Blog Archives

Recession hits Valley restaurant scene

Cafe LaBella in midtown Phoenix closed in March.

[Source: Barbara Yost, Arizona Republic] — The recession has hit the Valley restaurant scene like a smack in the head with a frying pan.  The casualty list includes some of the liveliest, most established independent venues whose demise is shocking dining experts.  Since the end of the year, at least 50 Valley restaurants — and counting — have closed.

The most recent announcement came May 29, when James Beard Award-winning chef Nobuo Fukuda said he would shutter Sea Saw in Scottsdale on June 7.  While Sea Saw, under partnership with Peter Kasperski (Cowboy Ciao,Kazimierz World Wine Bar, Digestif ), was doing fine, Fukuda says, he’s found opportunity to set up his own shop, possibly in midtown Phoenix.  “I’m just waiting for approval on the name I want, and, well, the money to do it,” he says.

As summer approaches, restaurants want to cut their losses, says David Rothschild, former culinary instructor and co-owner with wife Barbara of EATiQuette, a training service for wait staff.

Palatte, a bucolic patio with a garden setting in downtown Phoenix, closed in March.  Café Labella, run for several years by Mark and Debra LaBella in midtown Phoenix, also turned out the lights in March…

In downtown Phoenix, rumors had Stoudemire’s closing, but owner Bill Smith of the Smith Hospitality Group says the restaurant will simply close for dinner this summer, as is customary for many Valley restaurants. Smith, who owns several other cafes in the area, says the prognosis might not be so good for his Maria’s Mexican Grill at the nearby Collier Center.  “We’ve never been able to get the dinner business going,” Smith says.  In part he blames the Collier Center’s reluctance to allow him proper signage that would attract, for instance, riders on Metro Light Rail.  Now Maria’s is in limbo as Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon is working with the company to try and save it.  “The mayor is very proactive downtown,” Smith says. [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

Viewpoint: New growth, new promise for downtown Phoenix

[Source: Andrew Conlin, Special for The Republic] — For nearly two decades, we’ve heard confident predictions that downtown Phoenix was on the brink of a crucial “tipping point,” when public investment would no longer be needed to generate new development that was both vigorous and self-sustaining.  A term like “tipping point” is a kind of mental shorthand, useful in summarizing complex ideas but sometimes misleading when it comes to making decisions or drawing conclusions.

In reality, we won’t see the beginning of a significant shift from public to private investment until downtown achieves the requisite critical mass.  This will be the moment when the collective energy generated by the diverse collection of downtown businesses, retailers, residences, entertainment venues, and academic and cultural institutions fuses into the nucleus of an energetic and growing community.  Private investors will be drawn to this energy, creating new businesses and helping to further enrich the downtown scene.  This will inspire more people to live and work here, generating new opportunities that will draw new investors.  This development “chain reaction” will, we hope, be self-sustaining and transformational.  [Note: To read the full opinion piece and comments, click here.]

Phoenix’s CityScape project…three blocks or just two?

Local blogger and downtown Phoenix resident wonders if the CityScape project is going to turn out to be Collier Center #2?  In his blog, Life in Downtown Phoenix, he writes:

“Anyone disagree that by January 2011, CityScape will only comprise two blocks of (mediocre) retail and a single high-rise?  (A carbon copy of the Collier Center, as I originally suggested in February 2007?)

Granted, this is a position on which I’d like to be wrong.  But the signs all point one way — the most telling coming a few months ago when the project’s developer, RED Development, split the incentives in its development agreement so that it could receive half of the promised millions from the city even if it only built one tower at CityScape.  Right now, RED is saying that it’s building the office tower on the block on the east side of Central and Washington streets, but that the hotel/condo tower will follow in a few months.”  [Note: To read the full blog entry, click here.]

Restaurateur believes downtown Phoenix is ready to boom

[Source: Jahna Berry, Arizona Republic] — Bill Smith is cooking up a small restaurant empire in downtown Phoenix.  Smith owns four downtown restaurants and is in talks to open two more eateries in the neighborhood.  One of will be in the Collier Center, where he has three restaurants, and the second may be in the planned Jackson Street entertainment district near Chase Field, he says.  Downtown Phoenix has long been a tricky neighborhood for restaurants, but that is starting to change, Smith says.

“If you try to buy a bunch of places near Wrigley Field, those places have been gone for 50 years,” said the 49-year-old president of AZ Banquets and Events, referring to the neighborhood near the storied Cubs stadium in Chicago.  His restaurants have a similar great location, Smith says.  The businesses are close to Chase Field and US Airways Center, venues that attract thousands of visitors.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]