Esparza did a heartfelt virtual tour of the space on Saturday, April 18, explaining that she’d decided to close “due to zero funding and coronavirus.” She posted the video on her Facebook page, so people could see her take a final walk through the restaurant, from the dining room to a pair of bathrooms.
“That room is all about people who were revolutionaries fighting with Pancho Villa,” Esparza explains. “I’m from a place where he’s beloved."
But there was more to it that day because Esparza was also struck in that moment by how much oppression she’s experienced making her way as a chef. The news that bigger restaurants were getting financial help to deal with COVID-19 as she was shuttering Barrio Café Gran Reserva for good didn’t help.
In 2016, she’d commissioned several artists to create work for the intimate restaurant. Local artists made curtains for the space and created stunning gold lettering on the tall windows that overlooked the bustling arts scene during First and Third Friday Grand Avenue art walks.
Thomas “Breeze” Marcus, whose elaborate line work references Tohono O’odham basketry, painted the kitchen at Barrio Café Gran Reserva. Lalo Cota painted a small passageway using his iconic style, which includes skeleton figures and large, colorful roses. Pablo Luna painted bright imagery inside another bathroom.
She’s hoping public health conditions will make it possible to open the restaurant in June, which will be 18 years after she launched Barrio Café. She’s calling the space Barrio Café 2.0 to signal the fact that she’s changed through the years, like the community that surrounds her.
In the meantime, Esparza is operating a community kitchen to help feed people who’ve taken a financial hit due to COVID-19, as well as local nurses. She learned on April 22, that she’d received a Paycheck Protection Program loan for just over $236,000, which will help her pay employees to stay home during the temporary Barrio Café closure.
Still, the murals inside Barrio Café Gran Reserva had a singular charm, and added a beautiful twist to the Grand Avenue neighborhood whose creatives take pride in funky art and historic preservation.
Beatrice Moore, a Phoenix artist who owns the Bragg’s Pie Factory building that housed Barrio Café Gran Reserva, says she’s planning to leave the space vacant for a while, which means the murals will live on for at least a time. “I almost want to preserve it as it is,” Moore says. “Chef Silvana left some big shoes to fill.”