angeles and eventually to Scottsdale.
“We’ve had a lot of success with Maple & Ash here, and I lived here for several years. So, for me, it’s almost a homecoming,” says Danny Grant, executive chef, partner and two-time Michelin-star chef.
“I knew that a place like this would be well received here in Scottsdale.”
When Brio Tuscan Grille closed its Scottsdale Quarter location, along with 70 other locations around the country in March 2020, the space begged Etta’s presence.
“This was one that was a great opportunity for us that we couldn’t pass up,” Grant says. “We’re incredibly excited about the fact that there’s the opportunity for a really great lunch business, which not all cities have.”
When the space became available, Grant was cooped up in his home kitchen experimenting with new ingredients he could use as substitutes.
“Over the pandemic was interesting because it was when I started doing the most cooking ever at home,” he says. “It was an eye-opening experience because I got away from the notion that everything had to be done a certain way. When I started cooking at home, I realized that I could improvise in a way that doesn’t lessen the quality of the food.
“I now feel more comfortable to change the menu more often. I feel more comfortable in letting my chefs be more creative along with myself. The same with our cocktails, since I got to play around with making cocktails, which created a fun combination of doing both things.”
His skills proved beneficial, as supply chain problems forced some eateries to cut menu items or rush to find substitutes for ingredients. Despite the challenges leading up to the April 6 opening, Grant was excited
“Each opening always presents itself with new challenges and new hurdles, but I’m more excited than nervous with the opening of this restaurant,” Grant says.
“The first openings we used to do, it was me and another guy. Now we have an opening team and a training team, and we’ve become more robust to where the openings are somewhat enjoyable.”
Although the restaurant is a sister concept to Maple & Ash’s high-end steak concept, Grant says Etta is more casual.
“Maple & Ash is a very high-end, celebratory restaurant that you almost have to get ready and prepared for, whereas at Etta, it’s a similar feeling but you can also go to it off a whim,” he says.
Both utilize a wood-fired oven — Etta even more so. The oven is ignited at 7 a.m. and then filled with meats.
“Woodfire helps add a layer of complexity to the food, which is not necessarily by adding extra ingredients but through adding additional flavor,” Grant says.
“It’s harder to cook with, but it makes it more fun and we’re always researching, learning and looking at new stuff to see how we can use a different oven differently.”
Grant says the customers trust the staff, which paves the way for a fun environment.
“My goal is to get the people to trust me and the team,” Grant says. “Once we garner their trust, we can start to have more fun and be more playful with everything.”
Grant encourages his staff to remain authentic yet professional so that they can build a good rapport with diners at Etta.
“We train our staff on a culture and on a way to be professional and still smile while being who they are,” he says. “I want to be able to make sure that we’re hiring great people and partnering with great people with great personalities.”
After breaking the ice with customers, the staff sees an uptick in orders of staple menu items, like bubbling shrimp, fire-roasted meatballs and oysters. The house-made focaccia and ricotta has proven to be popular.
“It’s the simplest thing on earth, but it’s one of those things that when it’s done right and done with a lot of love is outstanding,” he says.
Grant says there is one thing that customers can expect when dining at Etta.
“People can expect to always have great, high-quality food that’s appropriately cooked and well seasoned served by a service who’s engaging and fun,” he says.