By Shanna Fujii
Contrary to popular belief, owners Keith and Patty Shanks didn’t name Rott n’ Grapes after the fermenting process for wine or “rotten grapes.” Instead, the owners took their two favorite things—Rottweilers and wine—and created the name for their business.
Rott n’ Grapes has two locations in Phoenix, the newest location housed on Roosevelt Row in the Gold Spot Building. Rott n’ Grapes RoRo, as it is officially addressed, has an industrial chic interior complete with brick and plaster walls, slanted gold ornate mirrors, and larger-than-life artwork of their dogs. The inspiration? Their affinity of Italy and its romantic, rich culture and the artistic aesthetic embedded in all that is Roosevelt Row.
We sat down with Keith to talk about his interest in Italy, why he chose Roosevelt Row as his second location, and how Rott n’ Grapes is so much more than a restaurant.
How would you describe Rott n’ Grapes to someone who has never been?
Sometimes there’s a misconception that our name is after “rotten grapes.” They think we’re only a wine bar and are limited in what they can get, which couldn’t be farther from the truth. For me, the best way to describe this space is that we are a multi-use concept. You can come here for a casual night with friends, you can have fine-dining romantic evening, or you can have a late night in our speakeasy, The Onyx.
In addition to that, our space can be used for events or private parties, we cater, and we have a convenient bottle shop where you can buy individual beer or wine, or can create a to-go six pack. We want people to see Rott n’ Grapes as more than just a restaurant.
When did you first start Rott n’ Grapes?
About nine years ago, we were in Italy touring around. There was something about that wine element we loved so much. We’ve had this long-standing business plan over the last several years to open up a wine bistro of some sort, and in 2006, we founded Rott n’ Grapes.
What was it about that Italy trip that inspired you to start Rott n’ Grapes?
What really captured the elegance of Italy for us were the local restaurants. In Italy, wine was produced thousands of years ahead of the United States, so their palates are very mature. When you go to Italy, you don’t drink wine from the bottle—you drink house wine or table wine wherever you go. A tourist would typically think, “I want a bottle of wine,” but for the locals, it’s all about the house wine. What they’re telling you is that the house wine is the best wine out there. It’s such a rich culture and we wanted to bring that element here.
Do you have your own house wine at Rott n’ Grapes?
We do. We have five to seven different varietals of wine and you can find a house wine for every varietal (house pinot grigio, house pinot noir, house cabernet…etc).
For someone who doesn’t know anything about wine, how do you recommend a wine
We ask, “What do you like?” If they don’t know the answer to that, we’ll typically ask them questions like, “Do you like something on the light side, do you like something on the medium- body side or do you like full body? Do you like something that’s more fruitful or do you like something that’s drier on the backend?” We really want to understand what your palate is like. After understanding your preferences, we’ll find the right wine for you.
What’s your personal favorite at the moment?
Right now, my personal favorite is the Loscano Malbec. It’s a medium body, has some dryness on the back, along with some pepper elements to it. I can eat it with any meal on our menu which is what makes it so versatile.
Let’s go back to Italy. What was the atmosphere of the local restaurants in Italy like?
So casual and romantic. It’s educational in many ways because of the history of the streets you’re on. It has this element of history and ancestry that almost bleeds through the pores of the streets themselves. You can tell the buildings have been around for too many years to count. Whether we were in Florence, Venice, or Rome, you can tell they’re not stuck somewhere, they just appreciate where they’ve always been.
Roosevelt Row has a rich history to it as well. Do you think that’s part of the reason why you were interested in opening your second location in Roosevelt Row?
It is. My wife is an artist, so we’ve always been attracted to Roosevelt Row. Downtown Phoenix is up and coming. It’s inviting; people want to be here and walk the streets.
Phoenix is a big city, but it still feels so small. I think Phoenicians have this inner connection with each other, and they keep it that way. They refuse to be so big and so separated. They really want to know each other and be a part of something.
We’ve even had quite a few politicians come through. One of them being Mayor Kate Gallego, who is now a good friend. Not many organizations can say they have a connection to the mayor the city. I grew up in the Dallas area. Back there, I wouldn’t have a blink-of-an-eye interaction with the city council, let alone the mayor of Dallas, but here in Phoenix, I do. That’s because of Phoenicians. That’s just how we are.
In what ways are you incorporating more of a community aspect in your business?
We’ve only been open for eight months, but we want to incorporate more of the local art feel of Roosevelt Row into Rott n’ Grapes. We have some paintings from local artists down in the speakeasy and feature some artwork in the main space. We’re interested in hanging up art and selling it for artists as opposed to buying it simply because we want to showcase local artists in rotation. We’re actually looking for mural artist to create something for the back wall in the restaurant, so we can display even more local talent.
For someone who has never been to Roosevelt Row, where is one place you think they
should visit besides Rott n’ Grapes?
You have to come down to the Hance Park area. There is this comfort about Hance Park and how spacious it is. But right across from Hance Park is the Hance Dog Park. We take our dogs there all the time and think it’s the best park for dog owners. Even the dogs themselves are disciplined and fun to be around, which makes it really enjoyable to walk around.
ABOUT ROTT N’ GRAPES
Rott n’ Grapes RoRo is located on Roosevelt and 3 rd Ave. If you’re in the area, pop in for happy hour at the bar, a phenomenal meal on the mezzanine, or have an intimate conversation in The Onyx. As active owners and operators, chances are, you’ll see Keith and Patty running the show and if you do, make sure to say hi. Learn more about Rott n’ Grapes at www.rottngrapes.com or on social media at @rottngrapes.
ABOUT SHANNA FUJII
Shanna Fujii is a colorful wordsmith published on GoDaddy, Arizona Foothills, Phoenix Children’s Hospital, and more. When she’s not busy adding spice to copy for clients, she’s checking things off her bucket list, running her philanthropic streetwear brand,Honey & Misfits, or writing and producing short films. She’s a french fry connoisseur and will never be caught without a pair of worn-in Converse. Connect with her on LinkedIn.