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Al Fresco off Main: Downtown Mesa opens outdoor, community dining spot

Al Fresco off Main in Mesa - handout
Posted at 3:56 PM, Jan 15, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-18 22:23:47-05

MESA, AZ — The Downtown Mesa Association has set up a temporary communal outdoor dining area in downtown Mesa with tables and chairs -- and eventually outdoor entertainment -- to encourage shoppers and diners to support its local restaurants.

Called "Al Fresco off Main," the outdoor pop-up is on MacDonald, near Main Street, where the city's "Merry Main Street" setup was over the holidays.

The fenced-in area will be open daily from 10 a.m. - 8 p.m. The tables are chairs are distanced from one another, and cleaning wipes and hand sanitizer will be provided, said Nancy Hormann, executive director of the Downtown Mesa Association.

Staff will also be routinely cleaning the area.

"Everybody (the restaurants) has taken advantage of our downtown, Mesa CARES (program), and have extended (their patios) — we have an Al Fresco program for all the restaurants — and they’ve extended to their max. We thought what a better way to help them bring more customers and still stay safe, is to add another area where people can sit," she said.

To start, the area will be limited to tables and chairs. If and when restrictions are lifted, Hormann said there are plans to add entertainment, such as musicians and small comedy shows, for those who are eating there.

They have also created their own delivery service, called the "Downtown Dash," where someone in a golf cart will pick up your takeout order from one of the downtown restaurants and bring it to you, she said.

Downtown Mesa is home to more than 30 breweries, cideries, and restaurants, all within a square mile, including Worth Takeaway, 12 West Brewing, Tacos Chiwas, Chupacabra Taproom, Desert Eagle Brewing Company, Mango's Mexican Cafe, Myke's Pizza, Nunthaporn's Thai Cuisine, Republica Empanada, and Nile Coffee Shop.

For Kelsey Strothers, co-owner of Worth Takeaway, a popular sandwich shop in downtown Mesa, it is another step the association is taking to support restaurants.

“It’s probably been the most challenging time, as many other businesses can relate, to running a restaurant," she said.

While she said they were able to transition to to-go sales and online ordering quicker than most, they've had their own challenges, such as staffing and meeting customers' expectations.

At the same time, she's grateful to the surrounding community for their support.

"The people who shop in Mesa and live in Mesa are pretty die-hards, so we’re lucky to have people — when they support you, they really support you," she said.

Chuck Fowler, owner of 12 West Brewing that opened its doors just a couple months before being asked to shut down again due to the pandemic called Al Fresco a lifeline for many of the small businesses located downtown.

He described the pain and struggle he saw first-hand after talking to neighboring business owners around him.

"It's that 1,000-yard stare in some people. When you look them in the eyes, you just see that there are more questions than answers going on. These people have put their livelihoods on the line. They have taken out more debt than they can ever dream of. They have sold important parts of their lives to pay for other parts of their lives," said Fowler.

He said the CARES Act money and federal loans helped them bring 95% of their staff back to work. They were also able to use some of the money to enhance their outdoor dining space.

Al Fresco is now open, although it may be a few weeks before you see the golf carts set up to deliver food to customers.