New restaurant plans to open in Pasta Bar location despite former business struggles

The former Pasta Bar Location was rented by Brian Lester, owner of Lester's Catering Program. He plans on turning the space into a full-service cafe for breakfast and lunch, and a bar and grill for dinner. (Chloe Brooks/DD)

A new catering company will start a restaurant in a spot downtown that has been vacant for the past four months.

After two restaurants off First Street closed last year, it’s been slow-going to get other tenants into the vacant spots. Verde restaurant at Garfield and First Street closed its doors in December 2010, after seven months in business.

And just a month later Pasta Bar, located down the road at the corner of East Pierce and First Street, closed as it was coming up on its two-year anniversary.

The Pasta Bar location has been rented, but a large ‘leasing’ banner remains.

The renter of the Pasta Bar space, Brian Lester plans to open a restaurant there. Lester owns Lester’s Catering Program, a family business that has been catering throughout the Valley for nearly 24 years.

The new location is still under development, but he acquired it because he wants to eventually open a restaurant there that would appeal to students, he said.

“Overall, downtown Phoenix is doing very well with regards to restaurants,” said David Roderique, president of the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, via email.

Since 2008, there has been a net increase of 44 restaurants in downtown, making a total of 150 in the area, Roderique said.

He added that the issue with Pasta Bar and other locations in that area is parking. The City of Phoenix has adjusted downtown street parking meters to be free after 5 p.m. Roderique hopes this change will help these restaurants get more business.

“It’s important to remember that even in the best times there is a lot of turnover in the restaurant business,” he said.

National statistics suggest that as many as 20 percent of all restaurants close each year, Roderique said, with as many as 60 to 70 percent of all new restaurants closing in their first few years.

In the last four years, the Downtown Phoenix Partnership tracked all the restaurant activity in the area and out of 77 restaurants that opened, 33 closed within that time frame.

“The DPP does a lot of things to help support downtown businesses, including restaurants, such as marketing and promotion,” Roderique said.

Other ways the DPP helps restaurants is by putting out an annual Dining Guide that includes information on restaurants in the area with a map of their location.

Roderique said the Partnership also helps by supporting major events to help attract visitors to downtown and having the Ambassadors on the street to make recommendations about places to eat.

“The DPP assists the restaurants, but a lot of the responsibility still needs to lie with the restaurant itself in terms of getting the word out, making sure the menu and pricing is appropriate for the market,” Roderique said.

If the restaurant is struggling and not seeing the numbers it needs to succeed, it’s time to reevaluate and ask why, Roderique added.

“A lot of restaurants are doing very well, so we know they can be successful in downtown,” he said.

For now, the Pasta Bar location is being used as a second warehouse for Lester’s Catering. But with the bones of the restaurant intact, Lester and his family have a concept in mind. The restaurant will likely include a full-service cafe with breakfast and lunch options. Lester is also hoping to open a bar and grill-style dinner restaurant in the evenings.

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Correction: June 24, 2012

An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified Jordan Johnson as a co-owner of Lester’s Catering Program and incorrectly referred to the restaurant as a cafe. Lester’s Catering Program is owned by Brian Lester.


  1. Since the former PastaBar location is north of Fillmore, isn’t it outside the territory covered by the Downtown Phoenix Parnership? The ambassadors are not seen that far north, except under a special contractual arrangement with the Downtown Phoenix Public Market, and restaurants such as Sens and the Breadfruit, PastaBar’s surviving neighbors, were not included in the 2011 dining guide. Perhaps it would have made more sense to interview someone with Roosevelt Row CDC or another organization with a focus on the area north of Fillmore.

  2. Parking is an issue for Denny’s – great restaruants and nightlife spots rarely have parking. Most locals/students/conventioneers will be on foot, bike, or pedicab.

  3. David brings up an excellent point: Why is the DPP a focus of this story? The DPP is in absolutely no way associated with the location in question for the new restaurant that headlines the article.