Change is being served at a long-time Tucson staple.
As of March 27, what used to be Jonathan’s Cork on Tanque Verde Road is now The Cork Tucson. That’s when former owner and chef Jonathan Landeen and his wife and partner, Colette, officially passed the cleaver to new owners, chef Glenn and Sally Murphy.
Although change is on the table, much of the place will remain.
“We haven’t lost any (staff),” Murphy said. “It’s been fantastic.”
“We had three employees that have been there 25 years,” Landeen added. “We’ve had a very good staff.”
This change has been a long time coming for Landeen, who at 73 is ready to move on. He has owned and operated the establishment for 29 years, since 1994. He said he’s sad, happy and relieved to see it go.
“For us, it’s nice that we could sell it to someone who wants to keep it going kind of the way it is,” Landeen said. “I think Glenn is a smart enough restaurateur that he would not do anything that would be detrimental to his business. He’s got 95 (reservations) on the books for tonight. They’re going to be busy.”
Over the years, there have been some memorable events at Jonathan’s Cork, but “I don’t think we’ve had anybody die there,” Landeen said. “We’ve had the paramedics a few times and about five Heimlich maneuvers in 29 years and a few buttheads. Sometimes we called the police. Some people wouldn’t let us drive them home. We had to block their cars so they couldn’t leave, so they’d have to take an Uber, but no disasters.”
Then there’s this:
“I did get a call one day,” Landeen said. “The cleaner said, ‘I hate to tell you this, but water is running out your front door.’ The ladies’ room hot water line broke, probably broke sometime in the middle of the night, and it ran until 9 o’clock that morning before someone realized it and shut it off. We had to take out all the carpeting. We had to replace the floor in the bar. We had to let the walls dry out.”
That’s in the past now for Landeen.
As part of the restaurant sale, Landeen’s recipes will be passed on to Murphy, who plans to keep using them. Not surprisingly, though, Murphy has some plans to add to the menu.
“We will very, very slowly introduce new lines but immediately we’re not changing anything,” Murphy said. “The reason this has been successful for so long is people are accustomed to their dishes. They know what they’re getting and if it’s not broken, don’t fix it. (However), I’ll be introducing new stuff coming up fairly soon: chili mussels, charcuterie board, some of the old classics from the 1970s. Everything from chateaubriand to chicken Kiev or chicken cordon bleu. Just all the old stuff that a lot of people have forgotten about, but people still love.”
The staples will remain on the menu, such as the liver and onions and meatloaf Monday, which seems to be a Tucson favorite.
“This has been Jonathan’s old recipe for 20, 30 years,” Murphy said. “Last (Monday) night we had a full house. People love it. It’s just old school comfort food prepared really well and the service here is great.”
A native of Perth, Australia, Murphy loves to prepare seafood, the fresher the better. Eventually, some choice underwater selections will make it on to the menu as well.
“Anything fresh, wild caught, no farm stuff, which we’re moving toward in this restaurant,” he said. “There won’t be any farmed products at all. We’re just using wild caught, so seafood is definitely my jam.”
These days Murphy, at nearly 64 years old, prefers to manage the restaurant. He develops menu items and pays the bills, leaving the cooking, the hard stuff, as he called it, to the younger staff.
“Honestly, our line crew, I watched them last night and they were machines,” he said. “They are so good at what they do; if I got back in there now, I’d just get in the way.”
Murphy does not come to The Cork Tucson as an inexperienced restaurateur. Some in Tucson might remember the Backstage, a live music venue located next door to Jonathan’s Cork. He has also owned or operated more than 40 other pubs and restaurants throughout his career. This restaurant, Murphy said, is exactly what he and his wife were looking for.
“Sally and I have been looking since the pandemic for a restaurant in Tucson that is of this ilk,” Murphy said. “You know, old school, well established. There’s not many of them around, so you just have to play the waiting game. This came up and I jumped at the opportunity.”
Meanwhile, Landeen is happy the place is busy, but pleased to be free. In fact, the day after he officially sold the place, he planned to take his boat out to Parker Canyon to fish for the day, then drink a beer and eat a turkey sandwich.
“When the phone rings I don’t have to worry about someone not coming and doing their shift,” he said. “That’s the thing that’s off my mind now: the rules, regulations and employee issues are no longer my responsibility.”
The Cork Tucson
6320 E. Tanque Verde Road, Tucson
3 to 9 p.m. Monday to Saturday, closed Sunday