Bravo Americano Moderno, the much anticipated new restaurant designed by Chef John Wong, opens this month in downtown Globe. Wong, who successfully introduced sushi and Asian-fusion food through the opening of his restaurant Bloom, is banking that this community is ready for another food adventure: wood-fired cooking.
Wong will be channeling his memories of culinary travels in southern Europe.
“What was so wonderful about staying in Portugal and those countries was their wood-fired chicken,” John recalls. “Such an amazing flavor! I loved that aroma.”
When thinking about Globe, Wong says, “I really want to do this wood-fired thing. I don’t want to do open pit, I want to do inside. Pizza, wood-fired chicken, wood-fired salmon. So that’s how it got started. I tapped into my experiences in Spain and Greece. I always wanted to go back to that feeling, the joy of smelling wood-fired food.”
Through Bravo, Wong plans to offer a variety of meats and make his own bread, sauces, yogurt and cheese. He will be heading to New York to refine his cheese techniques with a one-week class focused solely on making mozzarella.
Bravo will offer seating for 35 inside and 55 outside. The space will feature a showcase outdoor fireplace, benches made from wood salvaged from the old Globe bowling alley, and a 40-foot gas radiant heater built into the patio’s ceiling. Inside, chefs will fire up a beautiful tiled Italian pizza oven that can reach 900 degrees and cook pizzas in under 90 seconds.
Bravo is located next door to Bloom by design. Wong says, “After Bloom took off, I realized I needed to create one more restaurant in order for Bloom to stay alive. You know, to keep that energy, that synergy around. More restaurants are better. I want to make the historic downtown area more into a foodie experience for the customers.”
Bravo’s opening offers a spark of hope in a season of darkness, when many restaurants are closing due to COVID-19. The Arizona Restaurant Association in October stated that between 9% and 11% of the 10,768 food establishments in Arizona have gone out of business because of the pandemic. Many others are in danger of shuttering their shops.
Wong never considered changing his plans to open a new restaurant this season. He says, “Bravo is a must. We had money in the bank that was allocated to be used, so we had to go forward.”
But COVID hurt the process.
“It hit us right in the middle of our high season. Our sales got hurt by maybe 20%, but that wasn’t the only hurt. The hurt was the cost of to-go.” In an industry known for tight profit margins, the additional $1.25 to $1.50 per order for to-go boxes, napkins, chopsticks and cutlery, soy sauce, and take-out bags impacted the business.
Wong says, “I didn’t raise my prices, so we’ve been affected. The other thing was there was a beef shortage, and the beef prices went up. It affected the meat market not because there weren’t enough cows, but it was because there were not enough employees.”
Wong continued his progress on Bravo despite these setbacks by working longer and harder. “I saved a lot of money doing everything myself. You see me here every day in the morning. I work a half day, and then I go next door and cook. I am here every day doing the demolition, building the patio, putting something together.”
Wong’s move toward outdoor dining seems prescient. “It’s all about timing,” he says. He recognized the untapped outdoor dining opportunities with Globe’s great weather and growing support for adventures in dining, like Bloom.
“It’s a risk to do sushi in a small town, but the community has been very supportive, and I’m very happy to have the backing of the community to try different food… It’s this community that helped build this restaurant.”
Most of rural Arizona cannot claim restaurants offering sushi and Portuguese wood-fired cooking in their historic downtowns. How did Globe attract a young entrepreneur and mathematician shaped by years of international travel?
Wong grew up on a farm in Ontario, Canada, and then earned double degrees in math and fine arts at the University of Waterloo. After graduating, he specialized in mathematical modeling used to predict fraud risk at General Electric. G.E. brought him to the United States and supported his MBA at Arizona State University. The company then sent him to India, which inspired years of travel and exploration.
That was when Wong discovered his passion for cooking. He opened his first restaurant in Melbourne, Australia, and his second in Mesa, Arizona.
When asked how he decided to move to Globe, Wong attributes this decision to his wife, Deborah Yerkovich. “When my lease came up in Mesa, I was already paying $5,000, and the landlord wanted more money. I realized it was time to give it up and come to where Debbie was more comfortable, which was Globe, and raise a family. The kids were young, and they needed me to be here instead of traveling back and forth. It was too long. So when I got here, I sat around for about a year and thought maybe I could be a full-time dad or maybe go back to G.E. I debated this.”
Fortunately, Wong’s passion for food turned the debate in a different direction: opening a new restaurant.
Again, Wong says, “It was all about timing. The Dr. Wilt building was not for sale at that time. I wanted to be in the historical downtown area. I didn’t want to be on the 60 or on Ash. I wanted to be downtown. When Deb and I first got the building, we did some renovations. The street was empty and abandoned looking, there were not a lot of cars, and it was a Wednesday afternoon. By Wednesday evening, I decided, ‘Deb, this is going to change. Watch! This is going to change.’”
While his international travels provided the inspiration for the menus at Bloom and Bravo, it’s Wong’s business savvy that is helping to create a foodie destination. When asked if he can envision any additional restaurants, Wong shared his ideas for a restaurant featuring a four-item menu. “It may be the next step. It will be called Duke’s. Small staff, small restaurant, limited seating, mainly take-out.”
In the meantime, Globe awaits the wood-fired delicacies Wong will create at Bravo – grateful that the artistic mathematician from Canada discovered his passion when he “fell in love with food,” and decided to bring it to Broad Street.
Thea Wilshire works as an author, psychologist, speaker, healthcare consultant, and AirBnB host. Her passions include community development, the creation of public spaces, trying new adventures, and sharing her therapy dog with schools and medical facilities. Find her blog at https://www.acornconsulting.org/blog.