Saving Downtown Phoenix’s Gems

[Source: Jack Fitzpatrick, DowntownDevil.com]

Save Phoenix’s gems with your business — before it’s too late

It was an easy decision. I wanted to go somewhere nice on my first day back in Phoenix, and Pasta Bar was the destination.

It’s one of those hot spots that every city has — the one with great food, maybe a little expensive, but is a must-try for anyone wanting to be considered a real local.

Pasta Bar closed its doors after being open for nearly two years, while Verde, a nearby restaurant, shut down in December 2010 after being open only seven months. (Salvador Rodriguez/DD)

On the list of great Phoenix restaurants, Pasta Bar was way up there. It was a starter on the All-Star team, the kind of place you tell out-of-towners about so they’re impressed with your city. The quality of food was top notch — some of the best in downtown Phoenix — and the atmosphere was great.

Too bad it was never busy.

Which explains why the doors were locked and the lights were off when I got there. The sign outside said it was open 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays, and it was only about 8 p.m.

The next day I heard from a friend that it was closed for good.

Thus began the stages of grief, starting with denial. There was no way Pasta Bar could have closed. It had a great location, close to the Downtown campus — less than a five-minute walk — and the food was delicious. It didn’t make sense.

After denial came the anger and guilt. Why had we, the Downtown campus, let Pasta Bar down? Everyone talks about how much they hate the dining hall and how Aramark’s convenience store prices are ridiculous, but no one wants to put in the effort of finding alternatives. This is why we can’t have nice things!

And it happened barely a month after Verde, a little north up First Street, closed just seven months after opening. That’s two places within leisurely walking distance of the campus. Both were the kind of restaurants that focused on the quality of their food more than anything else, but struggled to bring in the necessary clientele. Are we ignoring Phoenix’s best food for the expediency of the dining hall, the convenience store and the nearby Subway restaurants?

There are other stages of grief, but after a talk with urbanism expert Yuri Artibise I skipped to acceptance. Artibise reminded me of the sad truth that restaurants fail all the time. For a restaurant to close after two years — Pasta Bar was nearing its second birthday — is not surprising in a bad economy.

In fact, Artibise said, we probably have too many restaurants downtown for our relatively low population. And with the influx of 12 new restaurants in CityScape that have opened or are going to open this year, something had to give.

“There’s a big push for entertainment and a big push for restaurants,” Artibise said, “but you just can’t have dozens of restaurants downtown without all that many people. And then with CityScape opening up … you know, it’s tough.”

Plus, Pasta Bar was expensive. Only two entrees were less than $14 and even the appetizers cost as much as $12. When college students make up a large percentage of a restaurant’s business, things need to be affordable.

So it wasn’t all our fault. Pasta Bar was too expensive to be a regular stop for ASU students and too far from the sports arenas to benefit from game days.

But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing we can do in the future. Maybe we do have too many restaurants, but we can never have too many good ones.

“What students can do,” Artibise said, “is save your job money, and don’t be restricted by where your meal card gets you.”

Even if Pasta Bar’s closing wasn’t our fault, there’s more we can do in the future. ASU students make up a significant portion of the downtown population, so if we enthusiastically endorse a business, it stays. But it does take enthusiasm. The choices ASU students make will be integral in defining downtown Phoenix as an up-and-coming area rather than one that struggles through the recession. If the city of Phoenix can invest hundreds of millions of dollars in this campus, we can invest $15 in a great bowl of pasta, at least every once in a while. On date night or when your parents come to town, take advantage of Phoenix’s unique restaurants.

So here’s the silver lining to the cloud of Pasta Bar’s closing. Because of Pasta Bar’s great location, we had two other delicious options nearby after finding it locked up: Sens Asian Tapas and Turf Irish Pub. There are other great restaurants that we can support. The city of Phoenix needs ASU to help keep its best businesses afloat.

Be an advocate. You don’t have to spend all that much, but when you do leave the dining hall, make sure the businesses you endorse are important to your community. When it comes to good food downtown, use it or lose it.

Contact the reporter at john.l.fitzpatrick@asu.edu

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About Yuri Artibise

I am a community driven policy analyst, community engagement practitioner and social media specialist.

Posted on January 30, 2011, in Downtown Vitality and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. I agree that ASU students should broaden their horizons and try new places to eat. However, these businesses that are closing did something wrong. How about a little better advertising? Fliers at the ASU Downtown campus?

  2. lalitadasijohnson

    Most of the time the reason these places are closing down is because they completely miss the mark from location, pricing, quality, decoration, etc.

    Pasta Bar was an overpriced, mediocre restaurant in an ugly, barren parking lot. No one should be surprised that this place isn’t around. If you don’t have the talent and creative chops to compete in a difficult economy then you have no biz opening up a restaurant in the first place.

    Food doesn’t have to be fancy, it just has to be really yummy. Simple yummy food is the bomb! Look at Matt’s Big Breakfast. Secondly, hire a talented professional to do the interiors of your space if you don’t have design chops. There are plenty of people in need of work, that would do a much better job than a restaurant owner at creating a thriving interior space.

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to become a regular at a place with boring food that tries too hard, and interior design plan that has zero personality.

    I hope in the future that downtown businesses kick it up, and get more creative.

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