The Toasted Owl expands and solidifies itself as a northern Arizona favorite

AZ Daily Sun Mountain Living Section, March 2023

Visitors Guide:  99 Things to Do in Northern Arizona

Story and photos by Gail G. Collins

We are influenced by our parents. We observed their actions, and they, generally, were our favorite humans. We admired them and often followed in their footsteps. But how does it happen?

Children hear conversations at the breakfast table, where interests, as well as their bodies, are fueled. They are exposed to career paths, especially niche ideas, through daily details. Interviews with those, who mirrored their parents, describe the shared pursuits as speaking the same language.

In fact, data show that a son is 20 times as likely to become a scientist if his mother is one, while a daughter is 49 times as likely to echo her mother’s work in food preparation. And so it was for Cecily Maniaci, who owns Toasted Owl, a cozy, quirky breakfast and sandwich shop in Flagstaff.

As a widow, her mother moved across the country, and over time, opened five restaurants in Tusayan. Of course, Maniaci learned what it takes to run an eatery successfully alongside her. As her mother aged out of the business, Maniaci took over before transitioning to Flagstaff and opening her own venture.

Toasted Owl launched in 2013 with a 395-square-foot shop, containing a sink, convection oven and three-plate burner, but in short order, lines wound out the door. The move in 2015 to the current, larger location on Mike’s Pike required renovations to start, but offered a patio. Two years later, the bustling dining room pressed the urge to expand again to feed the eastside with a second location on Cortland Street.

“Consistency is most important,” Maniaci says, and her aim has always been, “to serve good quality breakfast food with elevated offerings. We’re not Denny’s, but we are fast. Our high end products make the difference.”

She is a morning person, so breakfast and lunch made sense to get home again to family—her initial tasters for recipe twists on standard fare. 

“I enjoy unusual tastes or flavor profiles,” she says. “I eat out everywhere and have a wide palate and love to add things to the menu, whether it’s Indian or whatever tastes wonderful.”

The breakfast tamales are beef or vegetarian, topped with green chili sauce, two eggs, black beans and cheddar and served on mixed greens. Carlotta’s Kitchen, promoting a blend of traditional, yet on-trend recipes, supplies the distinctive tamales.  Or as Maniaci  describes them, “They are yum, creamy with green sauce. People just love them.”

Another offering from the Owl Flies South menu section are tacos. Build your breakfast with a choice of two taco fillings—sausage, chorizo, ham or bacon made of pork, turkey or jalapeño-spiked—plus scrambled eggs and cheddar, potatoes and house made salsa.

Owl’s Best sellers include biscuits and gravy or the egg breakfast, comprised of classic components from sausage or bacon to potatoes and eggs, which “just kills it,” according to Maniaci. From the Owlrageous Omelettes, guests prefer prosciutto and brie with fig jam. Three eggs with mixed greens and creamy balsamic, plus potatoes, round up Europe’s best bites to start the day.

Lunchtime is covered with a variety of hot and cold owlwiches and a great list of burgers. If you’re chillin’, there are mimosas and bloody Marys served all day, every day.

Toasted Owl is kitsch and vintage. To sustain an exploding love of throw-back fabulous, Maniaci’s restaurants are filled with one-of-a-kind items from chandeliers to everything owl. It’s her hobby as décor in a retail outlet. As the signs say:  Everything is for sale. What will you take home?

Challenges over the past few years have plagued small business owners, and Maniaci believes her patio saved her. It’s always been furry friendly, but during the pandemic, tourists in trailers with their pets in tow pushed the limit in hilarious ways. From an enormous bird on a shoulder to fish in bowls to a tarantula at the table, she laughs at having to set reasonable limits.

Success is a siren, and Maniaci is singing its tune with more good eats. In February, she opened Plantasia Eatery nearby. The plant-based restaurant is the tasty extension of her personal health journey. Additionally, Toasted Owl announced a third location in central Phoenix in a busy, burgeoning spot called The Newton. With hundreds of apartments and an intimate following of friends and family, this owl will fly as far as her others. Think you’ve got what it takes to run a restaurant? Toasted Owl franchising opportunities exist.

Still, Maniaci celebrates and admires the collaboration with her original business neighbors and industry friends most. “Flagstaff has been nothing, but generous and kind,” Maniaci says. “I have such a love for Flagstaff—it was the start of all of it.” NAMLM