By Kathy Montgomery | Photo by John Burcham
Not many people open a restaurant with the goal of slowing down. But that’s what motivated chef Christopher Dobrowolski to open his phenomenally successful SchoolHouse Restaurant.
Dobrowolski began working for Hillstone Restaurant Group while still attending Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Scottsdale. Not long after graduation, he was managing 12 of Hillstone’s restaurants, including its flagship. Following that, he spent 10 years managing a group of popular Sedona restaurants.
With a wife and three children, Dobrowolski decided to get off the fast track. He and his wife, Laura, opened SchoolHouse Restaurant in February 2013 in a small, historic Cottonwood building that served as one of the Verde Valley’s first schools from 1878 to 1917. (EDITOR'S NOTE: After publication, the restaurant moved to a location in Sedona. Updated contact information appears below.)
They’ve played up the historic setting with old signs, specials written on a chalkboard and a report card given to diners at the end of every meal. Yet the décor feels contemporary, with dark-leather banquettes, maple tables and bright-red accents.
The real draw is the food, which Dobrowolski describes as global comfort food. But it’s comfort food with a twist, with dishes like osso buco (pictured), served with black-garlic macaroni and cheese; buttermilk fried chicken with an organic blue-corn waffle; and pan-seared scallops with carrot-apple-chardonnay sauce.
“The inspiration was to give people the best-quality food we can give them for the best-possible price, bringing unique ingredients into the mix,” Dobrowolski says.
That means almost everything is as fresh and local as can be: Arizona-grown, grass-fed beef; free-range organic chicken; herbs grown on site. Most of the produce is grown on the 10-acre Bramble Vineyard and Garden, which the Dobrowolskis own with partners in Page Springs.
The Dobrowolskis also listen to their customers. They read and answer every review on TripAdvisor and call patrons after their visit to see what they could do better. They take feedback seriously — for example, they took appetizers off the lunch menu because they were slowing down lunch when customers needed to get back to work.
“I like refreshing historic buildings,” Dobrowolski says. “We get our education from things in the past.”
Perhaps. But it takes a chef with talent and vision to make that education so delicious and so exciting.
SchoolHouse Restaurant is located at 7000 State Route 179, Suite C-106, in Sedona. For more information, call 928-284-2240 or visit www.vvschoolhouse.com.