Brian Metzger of JaxKitchen and The Abbey is passionate about family. His restaurants are named after his son, Jack and daughter, Abby, and he strives to achieve an intimate, family atmosphere within both restaurants.
His career in food started years ago when he was part of the team that opened Wildflower, a Fox Restaurant Concepts restaurant in Casas Adobes Plaza. He credits Sam Fox as being a mentor to him, and the experience he was able to gain at Fox, assisting in the openings of the now-closed Bistro Zin and Bloom in the Phoenix area. After Fox Restaurant Concepts, Metzger spent time in Chicago and Boston, “building the perfect restaurant in my head,” he describes.
He took those ideas and returned to his native Tucson, where he spent time at North and Tavolino before opening his first restaurant with his now ex-wife, Sandy. “The next step was to take the bull by the horns. Jax became all of the things we loved about restaurants.” JaxKitchen opened in August 2008 on the border of Tucson and Oro Valley, just north of the Oracle and Ina Roads intersection.
And the things they didn’t love about restaurants? They decided to heck with some of the old rules. Jax was built upon dropping rules, like uniforms, describes Metzger. They went with a small and seasonal menu, a move that’s a key element of the JaxKitchen experience. The restaurant strived instead for a family-oriented atmosphere, and continues to meet that goal through a top-notch staff. Guests of JaxKitchen should find knowledgable servers who can “be a tour guide, showing people the true experience of Jax,” Metzger says.
The Snack Slate is an ever changing array of fresh bites.
Training is key for this team, and they keep their service streamlined and focused through a weekly class or meeting at the restaurant. Here, the servers will learn about new products, food sources, discuss any issues, and celebrate achievements. “We strive to be the most knowledgable team in Tucson,” Metzger says. And to that end, he believes that the knowledge they give breeds confidence in the staff.
Then, a little over a year and a half ago, Metzger took the same fundamentals—fresh food, knowledgable service, family atmosphere—and opened his second restaurant, The Abbey, in northeast Tucson at Sunrise and Kolb. The Abbey was designed “to be different yet on the same backbone” as JaxKitchen, explains Metzger.
There were skeptics, Metzger says, people who thought the success of JaxKitchen couldn’t be repeated at The Abbey. That only stoked the fire to build another incredible team of people, to craft a fresh, ever changing menu, to offer Tucson another awesome dining experience.
When it comes to food at both restaurants, the same drive for impeccable service and the refusal to abide by standard rules, makes dining fun and fresh, figuratively and literally. “Why can’t we have breakfast for dinner,” asks Metzger, in reference to The Abbey’s “Breakfast for Dinner” dish. “Many nights, my dad would make French toast. It’s a throw back to childhood.”
And the ingredients for the delicious, sometimes rule-breaking plates come from as close to home as possible, says Metzger, including produce from their garden behind the Tucson Convention Center. They also do as much in-house prep and cooking as possible, from smoking their own salmon to curing their own duck confit.
Today, both restaurants are enjoying success, and Metzger has spent recent months expanding the options at Jax and The Abbey. He introduced lunch and happy hour to Jax a couple months ago, and started serving brunch at The Abbey. And, don’t be surprised if you see more great things from Metzger and his team. “I think five restaurants is a number you can manage as a group. To me, that number makes a lot of sense.”