Remembering Lenny Monti's Restaurant

Sep 25, 2018

Much has been written about Monti's La Casa Vieja, one of the oldest and most famous restaurants in all of Phoenix. But much less attention has been given to the second Monti's location in North Phoenix - one that has nearly been forgotten to history. Today, I hope to tell that story.

The Hayden House
It was 1873 when Charles Trumbull Hayden, a businessman and one of the earliest settlers of Tempe, built an adobe hacienda for his family, located directly across the street from his flour mill. Other websites document the history of the building with much greater detail than I can, but over the years it underwent a number of expansions and served as a boarding house, private residence, and a restaurant. In 1924, the house was restored to its original appearance.

Monti's La Casa Vieja
In 1947, Leonard F. Monti, a World War II veteran, moved to Chandler and opened a restaurant called Monti's Grill. In 1954, he bought Hayden's adobe house and opened Monti's La Casa Vieja ("The Old House") in 1956.

Monti's La Casa Vieja restaurant in Tempe operated for 58 years before closing in 2014.
The restaurant was famous for its Western decor and art collection and was popular for many years - serving up steaks, prime rib, seafood, and other dishes. Later additions brought the property to 20,769 square feet, creating an unusual interior layout that was a labyrinth of more than a dozen connected rooms.

Leonard Monti passed the family business down to his son Michael Monti in 1993, and sadly the founder "Lenny" as he was often called passed away in 1997 at 85 years old. The restaurant is recognized as one of the oldest structures in the Salt River Valley, and the oldest continuously occupied structure in Tempe. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1984 and the Tempe Historic Property Register in 2000.

End of an Era
After 58 years, Michael Monti announced in 2014 that the restaurant's rising costs of operation had forced him to sell the property. The famous Monti's La Casa Vieja closed in late 2014 after 58 years of service. The building and its 2.5 acres of land were sold to a Colorado based developer, Hensel Phelps, who planned to build a new mixed-use office/retail development called One Hundred Mill. The later additions to the Hayden House were demolished, but the original adobe structure was preserved and was intended for use as a restaurant.

At the time of writing in late 2018, no construction has taken place and the developer had agreed to sell the building back to the City of Tempe as well as invest in renovations and improvements to the 145 year old structure, and reimburse the city for property tax breaks that were given as an incentive.

Lenny Monti's House of Steaks
Lenny Monti's House of Steaks - Phoenix
Not much is known about the history of Lenny Monti's second location in North Phoenix. The restaurant was formerly located at 12025 N 19th Ave. (near 19th Ave. and Cactus Rd.) at the base of Shaw Butte mountain.

Historical aerial imagery shows a building in that location in the Spring of 1976.

The November 19, 1981 issue of the Arizona Republic carried this ad for Monti's:
Lenny & his family invite you to celebrate Thanksgiving Day. Complete turkey dinner $25 w/all the trimmings plus dessert. Children's portions only $3.00. We will be serving from our regular menu also. For Thanksgiving reservations call 997-5844. 12025 N 19th Ave Phoenix. 19th Ave and Cactus.

A later advertisement from May 22, 1998 featured a section of "North Phoenix Community Cuisine" with the following advertisement for Monti's:

LENNY MONTI'S RESTAURANT 12025 N. 19th Ave. - 997-5844 Upholding a nearly 50 year tradition isn't easy, but Leonard Monti, Jr., son Mario and daughter, Gina continue to serve Phoenix at 19th Avenue and Cactus with the same excellence in food and warm ambiance that his parents began back in 1947. Original artwork along with native American art and jewelry are showcased in an elegant western decor; a perfect compliment to Lenny Monti's famous steaks, prime rib and mouth watering seafood. An outdoor dining area surrounds a fountain in the courtyard. Enjoy your next lunch, dinner or banquet at Lenny Monti's 19th Avenue and Cactus location, and you'll see why the Monti family tradition of good food, generous portions and good prices are a legend in the valley! One of the long-time regulars put it: "Lenny Monti knows how to treat a steak and a customer". Lenny Monti's is open seven days a week Sunday thru Thursday 11AM to 10PM and Friday. Saturday 11AM to 11PM. Weekend reservations are suggested. 

The building was in place until April 2005, and was torn down by early 2006. It is not known if it operated as Lenny Monti's the entire time. In 2016, a discount retail store called Family Dollar was built on part of the site formerly occupied by Lenny Monti's. All that remains of the restaurant is the sign at the corner of the parking lot:

The sign is all that remains of the former Lenny Monti's location in North Phoenix at 19th Ave. and Cactus Road
Do you know more about the history of Monti's second location in North Phoenix? Please leave us a comment below, and thanks for reading!

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