S. Tempe favorite Cotton & Copper closing; owners plan new concept

Cotton & Copper co-owner and chef Tamara Stanger confirmed on Facebook that the popular South Tempe restaurant and bar is closing, a victim of the economic impact of COVID-19. –Cotton & Copper photos

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It’s the kind of place that South Tempe residents say they crave as part of their neighborhood fabric.

It’s classy, chic cuisine. Soon another “C” will be added to Cotton & Copper: Closed.

After nearly three years, the popular restaurant and bar in the strip center on the northeastern corner of Warner and Rural roads will cease operation on Feb. 6, a COVID-19 casualty, co-owner and chef Tamara Stanger confirmed on the restaurant’s Facebook page Thursday.

“The news is out. Heartbroken and full of joy all the same. Thankful for everyone who has supported me through the years. The best thing about the future is that it has a path, but it is not defined. AZ will always be home,” Stanger wrote on Facebook.

While Cotton & Copper removes its spurs and calls it a roundup, the space is not expected to be vacant long. Co-owner Sean Traynor plans a new concept in its place. Stanger is headed to Utah but she will remain a partner with Traynor in the new venture. She shed some light on what that might look like.

Cotton & Copper was noted for such elegant dishes as Roasted Duck Spätzle with buerre rouge, pinon and winter greens.

“Our lease is still intact,” Stanger wrote. “This place, this space is not done. But it’s getting a full reboot. Not a Cotton & Copper variant or derivative, something completely new. Something being created with the same intention Cotton & Copper was founded on: to serve our local community. This time in the format of an all-day cafe and bar, adding some fun things like local craft coffee and Chef’s take on cafe cuisine.

“We’ll have updates for you as soon as they’re available. For now … ‘thank you’ doesn’t do it. It’s been a hell of a ride. To all of the staff and patrons who have become like family, we are beyond grateful.”

Cotton & Copper’s name was derived from Arizona’s famed five C’s – copper, cattle, cotton, citrus and climate – which served an important role in the state’s pioneering economy when many jobs were in agriculture, ranching and mining as Arizona emerged from the Old West.

The Five C’s still play a strong cultural role, and Cotton & Copper attempted to stay true to them in its theme and menu. Stanger is noted for using Arizona ingredients in unique ways. She has earned a special reputation for her creative pies.

The restaurant and it’s iconic Old West-style bar consistently earn 5 stars on social-media rating sites.

“Nearly 3 years ago we got the keys to suite 113 of the Landis Center in South Tempe. Our plan was to prepare food that focused on local farms with foraged ingredients, craft cocktails on par with our peers at the best places in town, and employ an amazing team of friends and staff,” Stanger wrote. “If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that things don’t always go as planned.

“A wise man and fantastic Chef, who may or may not be known by some to make the best pizza in America, once said, ‘The best restaurants in the world will always be the ones with the lowest profit margins.’ We knew what we were getting into when we established the ethos of Cotton & Copper. We also knew we’d need to operate consistently at full capacity in our small space to make the numbers work. And we were honored and grateful to be able to do that.”

From abandoned ghost towns to bygone Tempe music venues, Cotton & Copper’s cocktail list was based in Arizona, including this nod to South Tempe neighborhoods, the College Lane, with shochu, apricot brandy, peach-ginger shrub, lemon and peychaud’s bitters.

The restaurant was a modern take on the traditional public house, committed to serving thoughtful food and beverage with only the highest quality of ingredients, with a local and seasonal focus. From handcrafted cocktails, carefully selected beer and wine, and a seasonal menu, Stanger said that it aimed to bring a unique and enjoyable experience.

Cotton & Copper is in the same strip center where another neighborhood favorite, Tempe Public Market, closed last year, another COVID casualty. That space has been taken over by wine bar Postino. Ghost Ranch, yet another popular trendy eatery with a Southwestern theme, remains open in the strip center.

Restaurants, bars, coffee shops and gathering spots within an easy drive or perhaps even a healthy walk of nearby South Tempe homes have been high on the priority list of neighbors, who protested vehemently last year to plans to place an oil-change shop on a vacant lot nearby.

Delivering what the public wants during the pandemic has been a challenge to the restaurant and bar industry everywhere, however.

Chef Tamara Stanger is known for her creative pies, including the Thanksgiving wild turkey-hickory nut pie.

“The last year has been a true struggle,” Stanger wrote. “The persistence of COVID has made it painfully obvious we won’t be in the clear anytime soon. After countless pivots and regularly putting out fires, focusing on the numbers has become a greater percentage of our days than spending time with our loved ones and giving back to community programs. No, that’s not us.

“To drain our savings and go further into debt to merely survive and hope whatever comes next after this mess is enough to make it all back was tempting. Frankly, we’ve wrestled with it for weeks, clinging to hope, no matter how small, and keep going until we have exhausted every single possible means. Well, they’ve been exhausted. After take-out service next weekend, C&C will be no more.”

Cotton & Copper has been takeout-only since December, when the menu was scaled back.

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Lee Shappell
Lee Shappell became a journalist because he didn’t become a rocket scientist! He exhausted the math courses available by his junior year in high school and earned early admission to Rice University, intending to take advantage of its relationship with the Johnson Space Center and become an aerospace engineer. But as a high school senior, needing a class to be eligible for sports with no more math available, he took student newspaper as a credit and was hooked. He studied journalism at the UofA and has been senior reporter, copy desk chief and managing editor at several Valley publications.

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