Before a big crowd, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith thanked country music icon Toby Keith for “making an investment in Mesa.”
The unabashed fan then gave him a model of an AH-64D Apache Longbow helicopter, which is made in Mesa.
“Anytime you have a venue where people can come from out of town to come see Toby Keith is a big deal,” said Smith.
More than a thousand locals and dignitaries from all over, including developers from Chicago and Pittsburgh, checked out the 20,000-square-foot dining and entertainment venue that boasts an 85-foot-guitar bar.
That's the kind of draw Mesa's Economic Development Director Bill Jabjiniak hopes will continue.
“We were able to bring the property developers and Frank Capri (of Capri Restaurant Group) to come together in a partnership. Anytime you attract a destination restaurant we have to be on our game to make it work,” he said.
Norma Ross, 59, drove nearly three hours from Ajo, hoping her grand daughter Codi, 11, a rodeo princess could get a picture with the singer.
“He melts my butter,” she said. “He's not phony or pretentious.”
The new restaurant is the first franchise under Scottsdale-based Capri Restaurant Group, which purchased the master license agreement to build more Toby Keith restaurants nationwide. At the opening Keith said his restaurant was named one of the top 75 restaurants in the country, attributing it to “good food and whiskey.”
By 5:30 p.m. two long lines had formed in front of the restaurant's north entrance.
Sherri Hansen, 55, of Glendale, brought her daughter Danielle Bassett, 35, of Payson to the event. Hansen is food vendor for the restaurant and a huge fan of Toby Keith.
“I asked my daughter: ‘Do you want to see Toby?' And she about fainted,” said Hansen with a chuckle.
That was the same for Brittney Hamilton, 15, of Ahwatukee.
Earlier, she was speechless as she watched country music star Toby Keith walk from his limo and onto the red carpet. She greated him and he shook her hand.
“It was so exciting,” said the Gilbert Teen Queen, who donned a cowgirl hat with a rhinestone tiara and a fashionably turquoise and white leather dress.