December 10, 2023

Brenda Clouston, owner of COLT Grill (Blushing Cactus Photography/courtesy)

Successful people in the Verde Valley come from all walks of life, but they all have certain traits in common. In our new series LEADERS & ENTREPRENEURS, we talk with those who have risen to prominence about what attributes work for them in their field. Today, we talk with restaurateur Brenda Clouston, who created a series of COLT Grill eateries.
Q. What makes Colt Grill special? What is your unique offering to the communities you serve?
A. We are what is referred to in the BBQ world as an “authentic smokehouse,” but we look like a cozy, country restaurant/bar. Nearly everything on the menu is made by hand, from scratch, and smoked over oak hardwood on an authentic steel smoker. It’s a lot more effort to operate this way, but you can taste the difference in every delicious bite. We recently earned the “Best Restaurant” award in Prescott Valley for the third year in a row and we have been voted “Best BBQ of Yavapai County” several times over, all because of the hard work our staff puts in.
Q. What helped prepare you to be a business owner?
A. I developed endurance and discipline in 4-H, high school sport and college. Also, I’m from a long line of entrepreneurs; you learn not to give up when it’s tough – to keep pushing and think long term.
Q. Why did you choose the locations you did for your restaurants?
A. We have family nearby in Cottonwood and Prescott, and there was nothing similar to COLT in the areas where we opened.
Q. What’s special about the communities you serve or makes you a good fit for them?
A. Each community has a different heartbeat but they are all pretty similar. They love the outdoors, animals and scratch-made food! We love our locals; they’re like family to our staff. Together we celebrate their joys and support them in their struggles. They’re quite passionate about their individual COLT locations and they are constantly telling me which one is their favorite! All the communities seem to appreciate the casual, country atmosphere, the scratch-made food, the kind staff, and the price point.
Brenda Clouston owns COLT Grill restaurants in Cottonwood, the Village of Oak Creek and Prescott’s Whiskey Row, pictured here. (Kevin Floerke Photography/courtesy)
Q. How do you balance work and home life? What keeps you sane?
A. I have a few things that work for me. I’m pretty disciplined about my time. I turn off my phone and TV and get eight hours of sleep every night. I’m not into social media and, instead, call friends and family. I am obsessed with the outdoors so the minute I am finished at my desk, I’m hiking, horseback riding, or playing with my grandsons; which is so satisfying! Starting out in the business, I didn’t have the luxury of “free” time. My family worked nearly around the clock for several years, thus any “free time” now is an amazing blessing.
Q. What’s your favorite kind of music?
A. I like several different kinds really, but my favorite is Country: a mix of the classics and the new hits out of Nashville. Throw in some blue grass, too!
Q. If I got in your car with you, what would you have playing on the radio?
A. Ha ha! I love this question! I’d be playing SirusXM’s The Highway and No Shoes Radio stations and the local FM country stations, KVRD and KOLT country. If I had a stressful day, I would be listening to piano music. You’d also find me listening to an audio book of some kind. I just finished “The Boys in the Boat,” about the American crew team that won gold in Hitler’s 1936 Olympics; what a fantastic story!
Q. Who has inspired and/or influenced you as an entrepreneur?

A. My grandmother was a ranch woman who was both strong and loving. She seemed to handle everything that was thrown at her. She raised six boys, could kill a chicken with her bare hands, and still somehow put these amazing feasts on the table three times a day! Additionally, I draw inspiration from real life hero’s from books and movies – especially those from the depression-era – who’ve overcome extreme circumstances such as Joe Rantz’ “The Boys in the Boat,” Louie Zamporini’s “Unbroken” and Red Pollard and Tom White’s “Seabiscuit.”
Q. What advice would you offer someone just starting out in the restaurant business?

A. To be honest, I would caution them to wait until this economy changes. It’s very difficult right now for restaurants. Beyond that, only open a restaurant if you have plenty of resources, are experienced in the industry, and are mentally tough. You must also be creative, to keep coming up with ways to bring your product to the marketplace in such a way that customers prefer you over your competition, and will keep coming back to you.
Q. What plans do you have for your business for the future?
A. I am concerned right now about energy prices, food shortages, and other attributes of this difficult economy. However, if the circumstances become more favorable, I’d like to expand into other areas. Everyday guests tell us -quite excitedly – to open a COLT in “their” state and I have my eye on some. But, for now, we’ll have to wait and see.
Cindy Cole is a freelancer for the Independent. She is a writer, editor, photographer and artist. Reach her at
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