Macky's Grill, a local favorite, is a legend in its own location according to co-owner Cari Day.
"We were remodeling it (before we opened) and we had so many people come in and say, ‘This isn't going to work. None of the restaurants that have been in here have made it. In fact, nothing on this end of town has made it. It's too far.'
"We're like, ‘Oh, really! We're from Phoenix and it takes like five minutes to get here from anywhere else in Payson.' We thought our location was just the best thing about it, and we're being told our location is doomed.
"We opened and five days later we had a waiting list, and that waiting list lasted for a year. The first year was just unbelievable."
Actually, Cari, and husband, Greg, are from Oregon, but they came to Payson via Phoenix. Her parents moved to the Valley and the Days followed.
Back in Oregon, Cari had a full-ride scholarship in hotel and restaurant management at Oregon State, but quit after two years to open a restaurant with her husband.
"It was the biggest mistake of my life, the biggest regret I have," Day said.
The Oregon restaurant was really more of a sandwich shop.
"It was similar to the Frozen Cow," she said. "It was an ice cream parlor and we did hamburgers and sandwiches."
When the Days discovered Payson, they were already looking for an opportunity to open a bigger restaurant.
"We had checked out several small towns, and we even thought about opening a restaurant in Phoenix," Day said. "But my husband actually witnessed a drive-by gang shooting in Phoenix and we decided we were not going to raise our kids in a big city."
When the Days discovered Payson, it was love at first sight. Once they found the building that would become Macky's, Greg did all the interior refurbishing himself -- including the booths, carvings, and valances.
The restaurant is named after Day's grandfather.
"McKay was my grandmother's maiden name and my grandpa was Grandpa Mac," Day said. "He was just the funnest cowboy, the neatest guy. He had circus ponies on his big ranch.
"We were originally going to call it Wacky Macky's, but then we just went with Macky's. We love the name."
Macky's took a bit of a hit when Chili's came to town, but has recovered nicely and just recently introduced a new menu with 40 additional items.
"You can't please everybody, but we only took off a couple items," Day said. "We added some exciting new burgers. We have stir fries now. We have fajitas that are just excellent. Our steaks are really good and I don't think they get a lot of recognition, so we're featuring them more."
Besides most of the familiar menu items, Macky's trademark service remains as well. In fact, the restaurant is generally considered one of the best run businesses in Payson.
"I think the key is treating your employees with respect," Day said. "So many people say, ‘Oh, you gotta ride them. You really gotta be after them all the time. You gotta make sure they're not stealing from you.'
"Every day, our focus is on having fun with our employees," Day said. "Our number one goal when we opened our restaurant was (building) a relationship with our employees that was more like family."
Once they find employees they really like, the Days have a unique way of finding more just like them.
"We don't interview and we hardly look at applications," Day said. "We find somebody we like and say, ‘Amanda, you're so good. Who is a friend of yours who would be just like you.'"
When she's not at Macky's, Day can usually be found fulfilling her duties as mother of three.
"My focus is always on my kids," she said. "I am on the site councils for Rim Country Middle School and Frontier Elementary School. I am involved in the Character Counts program. I love what it stands for."
Day is also musically inclined, and made it all the way to the second round of the Arizona Idol contest last month.
"I sang at Metro Center a month ago," she said.
But there is no hint of celebrity about Day. In fact, what you see is what you get.
"I'm pretty much an open book," she said. "I was voted friendliest in my senior class, and that is me in a nutshell. I just love people."
She says the restaurant business is every bit as taxing as you've probably heard it is, but she and Greg have a formula that seems to be working pretty well.
"It's a hard business and a lot of long hours, but I love to talk to people and Greg loves to work really hard," she said, laughing. "So I talk to people and he works really hard and we make a good team."
Name: Cari Day
Occupation: Restaurateur and mother
Employer: Co-owner of Macky's Grill
Age: Turning 40 this year -- boo hoo!
Birthplace: Eugene, Oregon
Family: Husband Greg, daughter Allie (7), sons Jeff (11) and Trevor (13), and nephew Ryan (19).
Personal Motto: Lead by example (at home and at work). Character always counts.
Inspiration: My husband -- he is my hero.
Greatest feat: Raising a beautiful family while running a very busy restaurant.
Favorite hobby or leisure activity: Singing and running.
Three words that describe me best: Caring, social, honest.
I don't want to brag, but: Macky's Grill rocks Arizona.
Person in history I'd most like to meet: Princess Diana.
Luxury defined: No work, all play.
Dream vacation spot: Ireland.
Why Payson? Friendly people, beautiful weather. I love this town.