Flagstaff’s Pizzicletta team revives Oak Creek’s iconic Indian Gardens

Owner Caleb Schiff

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 24, 2021

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

Indian Gardens is an icon in Oak Creek. It is beloved for its garden setting, combination café and market ease, neighborly appeal and tourist trade. Passing on that heyday to a new owner is always the rub. But with earnest care and measured ambition, there is the happy possibility that it could be better than ever.

Nearly a decade ago, Daniel and Monica Garland embarked on a journey to revitalize the property as a gathering place to nourish neighbors and make Sedona a better place in their small way. And as they moved on to found FreeForm Coffee Roasters, they validated the next team, Caleb Schiff and James Worden, owners of Pizzicletta. The connection remains strong, and their coffee is served in the café.

“They had respect for how we’ve run our business,” said Schiff. “So many memories were made here. Unique experiences are always our goal, and we can deliver on that.”

Worden and Schiff are avid runners and cyclists and began their pizza venture as the Garlands relaunched Indian Gardens. It had been a deli, a gas station and more over the years — a constant in the community. The pizza duo loved the place, but never imagined they would go from regulars to operators.

Still, it was not an easy task. They expanded the gardens, built two water features, invested in a kitchen prep area to accommodate two trained pastry chefs, added merchandise and will rebrand the logo and expand the tight menu coming out of COVID.

Indian Gardens reopened in early February, producing the store standards guests had loved without any of the original kitchen team. And there were things beyond their control, such as a tree falling on a power line, which Worden said “typified the challenges,” snowstorms closing the road and fire danger barring access, all of which affected revenue.

They built a foundational team of competent, passionate people and celebrate those who can do things better than themselves.

“The key is stewardship, maintaining a strong sense of place and intentionality,” Worden said, “keeping the name and experience in the sense of the garden and menu offerings, but as elevated, healthy options. It’s not a choice between good and delicious.”

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The County Seat brings fast-casual dining to downtown Prescott

Northern Arizona’s Mountain Living Magazine, July 7, 2021

Story and Photos by Gail G. Collins

When most people see a gap in the landscape, they shrug. Serious few would decide to fill it with a wholesome gathering place overlooking bustling Prescott’s Courthouse Plaza.

Skyler Reeves, owner of The County Seat, is that inspired kind of fellow.

“Prescott is usually thought of as this small Old Western town, but in recent years there’s been an influx of young families and professionals who have moved to the area looking for a new, hip hangout spot with a comfortable, yet contemporary, vibe to dine and socialize,” Reeves said.

The County Seat, an expansive 6,500-square foot coffeehouse with healthy karma, held a soft opening last November. It is situated on the upper floor of the historic Burmister Building. A wall of windows floods the room with light and provides a view of Yavapai County Courthouse, a striking Classical Revival granite structure built in 1916. Pragmatically, it also provides the eatery’s namesake.

With an aim of sustaining locals with good food and good health, Reeves crafted a menu of hearty sandwiches, robust salads and grab-and-go items combined with a full coffee bar, fresh-pressed juices and low-ABV cocktail menu. Reliable, consistent, familiar and delicious dishes are foremost. Support comes from scratch kitchen manager Chris Osante, emphasizing quality ingredients, local resources — like FreeForm Coffee Roasters in Sedona — and attention to dietary needs. A hybrid of kiosk to full-service ordering options fills the bill.

Here are the top hits: the Madras curry chicken sandwich loads toasted focaccia with baked, diced meat in curry mayo, apples, golden raisins, red onion and lettuce served with kale or sweet potato salad. Tony’s Rueben stacks shaved corned beef, sauerkraut, caramelized onion, bacon and Swiss with a slather of secret sauce on toasted marbled rye for a messy, marvelous mouthful.

The turkey Cobb salad mixes Romaine and fresh greens with avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber plus pickled onion and fortifies it with turkey roulades, bacon and generous blue cheese crumbles. An herbal green goddess dresses it all for a lunch punch to hunger.

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Flag restaurants still fighting way back after pandemic

Arizona Daily Sun, July 6, 2021

Written by Gail G. Collins

In the course of more than a year spent flattening the curve, the pandemic delivered a flattening blow to small business, too.

The bounce back of the restaurant industry is marked with concerns, but also, optimism. Issues with staffing, supply chains, inflation, wage increases and countless other obstacles plague owners, but loyal support has strengthened the bonds of community.

The biggest trial has been staffing. For all the good intentions, supplemental checks delayed a return to the demanding occupation of preparing and serving food. Altitudes Bar and Grill dropped from 29 employees to 14 and owner-chef Tony Cosentino of Josephine’s Modern American Bistro called the task, “A nightmare of epic proportion.”

And, for many, it still feels next to impossible.

“We’re still feeling the aftermath of the pandemic . . . the odds are still stacked against us,” Cedar House Coffee Shop owner Wendy Kuek, owner of Cedar House Coffee Shop said while listing the challenges.

Many competent workers left the industry during the course of pandemic. Now, restaurant owners are left facing a competition for capable people, training of new staff, retention and scheduled rise in the minimum wage.

John Conley, owner of Salsa Brava and Fat Olives with 33 years in business, explained the labor issue and the challenges it presents.

“As an operator, I’m proactive, so planning doesn’t happen on a shift or daily basis, but on the week, month and quarter,” Conley said.

Managing expectations in a pandemic-stricken industry

Beyond that is managing the public’s expectations while understaffed.  People are thrilled to be out again, meeting up and sharing life, so shops are busy. Days and hours of operation have been reduced as well as menus, and getting up to speed will take time.

“I’m not sure how to help people understand the magnitude of our situation,” Altitudes owner Lynda Fleischer said.

Fleischer added that streamlining has been key and food offerings were halved, concentrating on serving what they do best in a quality manner.

Cedar House trimmed the specialties and focused on artisanal bakes, providing the same quality, attention and care in their coffees. The shop is a reunion of regulars discusses online school or remote working, and mothers introducing babies born during pandemic.

Customers returned in full force to Colt Grill in Cottonwood and Prescott Valley. Before that, like others, owner Brenda Clouston strategized, and then, did not miss a beat falling back on a strong take-out business with “homey hospitality,” curbside pick-up and other innovative services. Continuing to advertise in print, radio and social media maintained ties.

“We showed up, worked very hard and smiled through it,” she said.

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