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James Beard Foundation’s Women in AZ: Women-led restaurateurs collaborate for 3-course dinner menus

Posted at 7:28 AM, Jan 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-29 11:31:33-05

PHOENIX — For the last three weeks, a team of women who work, cook, and lead the operations at various restaurants around town collaborated to create a dining experience to not only support each other but to give diners a way to try multiple restaurants at once.

Called the “James Beard Foundation’s Women in AZ,” the women created three-course menus, highlighting an item from each of their restaurant menus.

It took off, with two of the three weekends, so far, selling out.

“It feels like, you know, this unspoken sisterhood that has come together,” said Sasha Ra, the executive chef at 24 Carrots in Tempe. “It also feels like we're celebrating the versatility of our menus.”

For Jennifer Russo, who owns The Market By Jennifer’s and True Taco, a weekend taco pop-up, it was a way to connect with the larger culinary community.

“Just the information we've gotten from other cities and different ways we've been able to do things here has been brilliant,” she said.

Restaurants have been hit especially hard throughout the pandemic, changing how they do business, reducing hours, offering limited menus, and, at times, having to reduce their staff.

And it is tough.

“I tell people that our spirits are high and our sales are very low,” Raj said. “Our goal at 24 Carrots is just to make sure that our team members are paid, that they are kept safe, that they have a roof over their heads, and enough to make sure that their families are not struggling right now. And that has been barely what we have been able to do.”

Steve Chucri, CEO and president of the Arizona Restaurant Association, said an estimated 10-12% of restaurants — between 1,000 to 1,200 restaurants — have closed in Arizona since February 2020.

While it is impossible to say that every closure was due to the pandemic, it is likely that pre-pandemic issues were compounded by the economic impacts of the pandemic.

Still, the restaurants are striving as best they can.

“It's just showcasing all of us that are here waiting to serve our great food, to greet people, and just kind of spread the word that we're here,” said Russo.

The first two weekends sold out. The final weekend ends this weekend. But, they told us that they plan on doing another collaboration in March for Women’s History Month.