Verde Restaurant closed its doors this weekend just seven months after opening them.
The Mexican restaurant on East Garfield and North First streets opened in May after much hype from the downtown Phoenix community, but it has had a tough time bringing in evening and weekend customers, the restaurant’s co-owner Matt Avilla said.
“At lunch time we were very successful,” he said. “But at dinner there was very little business — either walk-in or take-out.”
Verde is not really a destination restaurant, a problem in an area where most of its customers leave downtown to go home at night, Avilla said.
“I wanted to provide a good alternative, another place for downtown residents, but in the end I feel like there just aren’t enough residents for a business like this,” Avilla said. “There’s not enough people who can support that kind of restaurant downtown.”
Anna Gunderson, a journalism freshman who ate at Verde about once every week since discovering it on a First Friday, agreed.
“Even if a lot of people go to Verde once or twice on First Fridays, I don’t think that’s enough … they probably don’t live downtown and wouldn’t think of it as an option for a place to eat,” she said, adding that its “hidden” location also likely played a role in the restaurant’s closing.
Gunderson said she thought Verde might have survived if they had pursued a Maroon & Gold Dollars option with ASU. Other students agreed.
Avilla, who lives in Tempe, said the decision to open the restaurant in downtown Phoenix was like rolling the dice.
Avilla and fellow owner Joseph Aguayo sat at the restaurant on its last day, Saturday, in a room filled with newspaper clippings of reviews. The restaurant was ranked among the top ten downtown Phoenix restaurants by the Arizona Republic in August.
Jenny Poon, 27, creator of eeko studio at the nearby CO+HOOTS working space, stopped by Verde and found out from the owners that the restaurant was closing.
“You can smell their food from all around this block,” she said, pointing out in particular the tortillas that were hand-made by a window at the front of the restaurant.
“You know that every small business invests their entire life into it,” Poon said. “To see someone’s passion close, it’s really kind of sad.”
Avilla would not comment on the amount they had invested into the restaurant.
“I wish people would support it because it’s downtown, and if we don’t get people out here to support great small businesses then we’re really crippling our own community,” Poon said.
Krystal Story, a journalism freshman who has worked as a cashier at Verde since October, said she was disappointed about its closure because of her job but also because of the food.
“I felt like the only time I had ever eaten food like that was when I went to Mexico,” she said. “I feel that Verde was the only place I could find Mexican food like that.”
She was notified about the coming closure on Thursday, two days before its last day of business.
The owners had been thinking about closing for a few weeks due to the slow nighttime sales, Avilla said.
Other students said they felt the restaurant might have closed in part because it didn’t stand out against the competition.
“I think the atmosphere was cool … but as far as the food was concerned it wasn’t really, really good,” said Anthony Reda, a journalism sophomore.
“It was OK Mexican food.” Reda said, adding, “They didn’t have any one dish that was really good — because of that they might have struggled.”
Avilla is now thinking about leaving downtown and possibly opening a similar restaurant elsewhere, preferably a location with a larger customer pool.
Nationally, 50 percent of businesses fail, said Dan Klocke, vice president of development at the Downtown Phoenix Partnership.
“I think any time a business closes it’s a disappointment, but businesses come and go all the time,” he said. “I don’t think one business closure reflects on a downtown.”
He did say, though, that the restaurant would likely have done better if there were a greater number of residents downtown.
“I think certainly the more residents that we have in downtown, the better.”
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