Dreams Do Come True!
Sedona Magazine -Summer, 1992
by Hoyt Johnson
If you don’t think so, just ask Chuck and Phyllis Cline, proud owners of one of Sedona’s finest restaurants, The Heartline Cafe.
Ten years ago, they each had their own dream. His was to own a fine restaurant where he could market his unique culinary creativity; hers was to live in Arizona. The fruit of their combined dreams was a single ambition that would satisfy both desires: New Jersey residents Chuck and Phyllis Cline dreamed of owning a restaurant together — in Sedona! And dreams do come true, folks. If you don’t believe it, make a reservation at one of the finest restaurants in this community, The Heartline Cafe, which is owned and operated by an enterprising, innovative young chef — yes, it’s Chuck – and his pretty wife Phyllis, of course.
The Heartline Cafe is one of those particularly pleasant places — there aren’t enough — where relaxing and enjoying dinner in a comfortable manner comes naturally, with no effort. Still, there is sufficient sophistication to elevate a dining experience at this exceptional restaurant to a high level of pure pleasure — and it is refreshingly apparent that the staff is aware that the establishment of style is its responsibility, not the guests’.
Though waiters and waitresses are attired in semi-formal black and white, guests are invited to enjoy lunch and dinner in casual clothes, without concern for an imposing dress code. Entrees, creatively displayed on fine china, are served on white linen attractively adorned with sparkling,silver and fresh flowers. Throughout the dining room and out on a charming, English-style, garden patio, oil-burning lamps lend a warm, soft glow to this restaurant’s simple decor. “We call it ‘fine food with a casual mood,’ ” say Chuck and Phyllis.
And, indeed, it is fine food! Chuck blends European, Mediterranean and Asian culinary techniques to create a very popular, personal brand of American cuisine. “He combines the classical training he received at the Culinary Institute of America with a serious appreciation for fresh — sometimes unusual — American ingredients,” Phyllis proudly reported.
All desserts are homemade, including choices such as mousse with berries, cheesecake fruit tarts and chocolate cake, and Heartline Cafe’s extensive selection of beverages includes cappuccino, espresso, coffee and a variety of teas, in addition to more than 100 international wines and liqueurs.
Chuck might have been a doctor — he was accepted for premed at Rutgers University — if he hadn’t enjoyed working in a restaurant while in high school. “I liked preparing what people wanted, and then seeing them enjoy it,” he explained. “I wouldn’t have experienced much of that kind of satisfaction in a clinic or hospital.”
After graduating from culinary school in New York, Chuck was hired to open and operate a small cafe. “It was a terrible job, mostly because the owners didn’t know anything about the restaurant business, so I moved into the hotel field, where there was more .professionalism,” he said. “Eventually, however, I accepted a position as executive chef at 40 Main Street Restaurant in Milburn, New Jersey, where I stayed for seven years.”
During this time, Phyllis was attending Cook College, but what she enjoyed most was visiting Arizona, where her sister, Karen, was attending Arizona State University. “Karen never came home, and after a few trips out West — we always met in Sedona — I could understand why. I fell in love with this state and vowed that I would live here someday,” stated Phyllis.
As fate would have it, Phyllis ended up working at 40 Main Street Restaurant — and you know what happened. “After closing the restaurant at night the crew used to run over to Manhattan to dance, and Chuck and I always ended up paired together. We liked that — and the rest is history,” Phyllis explained. “We were married — can you imagine, in the restaurant and Chuck prepared all the food — and I dragged him out here, to Sedona. We stayed at L’ auberge, which was very romantic.
During our stay, we decided that someday we would move here, to operate our own restaurant in this town; so, we went back to New Jersey to work hard and save our money.” During a subsequent visit to Sedona, when Phyllis brought a new Cline named Charles Christian (“C.C.”) to show Karen, these sisters had lunch at a new restaurant, which was called The Hidden Garden. Phyllis became ecstatic, completely enraptured: “This is exactly what Chuck and I want,” she exclaimed. “The size, the atmosphere, the patio — everything is exactly like we have dreamed about. Put in an offer!”
“You’re crazy!” replied Karen, who works in real estate. “Do it! This is it!” insisted Phyllis, and then she called Chuck, to tell him about her discovery. He was excited, too, and told Phyllis, “I trust your judgment.”
The offer that Karen submitted was not immediately accepted. Undaunted as she prepared for her return to New Jersey, Phyllis told Karen, “Keep at it!” After a few months passed and legal complications were resolved, the offer was accepted; Chuck and Phyllis’ dream had come true!
When Chuck and Phyllis arrived in Sedona to assume ownership, he liked what he saw — more accurately, he liked what he envisioned. He liked the new restaurant after obtrusive brass lights and hanging fixtures were removed; new curtains were installed; the inviting, small bar was separated from the dining room; the kitchen was opened up; a more Southwestern decor was established; and a new name was chosen.
The name “Heartline” was chosen because Chuck and Phyllis knew artist John Nieto, creator of a painting with numerous Zuni heartlines depicted. While discussing the painting with Nieto, they were pleased to learn that the heartline symbolizes fine health, good luck and long life. “We liked that, and we decided that calling our new restaurant The Heartline Cafe’ would be a wonderful way to start a new life and a new business in a new home,” stated Phyllis.
Apparently, choosing the “Heartline” name was appropriate, because while this fine restaurant has not had time to enjoy a long life, it certainly has been the beneficiary of fine health and good luck. In little more than a year, The Heartline Cafe’ has become a favorite place for local residents and a frequent tradition for regular visitors.
“We hear one complaint over and over from tourists,” said Chuck with a laugh.
“It’s that they didn’t discover us on their first day in town.”
As for the future, Chuck and Phyllis say, “We’re not looking to get bigger — only better. We just want people to come in, have fun and enjoy themselves.
“We love living in Sedona. We’re where we want to be and we’re doing what we want to do — that’s the kind of success that we were looking for, and we found it!”