Panic Attack

County Attorney Andrew Thomas may have pulled the trigger too quickly on Ajo Al's

The remarks shocked the environmental services staffers who helped Thomas design his fledgling program.

"When we talked about this protocol, it was not our department's intent to ever ask for jail time," Ludwig says, flatly. "When I saw he was talking about people going to Tent City — we never talked about that."

Karen Dains says her family is wounded by the remarks. But they're absolutely confident they can beat the charges.

Dennis and Karen Dains (pictured with four of their five children) built Ajo Al's -- and now worry that they'll lose it.
Martha Strachan
Dennis and Karen Dains (pictured with four of their five children) built Ajo Al's -- and now worry that they'll lose it.

What they're not so confident about is regaining the trust of the public.

Business has been terrible. And Karen and her husband have been forced to hold a series of dire discussions.

Should they close their doors and sell the place? Sell their house? How many people can they lay off before they're unable to operate?

Karen and Dennis Dains had been living their dream. Once a lowly waitress and bartender, they'd met on the job at Applegate's, the high-end Biltmore area restaurant/dance club, back when fine dining still went hand-in-hand with a good disco.

They'd always wanted their own place. And once the accident made it possible, they'd made it thrive: four restaurants and 300 employees.

It's a family affair, to the point that all five of their kids have worked at Ajo Al's. (All three sons are current employees.) Dennis Dains still gets up at 5:30 every morning to stop by at each restaurant. It's only recently, daughter Theresa Palletta says, that her parents have even been willing to take a one-week vacation.

This has been their life. And it seems unbelievable that it's ending with this: a few violations and a tide of misinformation.

Sitting at a dark corner booth at the central Phoenix eatery with 28-year-old daughter Theresa, Karen Dains' eyes fill with tears.

Her lawyer told her not to talk to the media, she admits. He didn't want her to make Thomas angry, to make things worse. But she couldn't help herself.

"At this point," she says, "we have nothing to lose."

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