Unsure of what to expect for Tucson's first local food court (Southern Arizona's first free-standing) and its unique location in the south-side (1439 S. 4th Avenue), I pull into the close to full parking lot of American Eat Co. and walk into a space full of familia helping, staff personnel working, and welcoming strangers excited for the grand opening.
It was nearing six o'clock and the sun was setting, gleaming into the large windows by the Market Bar creating warm lighting in the dim setting and complimenting the neon signs throughout the court, some of which include: Isabella's Ice Cream, Sam Waters and Joseph Ontiveros' Cafe con Leche, Aaron Cornejo's Avenues, Andreas Andoniadis' Opa, and chef Larry Salina's The Bite.
Less than twenty-four hours away from their family and friends soft opening and days away from opening the space to the public, Co-Founders of American Eat Co., Jesus Bonillas and Guillermo Gallegos, took the time to step aside from delegating finishing touches to their baños and being pulled left and right to give me a personal tour of what they have built.
"It started with us trying to figure out how we can use this building that has so much history. Being where it is on 4th Avenue, where the traffic isn’t what it is in a lot of other major fairways here in town but it’s in a historic area, it has a lot of culture and a lot of restaurants. We just tried to blend that all together and create something that would fit and go well," said Gallegos, "We thought about doing a commissary kitchen for food trucks and offering them a space where they could sell food indoors. Then it just grew from there! Next thing you know we’re doing a full on food court where we have established restaurants that are here year round with a bar, market, and coffee shop."
As we walked through the space, I could genuinely feel how passionate they are (and have been) in creating this food court. As they explained all the features, I was coming to an understanding that there are unique concepts within this unique concept. Each restaurant offering a concise menu with inventive food items.
"We had an idea of what we felt would be strong styles of food, not necessarily particular tenants. We knew for sure we wanted pizza by the slice. We knew for sure we wanted burgers of some sort, poke absolutely, and tacos in one way, shape, or form. Over time we had some interesting concepts cross our desk. Some really niche concepts. As time went on we had people that were really interested but then kind of fell off. Ultimately, with word of mouth, a couple tenants accorded us and wanted in," said Bonillas.
All six restaurants have their individual owners and passionate chefs behind them but one is an American Eat Co. original: Dumb Fish. Both Bonillas and Gallegos put in a lot of energy to solicit someone who does poke, but given that there's only one restaurant in town who offers it, and it's a fairly new food concept in itself they couldn't find anyone and decided to take it on themselves! They hired experienced sushi chefs and created an awesome menu of poke and rice bowls.
From local established restaurants to new local food concepts, from local artists' art beautifying the space to local developers being the masterminds behind this, American Eat Co. truly is cultivating a community space that supports local all-around.
"We’re small business owners ourselves. We started with the smallest of businesses, building from nothing. We see and know what it is to work hard, to build something from scratch and do it on your own. You learn to respect what it takes for other small businesses in town and it’s important for us to support all the local business owners," expressed Guillermo.
To Bonillas, American Eat Co. is "a place to eat, a place to make memories and enjoy family and friends. We want this place to feel like you can come and relax at anytime. We don’t want this place to feel like you have to buy something and leave. That’s why we have the comfortable finishes. We just wanted to create a space for Tucson to come and relax, meet each other, and enjoy great food!"
To Guillermo, American Eat. Co. is "a great community space where you can take a group of friends and you can take your family when they have a hard time deciding what to eat. It’s the perfect place to come because you have six different menus to choose from. It’s a great place for everyone to enjoy!"
When asked about why people should do business in south-side Tucson, Bonillas simply answered, "This is where the heart is."
American Eat Co. is hosting their soft opening this weekend, officially opening to the public on Monday! Around ten days following, they will be hosting an official grand opening.
See all the unique concepts below.
The unique concepts within this unique concept (obtained from AZ Daily Star):
- Isabella's Ice Cream, the second outpost of the popular ice cream shop on Fourth Avenue
- Cafe con Leche, a coffee shop serving traditional Mexican pastries
- Dumb Fish, a poke and rice bowl restaurant
- Upper Crust Pizza, specializing in slices
- AZ Rib House, serving ribs and handmade chicken tenders
- Market Bar, serving Tucson craft brews and Southern Arizona wines
- Opa, the second outpost of the popular Campbell Avenue Greek Restaurant
- Avenues, specializing in "Chicano comfort food" including deep-fried hamburger patty tacos
- Dos Amigos, a butcher shop and market
- The Bite, serving inventive sliders from burgers to seafood