New Owners Keep Tradition Alive

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Don't expect to see any high-flying improvements at the venerable Creekside Steakhouse and Tavern in Christopher Creek. New owners Gene and Thelma Bettencourt and Wolfgang and Jean Klien bought the iconic eatery from longtime owners John and Olive Matus earlier this year. But they are not planning anything that will make the place unrecognizable.

In fact, the largest part of the 25-member staff have been with the restaurant for many years.

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Gene Bettencourt, Wolfgang and Jean Klien, along with Thelma Bettencourt, are the new owners of Creekside Steakhouse and Tavern, an icon in the tiny Rim community of Christopher Creek. The terrace dining area is one of the added attractions they brought to the restaurant, since purchasing it earlier this year.

"We cherish the history of Christopher Creek and the Mogollon Rim area and we are keeping up the traditions and returning to some from the past, such as the anvil shoot for the Fourth of July celebration," said Wolfgang Klien.

There will be a few new touches here and there though. They have a terrace for outside dining now. An authentic Oktoberfest is planned by Sept. 29 and 30, said Klien, who was born and educated in Austria.

The menu in both the restaurant and bar is being expanded. A new selection of wines is being offered, including an Austrian wine, GrüVe, which is a light, crisp, dry wine that is a perfect match for the fish specialties on the menu, said Jean Klien.

"We also have a wonderful selection of homemade desserts and pies," Jean said.

Wolfgang said the restaurant will continue to serve its popular prime rib dinner on Sundays, but recommends reservations be made for a table Friday through Sunday, especially during the summer.

Not only is the restaurant a popular stop for visitors, its six rental cabins are always full during summer weekends, so they also require reservations.

The restaurant can seat about 140 people, including the terrace. It is also the Rim Country's only restaurant serving certified Angus beef, Wolfgang said.

Creekside is not just a place for visitors, though; the restaurant has served as a community center of sorts for most of its 40-year history and under the direction of the new owners, that is another tradition that will continue. It is where a recent Firebelles fund-raiser, to help build a firebreak around the community, was held. It is an almost-mandatory stop for the Navajo County Sheriff's Posse Hashknife Gang that comes down the Rim from Holbrook to Scottsdale, Pony Express-style, to open the Parada del Sol. It hosted the firefighters and media covering the forest fire in March, before the base camp was made.

"Our goal is to serve the community," Wolfgang said. Creekside has private rooms for meetings, bus tours, family gatherings, company seminars, holiday and special functions.

The restaurant is open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily; the bar is open from 10 a.m. to midnight. A special weekly feature is karaoke with a D.J. from 9 p.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.

The Creekside staff has at least 100 years of experience between them, with some of the employees having more than a decade of history with the restaurant. One employee, Karen Elerick, has been with Creekside almost 30 years.

With such veteran food service personnel on staff, the Kliens and Bettencourts are not worried about their own lack of experience in the restaurant business. Wolfgang is an architect and longtime resident of Arizona, who has had his own firm for more than 20 years. Gene is also a longtime resident of the state and has been involved in developing real estate projects for many years, both in Arizona and elsewhere. He recently retired from work in flight control at Sky Harbor International Airport in Phoenix. The two men are also developing a vacation home project on property in Christopher Creek called Creekside Mountain Homes.

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