Print Childhood painting leads to life in building restoration
Written by Mark Lineberger   
Monday, 19 December 2011 00:00

Robbie Allen picked up a talent for painting when he was a child.

His canvas was the garbage bins his father owned through his business in the waste disposal industry.

Allen doesn’t do that much painting anymore, but it was an activity that eventually gave him the opportunity to create a different type of art, the restoration of old and rundown buildings.

Through experience, reporters learn every person has a story. To prove it, each week The Camp Verde Journal reporter hits the streets in the Verde Valley to intercept  unsuspecting members of the public as they go about their daily business. With brief introductions and the chance to flee, the interview begins with the fated question, “If your story was in the  newspaper, what would it be?”

Allen was 13 when a man asked him if he would paint his truck, a ’52 Chevy pickup.

“I said sure, as long as you don’t mind if it’s garbage can tan,” Allen said.

From that point on, the Mingus Union High School graduate who grew up in Sedona kept it up, learning a few other automotive repair techniques like fixing the occasional dents.

Allen got a job at a body shop in Phoenix in 1979, but eventually brought the work back to the Verde Valley.

Allen did the work for folks out of his backyard for awhile, but that didn’t last very long.

“The neighbors didn’t like it very much,” Allen said.

Looking for a better solution, Allen said fortune smiled on him when a local man named Walt Breidenbach took him under his wing, so to speak.

Breidenbach gave Allen a space in Old Town Cottonwood for $100 a month to carry out his work on cars and trucks. To drum up business, Allen said he would travel around town, leaving 3-by-5 index cards with his location under the windshield wipers of vehicles.

Eventually the business grew, moved to new locations and today Allen is the owner of a body shop in Cottonwood, a business that employs 20 people.

Allen also got married along the way to his wife, Gaye.

Robbie Allen shows the old piano he bought for $40 during a tour of the old Zane Grey Steakhouse which he is having renovated on Dec. 7. Allen said he has improved several Verde Valley properties and talked about his belief in quality workmanship and investment in top-notch materials.The couple’s first date was at the movie theater that was then in downtown Camp Verde, where they watched “Same Time, Next Year,” a 1978 Alan Alda comedy Allen said didn’t leave much to talk about.

Still, the date must have been a success as the two tied the knot a little while later in 1980.

The couple bought a home in 1981, and Allen said that was his first foray into property investment.

These days, he’s made property investment a second career, one he’s clearly passionate about.

In fact, Allen owns a plaza in downtown Camp Verde, the location of the old sutler’s store that used to provide supplies for the soldiers at Fort Verde and residents in the surrounding area.

It’s also coincidentally right where the old movie theater used to be where Allen and his wife went on that date.

Allen said the building was in pretty sorry shape when he bought it in the middle of the last decade, but he’s diligently worked over the years to make the plaza one of the nicest shopping plazas in Camp Verde.

A few of the spaces inside are vacant, a sign of the troubled economy, but Allen remains undeterred.

Even now, he has a team working to transform the old Zane Grey Steakhouse next to the plaza into a first-class restaurant that retains some of the historic charm of the old building.

There’s no time limit on when the restaurant will be complete, Allen said, and he’s had to deal with seemingly endless red tape to get the project moving forward.

Allen doesn’t want to run the restaurant himself, but he has a very specific idea of how he wants the restaurant to be with an “if you build it, they will come” attitude.

Despite the economy, Allen said he’s spared no expense.

“There are some high-end restaurateurs interested,” Allen said. “I keep my standards high in how I do [the work] with the intent that it will retain its integrity. I’m not going to sell it short.”

Allen said he tries to apply the same ethic to every project he does, including a residential apartment project he recently completed in Cottonwood.

“We are what we do,” Allen said. “People look at our footprints, and that’s how they know where we’ve been.”


Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341 or email This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it