The ultimate cup: Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery celebrates 40 years in Flagstaff

FlagLIVE! February 20, 2020

Photos and Story by Gail G. Collins

Our inclination toward a good thing is to enjoy and preserve it. For four decades, that’s been the case as coffee lovers consistently crowd Macy’s European Coffee House and Bakery, south of the tracks in downtown Flagstaff. The town’s first roaster and coffee house opened in 1980, and many who came to love it as students at Northern Arizona University are happy to see it just as they remember it all those years ago.

Owner Tim Macy, who prefers the term caretaker, feels that timelessness is part of the coffee shop’s intrinsic charm.

“Everyone is welcome in a spirit of unity—treated with respect and love,” he says. “Macy’s is a microcosm of what the world will be one day.”

With an easy smile, he then quips, “I got lucky—people loved Macy’s.”

It was more than luck; it was knowledge, determination and firm principles that propelled Macy’s idea to open a coffee house. It was also a man named Carl Diedrich, a German who had—after fighting at the Battle of the Bulge, marrying into a family coffee, tea and cocoa business, studying the coffee industry in Naples, Italy, and purchasing a coffee plantation in Guatemala—built a retail coffee business from his garage with a hand-fabricated roaster. Macy was inspired to learn from the innovator and self-taught man but initially struggled to reach him. Finally, he convinced Diedrich to teach him the trade when he showed up at his strip mall shop in Costa Mesa, California.

“Once a week, I would buy a pound of the best coffee I’d ever had in my life and hang around to learn the business,” Macy says.

Following what became a three-year mentorship, Macy chose to open his own shop in Flagstaff because of its college setting and great potential. He bought equipment and rented the space where Middle Earth Bakery had been. His first roaster, hand-built by Diedrich’s son, took center stage in the front window. In February 1980, with little more than a penny left to his name, Macy opened his doors.

At this point, Macy needed to educate the public about coffee. At the time, 99 percent of the best coffee was imported to Europe with a paltry amount making its way to the U.S. Macy would change that by serving 50-cent espressos and classy cappuccinos. People were captivated by the aroma of coffee roasting. It even caused a stir with the local fire department.

“For the first year, every few weeks, the fire department showed up, thinking there was a problem,” Macy recalls.

Diedrich supplied the coffeehouse with beans for 10 years before Macy began an alliance with Erna Knutsen. The “godmother of specialty coffee,” as she was known, traveled the world, reinvesting locally and promoting growers’ schools long before the advent of the fair-trade trend. Knutsen won the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991, and was again honored as a founder of the specialty coffee industry in 2014. Today, Macy works with small-source farms, paying above fair-trade prices.

For all those reasons, Macy assures, “Now in Flagstaff, we have the best coffee in the world. You can find a similar product, but nothing better.”

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Macy’s has long thrived on rare relationships. Early on, a gal applied for work at the coffee shop. As incentive, the budding artist flashed a sketch of a person, soaking in a cup of coffee bliss, drawn on a napkin. The student had limited availability so couldn’t be hired, but Macy paid her for the sketch, dubbed “the ultimate cup,” which became the shop’s logo. 

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GO SUSHI finds niche in Flagstaff

Northern AZ’s Mountain Living Magazine, March 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

When it comes to drama, it’s better on the stage than in the kitchen. Just ask Charlie Chortabtim, who has worked in television and under a Michelin-starred chef. As executive chef for Hyatt, he ran culinary teams and suffered under the tyranny of secretive chefs, but it all brought him to Flagstaff for a bit of fun and artistic innovation.

“I’m focused on food,” said Chortabtim, describing his vision for Go Sushi, located in the Sherwood Forest Shopping Center on Milton Avenue. “Every dish has to ‘wow.’ If it’s a California roll, it has to be the best in Arizona. This inspires me!” His eyes flashed as he leapt from his chair, telling a story of a couple who confessed to paying $500 for sushi in Las Vegas yet confirmed that Go Sushi was better. “I’m honored.”

Partnered with Apple Krathinthong, the Asian eatery stole onto the scene last April. Both restauranteurs had previously worked at Pato Thai, where they garnered an understanding of the local palate. For several months, the partners readied Go Sushi, engaging customers with previews, tastings and menu play.

The ambience also ramped up as Chortabtim cut metal sheets for the ceiling and strung lights for a Zen garden feel. The irregular bar is polished to highlight the grain, and behind it, shelving and iron art create bento box intrigue. Cheap décor or found objects, like a bird cage, mix with higher end lighting to reflect an inimitable charm.

The last effort was building a team of five line chefs. Chortabtim said he prefers newbies with a passion to learn, “You don’t bend bamboo.  Previous experience just gets in the way.”

“I’m tough,” he admitted. “It’s serious training and rough at the start, but I’m proud of their progress. In a year, they have trained from zero to difficult skills.”

As if on cue, Chef Shawn Hongeva produced a mountainous sushi roll, dubbed Indiana Jones. The colossal mass is built on wrapped big-eye tuna and premium grade salmon, crab, avocado and cucumber with pango scallops, resembling boulders that could tumble down as in the movie. Strewn with the house sauce—a scratch sriracha mayo—and tobiko eggs (flying fish roe), the plate presents a delicious spectacle.

“I’ve learned a certain kind of finesse and flow,” Hongeva said of his sushi instruction, “fine-tuning technical aspects to be efficient.”

Quality matters, and ingredients are flown in or Krathinthong heads to Phoenix in pursuit of the best. The red curry is a creamy, fragrant example of the drive for authentic elements.  The classic dish of coconut milk, lemongrass, shaved chicken, slip-thin carrots and green beans is Thailand in a bowl.

Chortabtim takes the time to be artistic, a trait he learned while apprenticing under Suzuki Jin. The Michelin-starred chef has been described as intense in his training and traditions, slicing a daikon radish so thin one could read through it. Exposure to a “Korean kid, who was modern in his skills,” Chortabtim explained his niche style as combination of their strengths.

When Chortabtim is focused on food, innovation can strike anywhere—even the shower. That explains a fusion roll called Titanic. The crowd-pleaser is nearly crowd-sized on an enormous boat-shaped plate. Rich with crab, spicy tuna, eel, cream cheese and avocado, the whole is wrapped in a tortilla and deep fried with a drizzle of house sauce. Or try the Aribiki Izakay, featuring imported, Japanese sausages nestled in sautéed onions and shitake with melted mozzarella cheese and a tangy sauce.

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Butterfly Burger: An elevated experience from Chef Lisa Dahl

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, February 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

The humble burger appeal lies in its affordability, portability and customizable form. But who created the hefty handhold? Some believe a meatball stand owner flattened his product and served it between bread slices, while others think the concept is owed to a hotdog substitution in Hamburg, New York. Still, Texans believe it evolved from a breakfast patty with glazed onions sandwiched between French toast. Regardless, these ideas helped build a $129-billion industry and the best burger.

Lisa Dahl’s posh Butterfly Burger in Sedona is the latest comer to a hungry market.  A sleek, marble bar with amber lighting and rose-gold mirror present a lux lounge billing more than 40 bourbons and spirits, accessible via the rolling library ladder. Exotic faux alligator booths add classy contrast to rough-hewn planks of mushroom wood, cobblestones and bold, butterfly imagery.

Of the couture lounge, Dahl said, “The popularity of a burger made well and elevated experience isn’t for the masses—it’s indulgent and sublime with a top shelf cocktail and jazz setting the stage for a sultry experience.”

Dahl is a successful stalwart of the Red Rock culinary scene. Her 20-year career began with Dahl & DiLuca Ristorante Italiano—still drawing national attention—adding Cucina Rustica, Pisa Lisa, Mariposa Latin Inspired Grill, and in September, Butterfly Burger, becoming the area’s largest restaurant group. The James Beard House featured chef is self-taught, claiming Top Chef in Arizona at the 2018 Foodist Awards. Recently named in the Best Chefs of America Hall of Fame Award by National Elite, Dahl gathered wide attention grilling against Bobby Flay on the Food Network and appearing on Travel Channel’s Food Paradise.

Hailing from the Midwest, where the family vied to barbecue the best burger on a Sunday, Dahl still tests her skills. She entered the Scottsdale Burger Battle with a Latin version of the American model to win the People’s Choice award in 2016, and in 2017, she earned 2nd Runner Up.

When it comes to the title of Burger Master, Dahl said, “I take it about as seriously as a heart attack.” In 2018, she netted the Judges’ Choice with a funky, mushroom-rich entry. The logistics and prep of the contest are difficult, and she was thrilled to, “float like a butterfly and sting like a bee” in her wins.

Dahl believes flavorful, well-made burgers are worthwhile. This is evident in 8-ounce patties served medium rare, though marinating and further prep delivers moistness even when well done. The burgers are cooked over wood, an active challenge that sears a patty perfectly. A higher consciousness for meat in feed and humane treatment also matter to Dahl.

Butterfly’s menu boasts a dozen signature burgers with whimsical titles. The art is in the layering of ingredients. The Butterfly Burger begs a bite with Manchego, all-natural pepper bacon, guacamole and chipotle aioli on an artisan bun. The Oui Oui Monsieur is a patty melt, smothered in charred onions, Gruyere and Dijonnaise sauce on grilled caraway rye, served with a side of onion jus.

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Juice Pub & Eatery: Health from the inside out

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

A catalyst is a change agent. Double the force, and it is unstoppable. So it was for Riant and Vanessa Northway, who, after navigating various health issues, opened Juice Pub & Eatery in downtown Flagstaff this past March. The Northern Arizona University graduates met as students, married and moved to Minnesota, settling into a productive life before encountering some road blocks. Their twins were a year old when Riant was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Vanessa suffered a decade of untreated Lyme disease in addition to Hashimoto’s disease, a thyroid condition.

“We were pushed into a whole lifestyle health change—a major alternative route,” Vanessa explained.

Through food, rest and stress outlets—like triathlon training for Riant—they learned to manage their health without a cabinet shelf full of medications. Flare-ups that manifest as flu sometimes occur, but Vanessa said, “It always goes back to food, exercise and rest.”

The couple’s self-care began with a green smoothie they have consumed each day for the past 10 years. The O.G. smoothie headlines Juice Pub’s menu, glowing with greens, celery, cucumber, avocado, pineapple, mint, lemon, lime and olive oil.

The body can only perform as well as it is fueled, and with premium ingredients, it may even overcome affliction. The Northways’ goal was not just to survive, but to thrive. This health journey drove an idea to create a juice bar where others could benefit from their recipes, utilizing food as medicine.

The couple aims to sustain the health of the community by incorporating natural ingredients in menu items, like matcha, coconut milk, turmeric as an anti-inflammatory and supplements like multi-chain triglycerides (MCT) oil to achieve ketosis to burn fat and increase energy. The majority of ingredients, such as micro greens or kombucha—a fizzy, fermented tea rich in beneficial probiotics—are as locally sourced as possible. These foods are the building blocks of their juice farmacy.

Gratitude is a popular juice on Juice Pub’s menu, containing orange, lemon, carrot, ginger, turmeric, collagen—a protein providing structure to skin, joints and muscles—and black pepper. The glass of sunshine is zesty with citrus, plus slight heat and bite. According to Riant, black pepper activates turmeric’s absorption by 2,000 percent.

Among the shots, wheatgrass is a sweet, summer meadow with an orange chunk chaser and a welcome addition to any juice or smoothie. Riant calls it the super-est of superfoods for immune boosting, providing five pounds of veggies in a two-ounce shot. The trifecta of shots includes the ginger—which can aid conditions from nausea to joint soreness—with apple and lemon, plus the turmeric shot with orange and pepper.

All veggies and fruit are cold-pressed with a centrifugal force extractor and are best consumed within 20 minutes of preparation, which is performed upon ordering one of the Juice Pub’s signature juices. This slower service method is effective for maximizing health benefits.

But it’s the bowls that are the eye-catching big sellers. The hot pink dragon bowl glows with blended dragon fruit, mango, pineapple and lime on a bed of homemade granola. It’s topped with sliver slices of strawberries, pineapple and kiwi, scattered with chia seeds, sweetened toasted coconut flakes, spicy candied pecans and a cayenne honey drizzle. Chia, which in Mayan means “strength,” contains large amounts of fiber and omega-3 fatty acids, high-quality protein and several essential minerals and antioxidants. The vibrant blue mermaid and purple acai bowls are equally as pleasing to the eyes and palate while being nutrient-packed at the same time.

“Our employees take such pride in making the bowls,” Vanessa said. “They are beautiful—it’s food, it’s art, it’s awesome.”

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Celebrating 18 years, Altitudes Bar & Grill continues the tradition of comfort food, cold beer and live music

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, August 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

s time pushes us forward, there is something especially comforting about the familiar past. Our legacy lies there, inviting us to revel in the good ol’ days when the clock ticked slower and friends lingered.

Flagstaff’s downtown was built upon its railroad, which still boasts tremendous activity, while iconic Route 66 wends a parallel journey to the tracks. Amid this history, Paul Joerger and Lynda Fleischer planted a ski pole to found Altitudes Bar & Grill.

After hanging out for years at a favorite bar and grill, the couple wanted to replicate the atmosphere.

“We had in our minds a place to meet friends and relax,” Fleischer said. “Our priority was comfort food made the best way possible.”

After a couple years of planning, the opportunity to locate in the notable Anderson Building arose. Originally housing the Warehouse Company, the structure was that of Chester Anderson, who brought Flagstaff’s south side to life via trade. Fleischer and Joerger continue that tradition at Altitudes Bar & Grill, celebrating 18 years of juicy burgers, cold beer and live music this summer.

The owners met at Arizona Snowbowl. Fleischer managed the ski team for 14 years, and Joerger acted as food and beverage director for the resort. They married on the mountain, so Altitudes’ ambience embraces the San Francisco Peaks.

“Everyone brings us their skis and other kinds of things,” Fleischer said, pointing at a row of skis, laid side by side like paneling along the lower east wall inside the restaurant. Some are even signed. Above, framed art, photographs and antique equipment lend honest kitsch to their past. Ski team members donated gear as technology advanced, while trophies and plaques boast of good seasons. Guests sit at the bar and point to family names. A case of ski passes, sporting the couples’ fresh faces in their snowy heydays, offers perspective.

Intrinsic to Snowbowl’s ski resort history were Gertrude “Jerry” Nunn, a U.S. Ski & Snowboard Hall of Fame member, and husband Jimmie, who founded the Arizona Ski Museum. A striking photo of Jerry at 18 years old marks what Fleischer affectionately calls the Nunn’s shrine. Fleischer’s mentor, who was like a second grandmother to her daughter, passed away a few years ago, and Jimmie died in March. Jimmie donated vintage boots, wooden skis, leather bindings and other period kit for display in the eatery.

Burgers at Altitudes are legend, but the fish fry is the top seller and specially priced every Friday. The walleye, a local fish that can be caught in Lake Mary, is beer battered and crumbed in panko for a light bite. Served with fries, lemon, tartar sauce and coleslaw for lunch, the dinner meal also includes a salad.

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Prescott’s The Barley Hound is ‘like being at a friend’s house’

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

Despite difficult circumstances, good things still thrive. Like many towns, Prescott has seen its share of hazards, since its founding as the territorial capital of Arizona in 1864. A fire devastated the city in 1900, ravaging the bulk of its wooden Victorian architecture. A dozen hotels and 20 shops were lost. This inspired decisions to replace them with brick, stone and concrete buildings and to pave the dusty streets. Time and time again, it’s been shown resilient people suffer loss and come back stronger. And so it has been for forward-minded businesses in the face of 2020’s havoc on health and economic vitality.

The Barley Hound, an American gastropub celebrating its fifth anniversary, has repositioned itself to bloom and grow.

“It goes without saying that these last few months have been beyond challenging, but it gave us the time we needed to reevaluate who we are and what we can do operationally to create a more functional and enjoyable experience for our guests,” owner Skyler Reeves said.

Located just a few minutes’ walk from historic Whiskey Row in Prescott, the restaurant resides in the rich character of a Victorian home. Its convivial atmosphere says:  Come on in and relax with friends. The dog-friendly front garden long beckoned passersby, but the 1,800-square-foot backyard expansion has doubled patio possibilities. Games, like cornhole and ping pong, provide a neighborly feel. A shaded area covers a reimagined living room with communal tables, chandeliers and draping. A bar housed in a shipping container completes the funky scene, suggesting any night is a happy party night. Guests are welcomed back.

“Everyone has had open arms,” Sarah Bauder, general manager, said. “People quizzed us about opening and gave positive feedback.”

Like most other eateries downtown, The Barley Hound is closed on Monday and Tuesday, but opens at 4 p.m. on weekdays, serves lunch and dinner on Saturdays with brunch on Sunday. Hours will expand and seating is currently only outside, but that is ample, and guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in place to protect staff and customers.

The Barley Hound has been a place for adventurous eating and familiar favorites, like duck fat fries. Hand-cut russet potatoes are fried in duck fat to showcase the flavor before they are scattered with fresh parsley and Malden sea salt flakes for a super savory side, according to co-owner and chef Tony Burris.

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Eat at The REAL: Ross and Kara Taylor provide fresh meals for Flagstaff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

After building a successful brand nut butter brand FBOMB, husband and wife duo Ross and Kara Taylor shifted gears to open their first restaurant , The REAL Kitchen. Expanding on their healthy, high fat snack business, The REAL Kitchen was opened to create clean, quality meals for busy families like themselves. The soft opening, which tested the a la carte menu, had been a happy event. But the restaurant opened its door just five days before Flagstaff’s city-wide shutdown in March to slow the spread of COVID-19, leaving the savvy small business owners a bit blindsided.

“No one expected that, and we are wholly invested—we don’t have financial backers,” Ross explained.

The pandemic instead led the Taylors to focus on one of their secondary goals to keep the restaurant afloat.

“We had planned all along to do heat-at-home meals,” Kara said; it just came into play sooner than they had anticipated.

The restaurant’s heat-at-home meals come as family style dishes, like beef stroganoff, smoky molasses pork tenderloin or custom choices with an array of sides, like quinoa and a solid selection of drinks. The meals also offer a wide selection of drinks from chardonnay and ginger beer to bubbly waters and kombucha.

The benefits in picking up dinner from The REAL Kitchen are convenience of preparation—flash-thawing flat pack boil-in-bags that go to the table in 30 minutes or less—and quality food options with minimal additives and processing. As their Website suggests:  Don’t compromise, order online.

“We’re trying to offer value meals for the checkbook squeezed,” Kara said, but there is no skimping on ingredients.

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Hallmarks of Goodwill and Resiliency: Locals help buoy the restaurant community

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, June 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

Finding stories of goodwill during such tentative times has not been difficult as communities have been supporting each other in newfound ways during the COVID-19 pandemic. The people behind these good deeds, however, have proven a little more difficult to pin down.  They are busy, making positive strides in any way they can. When they sit down to share stories of comfort and compassion, they talk about others. Jamie Thousand, owner of Satchmo’s BBQ, is fond of saying, “No one loves Flagstaff more than Flagstaff.”   That’s a strong statement about the real character of our mountain community.

Like many of his fellow small business owners, he received endless encouragement from others in the midst of lockdown. Weekly customers, who had forgone logging into Yelp when business was thriving, wrote rave reviews and hopeful messages.

“There has been a challenge around every corner and curve balls thrown at us,” Thousand said, “and we adapt as quickly as possible.”

With owners nowhere near in the clear yet, and the hopeful summer boom ahead, the waters are uncharted. Planning is tenuous and preparation is dynamic. More processes, more space, but less confidence.

Along the way, Zoom conference calls and text strands buoyed and informed restauranteurs. State, city and chamber members exchanged ideas on how to interpret loose re-opening guidelines and implement safe practices, like face shields over face masks to counter asthma or a hearing deficit to continue lip reading. Scores of accepted human behaviors no one had previously second-guessed needed to be considered, such as the potential risks of a self-serve soda station.

John Conley, owner of Salsa Brava and Fats Olives, coordinated a multi-party Zoom call to share ideas and exchange information on new protocols. Tinderbox Kitchen’s Kevin Heinonen, Oregano’s David Kennedy and Thousand began a discussion of vital topics, among those the issue of liability.

“Never before in my 32 years of cooking in this amazing mountain town have I witnessed such unification, a fellowship of sorts,” Conley said, “where restaurants united and embraced one another, when a true sense of ‘no one is left behind’ prevailed.”

The crisis brought forth clear priorities.

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Chef Laura Chamberlin hones the versatility of cooking

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, May 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

uality vendors plus the Sedona red rocks made Massachusetts couple Kathryn and Thomas’ destination wedding a memorable one in all the best ways—especially where food was concerned. From Kathryn’s first correspondence with personal chef Laura Chamberlin, the bride-to-be was impressed with her comprehensive, customer-oriented style.

“Laura is an absolute artist,” she wrote. “Her food is fresh, clean, accessible, beautiful, tasty and satisfying.”

Chamberlin has the flexibility to cater weddings with up to 250 guests, but she prefers intimate gatherings, set in unique landscapes, like that of the Grand Canyon or Organ Pipe National Monument.

“It is a fascinating challenge,” she said enthusiastically. “I enjoy helping clientele bring a wedding outdoors in a beautiful wilderness setting.”

The Arizona native is uniquely qualified, boasting positions as a Grand Canyon river guide and food manager for Canyon Explorations on her resume. The extensive details of operating a mobile outdoor kitchen are second nature to her.

The services of a personal chef are broad. Are you renting a vacation home for the family and prefer to focus on touring instead of cooking? Hire a personal chef to shop for the goods, prep the meal, clean up and stock leftovers. Celebrating a landmark birthday? A personal chef can assemble the food in a commercial kitchen or on site and clear it all away, so your only job is to blow out the candles. Want to instill some cooking basics in your teens? Call on a personal chef to discuss meal planning, teach skills and offer tips.

“I love the creative aspect and interacting with people,” Chamberlin said. “I can curtail the meal to dietary restrictions, tastes and consult as to allergies and so on to provide what they want.”

At first consideration, one might assume the price of hiring a chef out of reach, but consider the time saved, restaurant bills of feeding a crowd, tips, drinks—suddenly, a catered meal with no dirty dishes is attractive and economical. Chamberlin offers two pricing categories, which can include the cost of food, a weekly rate, plus a low and high end with built-in maximum amenities.

“I can offer a quick estimate, and people are pleasantly surprised by the cost affordability,” she said.

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Chef Bob Verderame brings Italy, New Jersey to Flagstaff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, April 2020

Written by Gail G. Collins

On the best days, running a small business incurs risks and rewards. Staff often becomes family, but they also may steal from you. Job satisfaction soars, but there are funding challenges. The early years are tenuous, but on the other side, owners are better off financially than employees.  And although small business hours can entangle personal lives, they also offer the greatest flexibility. Overall, despite the risks, a majority of Americans prefer the rewards of being in business for oneself to working for someone else.

Then, there are the worst days. COVID-19 came without warning, causing financial and health reverberations throughout communities across our nation and abroad. Tough times.

As this health crisis proved, even with planning, foresight and innovation, things can turn on a dime. An owner’s dime. Tenacity certainly comes to bear when times get tough.

Enter Mr. Tenacity, Bob Verderame, supported and admired by local lovers of Italian food. With 20 years in food service—outside a short stint in a tattoo parlor—he knows his way around a kitchen and a pot of red gravy, as he refers to sauce.

“I stick to tradition—old school—no corners cut,” said Verderame. “Maintaining that consistency drives me.”

He learned his skills from Palermo Sicilians, who worked tirelessly. He had cooked for huge family groups throughout his life, so at 50 years old, the self-taught chef offered his recipes to Flagstaff.

Verderame has endured more setbacks than his legacy spaghetti and meatballs deserve. His original modest endeavor, Il Rosso Italiane, opened in 2014, but unexpectedly lost its lease in contractual fine print that razed the building to make way for the Marriott Hotel. Undeterred and without an oven, Verderame kept a pop-up presence in Sosoba on Mondays for ten months. There, he plotted his reinvention. Pushing past onerous details, he put it all on the line to open Il Rosso Pizzeria & Bar on Heritage Square in 2017.

“It’s not a 9 to 5 job—40 hours, you’re done. It’s 60-plus hours of cooking a week, not marketing, not planning, not books or scheduling,” said Verderame without a hint of regret. He also quickly credits his “kick ass” staff for their support in managing the front and back of the house. “My crew is the best in the world—we’re family here.”

Verderame built that loyalty, like most owners, because there are no small jobs. He washes dishes, too, but his time is better spent elsewhere, crafting his grandmother’s gravy and Pop’s cheesecake. One Verderame tweaked; the other is a no-no, perfect as it is.

His Paterson, New Jersey roots by way of Italy create the niche appeal of a corner tavern. East Coast transplants know you can’t fake that. With scratch sauce and ricotta, Boar’s Head premium meats and bread baked daily, the earnestness shows. Verderame takes the time it takes. “We do it the hard way in attention to detail—I hope it sets me apart.”

“There are a hundred different ways to do spaghetti and meatballs, so you have to work hard to rise to the top,” he said. “It’s simple, wholesome food.”

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