A new place to fill your arteries with cholesterol and be happy doing it may not seem like huge news to folks inside Tucson city limits, but it’s pretty big up in the OV, where the four restaurants serving breakfast are either always crowded (Jerry Bob’s and Village Bakehouse) or overpriced and difficult to reach.
Sahuaro Cafe opened Saturday in the strip mall at the corner of Rancho Vistoso Boulevard and Tangerine Road to little fanfare and with no advertisement, save some plastic flags draped over its front door. (I’d provide a link to the restaurant’s website, but they don’t have one yet.) Nonetheless, about 100 people turned up for breakfast on the opening day, said owner Karl Bohlin.
So, one has to wonder just how crazy someone is to open a business in this economy. Turns out, not that crazy at all.
“Everywhere I went in Oro Valley, people said there was no place to eat,” said Bohlin, 41. “This is a great location, and I wanted to provide a service that was needed.”
Bohlin moved to Tucson six years ago from Alaska, where he’d owned a gym and a tanning salon. (Yes, a tanning salon. In Alaska. Did great business, he said.) The sale of those businesses provided seed money for the new restaurant, and apartments he still owns in Alaska pay living expenses for his wife, 18-year-old daughter and himself while they get the cafe off the ground.
“I wouldn’t recommend opening a business in this economy to someone going on a wing and a prayer,” Bohlin said. “It’s inconceivable banks would loan to someone wanting to open a small business right now. I could do this because I had the cash.”
Bohlin said he also took advantage of the fact that strip mall owners are “desperate” to get tenets in their empty units, so they are willing to negotiate on the standard 5-year-lease fees. You take your breaks where you can get them, I suppose.
After deciding they would open a restaurant, Bohlin and his wife, Cheri, went to every breakfast place available north of Roger and crossed an east-west belt from La Encantada over I-10 into Marana. They collected take-home menus, tried as much food as is humanly possible, and worked at creating a menu that would have a few signature dishes mixed in with traditional offerings at reasonable prices.
I haven’t eaten there, so I can’t say if the food is good, but the Mexican-something-or-other Bohlin was noshing on when I interrupted his breakfast today looked really tasty. His chef left a job at a local resort to throw his saute pans and waffle irons in with Bohlin, which seems like a good sign as well.
The menu features standard breakfast fare with the addition of a few “south of the border” offerings and is served from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. A lunch menu of burgers, sandwiches, wraps, salads and a few Mexican favorites takes over at 11 is is offered until closing at 2:30 p.m. Breakfast prices range from $3.99 for a short stack of pancakes to $9.99 for eggs Benedict. Lunch will set you back an average of $7, although big spenders can drop $10.99 for a Pacific Rim Spiced Salmon Salad.
I don’t know how Bohlin will do with lunch, but I do think he’s got a good chance at succeeding with breakfast because there simply aren’t enough options for folks in Oro Valley. It doesn’t hurt that he’s anchored by the busiest Safeway in the town, and that there’s plenty of parking available. Then again, there have been a number of small businesses that have bitten the dust in that strip mall in the past five years – a video store, an ice cream parlor, a two dinner spots. Bohlin remains undeterred and optimistic.
“I believe if you pick the right business in the right location, you can make it work,” he said. “That’s why this will be successful. We had 100 people our opening day, with no advertising. Most people who came seemed really pleased, and I think it will spread by word of mouth.”