Although the building in Gilbert’s Heritage District has housed five failed restaurants in 14 years, local business leaders dismiss talk of a curse.
At the same time, they are hailing the next tenant at 302 N. Gilbert Road as if he were a hex buster. Craig DeMarco, owner of two successful Postino Winecafé locations in Phoenix, will open a third at a spot that has been not so hot.
Tad Peelen, co-owner of Gilbert landmark Joe’s Real BBQ across the street, believes that Postino, which serves food and a wide array of international wines, will be a success.
“This notion that the building is jinxed is misplaced at best,” Peelen said. “Good food served by nice people in a comfortable place will always sell. That’s what Postino does, and they’ve proven that elsewhere. Craig DeMarco is a proven, excellent operator.”
Postino’s is scheduled to open in October.
Despite such successful nearby eateries as Joe’s, Liberty Market, Farmhouse Restaurant and Euro Cafe and Oregano’s Pizza Bistro nearby, 302 N. Gilbert Road has been a restaurant graveyard.
Original tenant Mohogany Run lasted the longest, three years. Hearthrob Cafe, Rock City Bar & Grill and GrainBelt GrillHouse failed quickly. Even a place named for Arizona Diamondbacks legend Luis Gonzalez — Gonzo’s All-American Grill — was open for only 11 months.
Last year the building failed to fetch a single bid in foreclosure auction, despite the kitchen being intact and dining furniture, flat-screen TVs and bar equipment still inside. Eventually, Raleigh, N.C.-based Oakmark Development and San Diego-based PacVentures combined to purchase it.
“I can’t put a finger on why there hasn’t been a success there, not without sounding disparaging to past owners, and I don’t want to do that,” Peelen said. “There were some things that made it a challenge.”
Some believe that previous restaurants were too upscale and pricey in a downtown atmosphere that is more casual. The building’s size — 5,200 square feet — impacted cost efficiency. Those dynamics were exacerbated by the softening national economy.
“The key is that space is really big,” said Kathy Tilque, president and CEO of the Gilbert Chamber of Commerce. “In the restaurant business, the square footage has an impact on your bottom line, and to have a space that big, you have to turn people over very quickly to make a profit.”
Postino will address the space issue by utilizing only half of the facility, leaving the other half for a tenant to be determined. Garage doors will open to a patio and grassy area for outdoor dining and events.
DeMarco did not return phone messages.
The other two Postino locations, at 5144 N. Central Ave. and 3939 E. Campbell Ave., are in older, more intimate locations — similar to Gilbert’s Heritage District.
“They have a great opportunity to redesign it and make it a better business model,” Tilque said. “ There’s room for two restaurants there.
“Really, the whole building is going to change. You have area in the back for outdoor seating, and that is the kind of component that will make it a successful restaurant.”
Should Postino be a success, Peelen said, the building that could not keep a tenant and sat vacant for so long could usher new economic energy to downtown.
“Ultimately, Postino should be able to pull in more restaurants here and turn it into a booming row of restaurants,” Peelen said. “We’re excited to be part of it.”
Said Tilque: “Good restaurants attract other good restaurants.”
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