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Friday, August 18, 2017

Entrepreneur Adds Taste to Downtown Restaurant Scene

Though cookie-cutter strip malls rise from the dust regularly in the Valley, the city still has charming independent businesses offering an alternative to chains.

 

Matt’s Big Breakfast and The Roosevelt in downtown Phoenix are two destinations that draw customers from South Phoenix and all over town.

 

Matt Pool, 39, of Phoenix, is the man behind these two favorites. He has an impressive pedigree: His sister, Susan Pool, is the business partner of Chris Bianco. Together, they run the much-lauded Pizzeria Bianco, Bar Bianco and Pane Bianco, and Pool managed Bar Bianco for five years, starting with its opening on Jan. 2, 2000. Chris Bianco is a big influence on him, he said.

 

 “What makes his pizza so great is he’s there all the time and he makes every pizza and he buys the best,” Pool said. “On the whole, I believe better ingredients make better food.”

 

 Pool started Matt’s Big Breakfast in a quirky old corner building at First and McKinley Streets in October 2004 with the same philosophy. He figured there was a market for more non-corporate breakfast places, partly because he was looking for them.

 

“I was driving out to Gilbert every week to have breakfast at the Farmhouse,” he said.

Now, city residents don’t have to travel far to get homemade waffles or griddle cakes made with King Arthur flour served with real maple syrup – and Pool doesn’t even charge extra.

 

 “We don’t penalize you for wanting to eat well,” he said.

 

 Matt’s is also known for the fresh, peppery bacon. Pool gets it from Pork Shop in Queen Creek, a well-known foodie outpost that doesn’t sell wholesale and doesn’t deliver.

 

 “I drive out there; I pay retail,” he said.

 

 The decor is retro, with Formica tables and countertop and a peppy orange-and-white color scheme. Pool’s wife, Erenia (“Ernie”), who runs it on weekends, is quick with the smiles and hugs.

 

Bryan Perry and Diane Miller of Phoenix eat at Matt’s Big Breakfast every Saturday. Perry said in addition to the great food, the Pools and their staff are friendly.

 

“It’s like seeing friends when we come in,” he said.

 

“There’s also a cast of regulars that seem to come through at the same time, so we see the same people,” Miller added.

 

Perry also likes the ambience: “It’s a distinct place,” he said. “It’s not like out in the suburbs where everything looks the same.”

 

Another customer, Mark Wong of Phoenix, said he liked the fresh food and cozy atmosphere (the place only seats 24).

 

 “I like the personal attention, small environment,” he said.

 

 

After Matt’s was up and running, Pool decided to open the Roosevelt, a neighborhood tavern, just a couple blocks away. He got the building – a historic house built in 1904 that had been used as offices – in October 2005, but had trouble getting it zoned.

 

At the time, much was made of his efforts to navigate through city bureaucracy, but he said it’s “water under the bridge” now.

 

Kimber Lanning, executive director of Arizona Chain Reaction and Local First Arizona, nonprofit groups devoted to promoting Arizona businesses, said businesses like Pool’s are critical to downtown because they provide a unique experience with the juxtaposition of the old buildings in the midst of skyscrapers.

 

 “I think a lot of people who move here from places like Boston or Philadelphia, they need a pub like this,” she said. “They can’t connect with the idea of a bar in a strip mall.”

 

The Roosevelt opened just after Christmas 2006 and has become a haven for the downtown after-work crowd as well as late-night hipsters. Pool named it Roosevelt because the house was built when Teddy Roosevelt was president, and because it neighbors the Roosevelt arts district.

 

The bar’s motto is “cold beer – fine wine.” Pool serves 56 beers: 12 on tap and 44 in bottles.

 

 “They’re all either regional or local microbrews or premium international beers,” he said. “People come here wanting to try new things.”

 

The wine list is also made up of bottles off the beaten path. You’ll find boutique bottles such as Turley Zinfandel from Napa or a trendy Hirsch Grüner Veltliner from Austria rather than run-of-the-mill supermarket brands.

 

 The menu is full of nosh items that pair well with beer, such as the “campfire beans and franks” with Niman Ranch hot dogs; the “big fat pretzel” with two mustards or the “hot and salty Virginia peanuts.”

 

 It can be tough running two businesses that are literally night and day, especially because Pool and his wife have a five-year-old son, Christopher (named after Chris Bianco). But he said he has yet another downtown project in the planning stages.

 Pool thinks the time is right for new businesses. Things are better now that more people are living downtown, he said, and he expects the trend to continue.

 

 “I was here when they built Arizona Center and everyone thought, ‘This is going to be good – (like) Manhattan,’” he said. While that never happened, he added, “I do think Phoenix has turned the corner and is going to have a renaissance, a real one, but it’s always going to be different than Seattle or New York or San Francisco.”

 

 

Matt’s Big Breakfast

Where: 801 N. First St., Phoenix

Hours: 6:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday; lunch starting at 11 a.m.

Contact: 602-254-1074; www.mattsbigbreakfast.com

 

The Roosevelt

Where: 816 N. Third St., Phoenix

Hours: 5 p.m. to midnight Sunday and Tuesday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday-Saturday

Contact: 602-254-2561

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