Year in the Headlights

One restaurant's messy demise makes way for another's stellar start

The year 2001 was a significant one for several of our Valley restaurateurs -- in some cases leaving memories they'd likely rather forget.

March: Legendary restaurateur Norman Fierros closed his highly popular Norman's Arizona, after it was seized by the Arizona Department of Revenue for non-payment of back taxes. With more than just the $55,000 owed to the state, Fierros also left behind almost $225,000 in debt to employees, vendors and investors.

Amazingly, this was the fourth time Fierros had pulled this kind of act since opening his first restaurant two decades ago in downtown Phoenix. This time, the charming chef seems to have disappeared for good, having lost his home to foreclosure.

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On the upside, his departure led to the opening of one of the year's best restaurants, Nonni's Kitchen. Nonni's chef-owners Tom and Chrysa Kaufman swooped in on the restaurant space at 40th Street and Campbell immediately after the seizure, resurrecting the space with an absolutely terrific cafe serving Italian-influenced comfort food.

Also in March: Another Valley restaurant legend proved that there are forgiving types, of the most amazing kind. Nick Ligidakis somehow found a way to open Author's Café in Scottsdale. This after opening and closing five restaurants since 1984, each time with great drama and leaving a remarkable trail of debt.

And despite still paying back taxes for a former restaurant, plus owing more than $1 million in unpaid invoices, Ligidakis found the funds to publish a very expensive-looking book. My Private Collection is a 300-page hardcover with almost 50 pages of four-color photos showcasing "dessert recipes of a master." It joins Ligidakis' library of four other fancy self-published tomes.

August:After about eight months of bickering between the owners of the trendy Restaurant Arcadia (opened in January) and Arcadia Farms (opened in 1990), the folks at Restaurant Arcadia agreed to an expensive name change. The move came after Arcadia Farms filed a civil lawsuit against the other restaurant, claiming trademark infringement. Although the Restaurant Arcadia name was registered before Arcadia Farms' owners filed their own trademark, the new cafe finally backed off and renamed the joint Valencia Lane.

New in 2002: Are we ready for this? Nation's Restaurant News predicts that one of the hot new foods for next year will be yak, a long-haired bovine found in central Asia. It's already on the menu at several Colorado eateries, lapped up by diners who supposedly appreciate its full-bodied, velvety texture.

 
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