[Source: Glen Creno, The Arizona Republic]
Tom’s Tavern, a landmark downtown Phoenix restaurant that had been on the brink of closing, has a new owner dedicated to keeping it open and preserving its identity.
The Bidwill family, owners of the Arizona Cardinals of the National Football League, bought the restaurant that has built a reputation as a favorite spot for the big names of government and business. It will be run by a new division of the company the Cardinals created to operate the food service at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Tom’s has been around in various incarnations for more than 80 years, but it was put up for sale last year when its owner, Michael Ratner, could no longer spend the time he wanted running the place. He was spending most of his time in treatment for esophageal cancer and said that if a buyer couldn’t be found, the restaurant would be closed.
Ratner died in November after a two-year battle with the cancer. But before his death, Michael Bidwill, the Cardinals’ president, paid Ratner a visit and expressed interest in buying Tom’s.
The deal closed late last week and the new ownership hopes to reopen soon, possibly today, after a cleanup and inspection.
Tom’s was a favorite spot for Bidwill during his six years as a federal prosecutor in Phoenix. He said he had known Ratner even before that and believed it was important to keep the restaurant going.
“It’s been a downtown Phoenix tradition,” Bidwill said. “Too often, we see these kind of places close. I didn’t want to see Tom’s close. There’s too much history there.”
The original Tom’s opened in 1929 in a nearby neighborhood. A restaurant group bought the brand and moved to the restaurant’s current location at Central Avenue and Washington Street. Ratner owned it for 18 years before deciding to put it up for sale last year.
Ratner had said Tom’s business was disrupted by construction of the light-rail line and the CityScape development. He had been expecting a bump in business after the rail construction was finished and said he thought CityScape would bring more people into the area. He never got much of a chance to take advantage of either. He had surgery, chemotherapy and radiation in an effort to rid himself of cancer. Eventually, it became difficult for him to get around, even with medication.
His wife, Terry, is a registered nurse and didn’t know much about running a restaurant. She said she was pleased it would stay open and that her husband was happy to know the place he cared about so much would not go by the wayside.
“It was bittersweet for me,” she said of the sale.
Ron Minegar, executive vice president and chief operating officer for the Cardinals, said the plan was to preserve the cachet of Tom’s while updating its look and menu. The goal is to keep the restaurant’s brand and tradition.
“There’s clearly a rich history with Tom’s Tavern,” he said. “It’s kind of a meeting spot for the city. We didn’t want to see a landmark like that go away. I’m glad it had the happy ending.”