For years chef Kelly Fletcher wooed diners from the kitchen at Tempe's House of Tricks, where he'd been working for some 10 years. But earlier this spring he left that post, seeking an opportunity to really do his own thing. He teamed up with business partner Chad Withycombe to breathe new life into Tempe's Mucho Gusto restaurant. They shut the place down for less than a month, remodeled, and The Revival was born.
Expectations were high but it's been a rocky start for the Arizona-native chef. Fletcher has already had to stop serving weekend lunch and brunch and admits he's been holding back so far.
"It had to be safe," Fletcher says of his menu.
According to the chef the reason is pretty simple: staff. When he and Withycombe remade the restaurant -- from Mexican to New American -- they kept everyone from Much Gusto who wanted to be a part of the new concept. Most chefs would have come into the kitchen and cleaned house, but Fletcher chose to retrain the existing kitchen crew. Fletcher says that decision means he doesn't have the culinary support he would need to pull off a complicated menu.
"I had to ease these guys into it," he says of the kitchen staff.
Part of the decision to keep the existing staff was motivated by the fact that Fletcher had already been working in the Mucho Gusto kitchen for several months prior to the restaurant closing down for renovations. Fletcher, accustomed to fine dining and New American cuisine, says it was a good learning experience to be slinging burritos.
"I was out of my element," the chef admits. "It was funny. It really, honestly, leveled me."
The goal is to make The Revival a truly neighborhood spot, the kind of place with food you can eat any time. The chef says he's struggling with the fact that most people "don't understand playful, esoteric food." But Fletcher says he's confident the restaurant will get there over time.
"If we can pull this off the way we imagine I think it will be this thing the neighborhood has been waiting for."
For the chef, who has not only worked in Tempe for more than a decade but also lives in the neighborhood, it's as much about making the restaurant work as it is about pushing the food scene in Tempe forward.
"Austin wasn't Austin five years ago," Fletcher says. "It was all the people that stayed there. And if we leave, they win."
The biggest lesson I've learned since opening The Revival... is that working hard will always have its rewards
One sentence to describe your vision for the restaurant: We're pushing everyday for the community to have a place to go.
One thing you want everyone to know about The Revival: [It's] a place where anybody can have a place to go and feel at home.
The biggest difference between the food you were doing at House of Tricks and the food you're doing now is...that this is about me and my personal vision.
Your current culinary obsession: Vinegars, all forms and types.
Name one mentor in the kitchen and the biggest lesson he/she taught you: My business partner, Chad. While he's not actually in the kitchen, he teaches me patience on a daily basis.
Your favorite ingredient to use: It will always be salt.
The most overrated ingredient right now: Kale. I love it but it's been saturated.
One trend you wish would end: Close-minded eating.
One local chef you admire and why: Bernie Kantak. We talk everyday. He's my restaurant go-to voice of reason.
One national restaurant you want to get to this year: Foreign & Domestic in Austin.
One dish you've eaten recently that blew you away: Anything at Hana. I always leave there picking my jaw up off the ground. It's always genius.
The most underrated restaurant in Phoenix is...Umami in Tempe. I'm always shocked when people say they've never heard of it or been there.
Your favorite place for cheap eats: Hodori. It's my fix for Korean food.
Your drink of choice and where you like to get it: I'll take Fernet, wine and the Dazed & Confused at Crudo all day long.
The biggest difference between Tempe today and Tempe 10 years ago: A lot of corporate chains came in and chewed up a lot of the amazing mom and pop shops and then left it vacant. The locals are really making an effort to bring back the love.
What do you think the next big trend will be in the Valley? Ramen is really emerging. I think people are starting to get it. It's moving in a big way.
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Tempe could use more...Independent restaurants.
Tempe could use less...I'm not sure... I love Tempe's style.
Check out our past Chef and Tell interviews with: Bob Tam -- Bitter and Twisted BJ Hernandez -- Havana Patio Cafe Matt Taylor -- Gertrude's at the Desert Botanical Garden Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald -- The Market by Jennifer's Jared Lupin -- Umami Michael O'Dowd -- Urban Vine Dennis Delamater -- The Post Doc Brown -- Doc Brown's Artisan Ice Cream Josh Bracher -- Second Story Liquor Bar Chris McKinley -- The Local Chris Mayo -- Central Bistro James Fox -- Bootleggers Jay and Christine Wisniewski -- Caffe Boa Joe Absolor - Clever Koi Jason Grossmiller - Arizona Distilling Company Chris Collins - Grassroots Kitchen and Tap Perry Rea - Queen Creek Olive Mill Adam Brown - Noca Steve Kraus - Press Coffee Roastery Jason Raducha and Claudio Urciuoli - Noble Bread Sasha Raj - 24 Carrots Nick LaRosa - Nook Joey Maggiore - Cuttlefish Country Velador - Super Chunk Sweets and Treats James Porter - Petite Maison Cullen Campbell - Crudo Mel Mecinas - Four Seasons Scottsdale at Troon North Meagan Micozzi - Scarletta Bakes Tyson Holzheimer and Joe Strelnik - Snooze, an A.M. Eatery Paul McCabe - T. Cook's at the Royal Palms Eugenia Theodosopoulos - Essence Bakery Cafe Eddie Hantas - Hummus Xpress Jay Bogsinke - St. Francis Dustin Christofolo - Quiessence Blaise and DJ Aki - The Sushi Room Sacha Levine - Rancho Pinot and FnB Andrew Nienke - Cafe Monarch Kevin Lentz - French Grocery Aurore de Beauduy - Vogue Bistro Justin Olsen - Bink's Midtown Marco, Jinette, and Edmundo Meraz - Republica Empanada Brian Peterson - Cork Brian Webb - Hey Joe! Filipino Street Food Lester Gonzalez - Cowboy Ciao Renetto-Mario Etsitty - Tertio German Sega - Roka Akor Marco Bianco - Pizzeria Bianco Brad and Kat Moore - Short Leash Hot Dogs and Sit...Stay