Restaurant set to bring new life to former Phoenix Public Market building

The former Phoenix Public Market building will be the site of a new restaurant that will continue the ‘fresh market cuisine’ tradition. Legal details and construction still need to be worked out, but the new owner hopes for a spring 2013 grand opening.(Madeline Pado/DD)

Following months of closed doors and dark windows, the former site of the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar will bloom back to life with the opening of a new restaurant.

Downtown Phoenix lost a significant business in May with the closure of the Phoenix Public Market’s Urban Grocery and Wine Bar. Aaron Chamberlin, owner of the central Phoenix restaurant St. Francis, is looking to revitalize the building.

The former Phoenix Public Market building, located on Central Avenue and Pierce Street, housed a nonprofit grocery store that served the community with local, organic, boutique-style foods.

Dan Klocke, board president of Community Food Connections and director of community and economic development for the Downtown Phoenix Partnership, said the closing of the grocery was “hard on everybody.” Despite the general support from the community, the Urban Grocery hit financial hardship which lead to its closing. The grocery store “needed more business,” he said. The lot next to the Phoenix Public Market still hosts Food Truck Wednesday and Friday, as well as the farmers market.

“The outdoor Phoenix Public Market is still open and it is the biggest market in the state,” Klocke said.

Chamberlin was saddened to hear about the closure, but did not hesitate in purchasing the space.

“I’ve been looking at that space since before the Phoenix Public Market was there,” Chamberlin said. “We love the Phoenix Public Market and what they’ve done. We want to continue what they’ve done, but we want to elevate it. We want to give the customer what they want — more so than the Phoenix Public Market Urban Grocery did,” he said.

Chamberlin has a long history of buying from local farmers and is an enthusiastic supporter of farmer’s markets. The new restaurant will nourish customers with local “fresh market cuisine,” Chamberlin said.

Klocke believes Chamberlin’s restaurant is a “positive step for the area.”

“I think (the new restaurant) will be helpful for the outdoor market — the Phoenix Public Market. I think Aaron is really committed to trying to provide as much local product as he can, so that’s only going to help the venders that are there,” Klocke said.

Jim McPherson, a former frequent customer of the grocery, said the Urban Grocery and Wine Bar was popular partly because it filled the need of a grocery store in the area, adding that the only other options are Safeway or the nearest Circle K. McPherson said that Chamberlin attended the Evans Churchill Community Association meeting on Sept. 12 to discuss his idea for a restaurant.

“The audience was very receptive,” McPherson said. “There’s a belief that there still needs to be more food and dining options downtown.”

Aware of the restaurant’s proximity to ASU’s Downtown campus, Chamberlin hopes to connect with students to provide food and prices that will please them. He also plans to hire students to work in the restaurant. He is aiming to partner with ASU in hopes of offering students items that can be purchased via Maroon and Gold dollars.

“I remember when I was young and a student, I couldn’t afford a lot,” Chamberlin said.

Continuing with the uniqueness of Urban Grocery, Chamberlin’s restaurant will offer a coffee and juice program, a bakery, a take-out food section and a wood-burning rotisserie.

“The idea is that you could swing by there, pick up a half-roasted rotisserie chicken, a bowl of black bean soup, some rice and some fresh farmer’s market vegetable, and you’re out the door for like $14.99. I’m really into exceptional quality and I want to give it at the best price I possibly can,” Chamberlin said.

Breakfast will be served for less than $10, while lunch and dinner will be less than $15, with some exceptions. Along with low prices, Chamberlin is focused on reliability. The new restaurant will be open from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. almost every day of the year.

“Downtown, I find a lot of restaurants that are closed Sunday, closed Monday, closed Wednesday and so there’s not a lot of reliability knowing that you can go down there anytime of the day and get food. I want to accomplish that, because I think we at least owe that to downtown,” Chamberlin said.

With calculations still to be settled and plans finalized, there is no name for the restaurant ready for release to the public. Currently, Chamberlin and Community Food Connections are negotiating legal issues. Chamberlin said construction should start near the end of November and continue for five to six months. He is aiming to open the new restaurant in spring 2013.

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