Story by M.V. Moorhead Photos by Billy Hardiman
South Tempe is special. That’s the view resident Matt Smith happily shares any time he’s
asked or simply when the topic comes up in conversation. As of last week, though, “special” took on a new dimension and, you’d likely say, a new flavor.
Smith is talking about the arrival of Tempe Public Market Cafe, the long-awaited localized iteration of downtown’s Phoenix Public Market Cafe. It was slated to open last week at Warner and Rural roads.
“South Tempe has a very high standard of living,” Smith says fervently. “Gorgeous trees, homes and a very intense sense of community.”
But even a booster as enthusiastic as Smith can’t deny that he thinks something has been missing from an otherwise well-rounded South Tempe mix.
“We love to live down here,” he says, “but when it comes to working and playing, we go to Arcadia or Central Phoenix.”
The opening of this branch of Public Market, he thinks, will allow residents to play closer to home — if by play they mean sampling the work of a chef who has already put himself on the map.
Tempe Public Market Café is the newest project of Aaron Chamberlin, known not only for Phoenix Public Market but for St. Francis near Camelback and Central. Both establishments are modern but also delightfully accessible purveyors of sandwiches, salads and wood-fired flatbread.
Chamberlain gained some national profile when St. Francis was featured on the Food Network in a 2013 episode of Guy Fieri’s Diners, Drive-ins and Dives, even though it most certainly is none of the aforementioned.
Now Chamberlin’s dishes will be available to South Tempeans without the need to drive to downtown, or uptown, Phoenix. The menu at Tempe Public Market Cafe will reportedly be
based largely on that of Phoenix Public Market, which ranges across breakfast, lunch and dinner, offering everything from the “Flanched Flarney Garney”— an egg, avocado, bacon and cheese breakfast sandwich—to a Superfood Salad to a Lentil Curry Coconut Soup to Pork Chile Verde Pot Pie.
Smith believes this all will have a positive effect on the area that goes beyond just one more good dining option.
“It’s OK if we compare what’s happening in South Tempe with what happened to Arcadia,” he says. “It was expensive to live there, but nobody knew why. When LGO opened, it profoundly affected the area economy.”
Smith is referring to the trendy, infuriating-to-park-at but undeniably delicious La Grande Orange Grocery and Pizzeria—and burger joint and bakery and curio shop—at 40th Street and Campbell in Phoenix. He hopes for a similar boost to his own beloved East Valley turf with the opening of Tempe Public Market Cafe.
Other area merchants seem to share Smith’s optimism.
“It’s been a dead corner for years, even when it was a Circle K,” says Flash Santoro, director of marketing, among other hats he wears for Sole Sports Running Zone at Warner and Rural, where the new café occupies the prominent northeast corner with a bicycle shop and other mostly unremarkable entities.
“They’ve re-done the corner, and it’s going to be a great change for the community. We’re hoping it will create some synergy with the other businesses around there. It should be
Smith, meanwhile, notes that citizens have taken pains to keep certain businesses, like thrift stores and vape shops, out of the area on the grounds that they “weren’t a good fit.”
But when it comes to Tempe Public Market Cafe, observes Smith, “all the not-in-my-backyard types will line up.”