Tempe is no food mecca.
Yes, the college town has always had more than its fair share of ethnic spots, and finally local micro-chains like Fox Restaurants and Upward Projects have graced Tempe with a Culinary Dropout and a Postino. But the truly unique, indie spots tend to migrate to Old Town Scottsdale, downtown Phoenix, even Mesa.
And that is why Essence Bakery and Cafe has been such a point of pride — and a dining go-to — for people like me, a downtown Tempe resident for 20 years this summer. The tiny breakfast/lunch spot serves the best baked goods, egg dishes, salads, and sandwiches east of Los Angeles. Owner Eugenia Theodosopoulos was the first in town to perfect the macaron; then, she moved on to the croissant. An Essence Treat Box will win even the grumpiest co-worker's heart, and friends will drive from all over to meet you at Essence for breakfast.
Next month, Essence Tempe will celebrate its 10-year anniversary by not renewing its lease. Theodosopoulos says it was a tough decision, but she plans to focus on her newer location in Arcadia.
The second Essence is bigger and brighter and Theodosopoulos owns it. It opened in 2013, and I knew the moment I walked in that the Tempe location's days were numbered.
Is Tempe that tough?
"It’s still making money, it’s still doing well," Theodosopoulos says of her first restaurant. "But it's hard to have businesses in two locations. … It was a hard decision, believe me.”
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Theodosopoulos wants to make sourdough bread at Essence Arcadia and open a cooking school.
“Having two places, we don’t have enough time to grow here. We own these buildings. We don’t own the building in Tempe, and that’s not ever going to happen," she says.
Essence Tempe's official closing day has not been announced; it will be sometime around the end of May. Theodosopoulos says she is "grateful to Tempe," which is where she got her start with a catering business even before opening the first Essence. She does not have any more plans for expansion.
“We want to stay small and independent," she says. "I know that’s rare, but we do. I want to stay in my restaurant. … I love what I do.”