Started in 2007, Ground Control has been a haven for those in the West Valley looking for a sense of community and a cold pint. Originally founded in Goodyear, owners Sean and Tara Rassas moved their business to the current Litchfield Park location in 2012, bringing with them fine wine, locally-roasted coffee, and a passion for world-class craft beer.
The move allowed them to expand the number of taps from 6 to 27 and take over a larger kitchen. The same year, loyal friend and customer Ian Harwell became Ground Control’s “Beer Guy,” developing the bar into a respected and serious establishment for craft brews.
Thoroughly enjoying the vibe and concept of Ground Control, the Harwells began toying with the idea of starting a similar business. But then, the Rassas’ decided that they wanted to spend time with their family and were looking to sell. It was a match made in heaven.
In September 2019, Ian and his wife Stephanie took over the entire operation, running almost immediately into the pandemic. Besides perseverance and a strong take-out menu, there was one critical change that they credit with saving the business.
“One of the first things we did as new owners was switch to Toast POS, which is everywhere now, but at the time was relatively new to the market,”Harwell says. “With a click of a button when COVID hit, we were able to launch online ordering and it took off. We would take deliveries anywhere—Tucson, Yuma, Tonopah. If someone wanted our food, we found a way to get it to them.”
In 2021, the couple expanded to central Phoenix with a ghost kitchen in the Highland Food Hub called Major Tom’s. It was an immediate success, even creating a delivery partnership with nearby bar Thunderbird Lounge. But persistent staffing issues at Ground Control meant the Harwells had to choose where to devote their time and Major Tom’s was closed down. Additional roadblocks continued to crop up, including inflation and a lengthy construction project on Litchfield Road that made accessing the gastropub almost impossible.
Still, the Harwells have pushed forward, determined to provide a home away from home for their loyal customers.
“Before we took over ownership, Stephanie and I were regulars here, getting coffee in the morning and coming back for craft beer after work,” Harwell says. “We want to continue building this amazing neighborhood community. Our regulars love to sit at the bar and chat with visitors. Great friendships have developed because of our place. All of the stresses of owning a small business are worth it when people tell us that Ground Control is their Cheers.”
While the Harwells’ attitude and passion are infectious, it’s the food and drinks that keep people coming back. At its heart, Ground Control is a craft beer bar, providing a thoughtfully curated and rotating list of beers from local and independent breweries.
Ground Control has also collaborated with brewers from Hawaii to Ohio along with Arizona partners including Dark Sky Brewing Co., O.H.S.O., and Smelter Town Brewery to create new offerings. For Ground Control’s 16th anniversary in mid-July, the team collaborated to create special beers Ground Control to Major Tim from Smelter Town and Hops are My Copilot with Tombstone Brewing Co.
Many of the items churned out by Ground Control’s scratch-made kitchen are made fresh in-house, from wood-fired pizzas to jalapeño ranch for the iconic Diablo Salad.
While the Harwells have kept a few items from the Rassas’ original menu, the offerings have shifted to include seasonal favorites and customer requests. Monday night team trivia competitions are enhanced with bowls of hand-battered and crunchy cheese curds dipped in a tangy, spiced mayo-meets-ketchup sauce and the wood-fired Triple Double pizza loaded with sausage, pepperoncini and Monterey Jack cheese.
Saturday mornings get you going with coffee roasted in-house and breakfast burritos like the Cabo, a hearty handful stuffed with bacon, potatoes and avocado and perked up with chipotle aioli. Brunch is served on Sundays, with mimosa flight boards to accompany the sweet and golden chicken and waffles or the crowd-favorite Nashville hot chicken.
Whether it’s an espresso, glass of wine, pint of beer, or plate of deliciously garlic-loaded fries, Ground Control excels at providing options that fit every mood. The Harwells welcome all their guests with open arms because, according to Harwell, “the craft beer community is all about being real, being genuine, and being supportive.”
4860 N. Litchfield Road, Litchfield Park