For Charlie Garrison, owner of the Bad Donkey, business lessons are best taught in the most unpredictable times.
“When I first opened up my business in Cave Creek, there were these older guys who were looking at me behind the counter and said, ‘You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?’” Garrison said.
Those customers then proceeded to jump over the counter and run the restaurant themselves for the next few hours, Garrison said. When they were done, they gave him some business tips and walked away.
“I never saw them again after that,” Garrison said. “But they gave me advice that I still use with this shop today.”
The Cave Creek-based restaurant opened at the downtown Valley of the Sun YMCA last Tuesday. The small shop sells subs, salads, wraps, smoothies and other healthy food items.
The small restaurant is located on the bottom level of the YMCA near the side entrance, in the space that used to be Argyle Cafe. The walls are brightly painted in yellow, orange and green. Hand-written chalk menus hang above the cash register and seating space is offered around the area.
The fun and upbeat ambiance is designed to be a hangout place for both community members and students who attend the Downtown campus, Garrison said.
“I want this to become a hub for students to take a break from school, relax and enjoy a meal,” Garrison said.
Greg Corns, the senior executive director for the Lincoln Family Downtown YMCA and vice president of public relations, said the restaurant was asked to move into the downtown Phoenix location because of its quality food and love for the community.
“The cafe will allow all a place to relax and enjoy the company of others,” Corns said. “I often see students meeting in the cafe enjoying a cup of coffee. It’s a great place to people-watch and study.”
The location gets a steady flow of customers from the ASU campus across Civic Space Park.
“I usually get a cinnamon bagel and smoothie every other morning before work,” social work sophomore Anna Cisneros said. “I love their food. It’s really fresh, and the prices are fair. It’s also really fast and convenient.”
Bad Donkey has a variety of specialty subs and salads, from a “Snob of a Cobb” salad to the “Perturbed Bird” sub, along with plenty of other quirky and delicious options that Garrison has invented since the restaurant’s conception.
There are many choices of dressings as well, including Garrison’s “Donkey Sauce.” This creation is made with olive oil, canola oil, red vinegar and seasonings.
Subs, wraps and bagel “sammiches” cost $6.40 and fresh salads cost $7.32. Bad Donkey also sells breakfast items including bagels, parfaits, fitness drinks and smoothies.
The YMCA Bad Donkey is housed in provides complimentary Wi-Fi. Garrison said he hopes that students and members will use it to type up a project or paper while enjoying a sub or smoothie.
Garrison said he likes being in a place that focuses on being both physically and mentally healthy. He also said he enjoys being somewhere that has a strong focus on the community. Though Garrison is new to the area he is excited for the potential downtown has to offer.
“This little area is exploding right now, it’s young and sprouting life,” Garrison said. “All the work that has been put into downtown in finally coming together, and that’s really neat to see.”
Garrison said he wants Bad Donkey to be shaped by the community, especially the student population. If there is ever a demand for a particular item, he will gladly make it. He wants his business to be flexible and to serve what his customers would like to eat.
“Arizona State is the perfect growth tool for me,” Garrison said. “I realize that you guys are light-years ahead of coolness than me, and I need that new and hip feel.”
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