The Hard Hat Cafe

It's easy to see why Andrea Zuhri-Adams' new restaurant east of America West Arena is dying. The answer is right outside the door of her establishment, All That Jazz.

Her lunch customers on a recent afternoon--all four of them--have just left the restaurant, which is located in commercial space inside the parking garage at 333 East Jefferson.

"Four satisfied customers in three hours," says the normally ebullient Zuhri-Adams, gazing mournfully at the empty room, which can seat 120. "Four! Our food is great. Our service is great. We were doing fine. Then it began ..."

As if on cue, a huge earthmoving machine rumbles into view. Like an image at an IMAX theatre, the backhoe seems as if it's about to surge right through the big restaurant window. The roaring engine makes conversation difficult. A hard-hatted construction worker bends over, unintentionally contributing to the urban crack problem.

For several weeks, discomforting scenes such as this have been commonplace at All That Jazz, which specializes in Caribbean cuisine.

"I knew they'd be starting on the baseball stadium at some point," Zuhri-Adams says. "But everyone in power reassured me that the impact on my place would be minimal. Yeah, right. It's almost wiped me out."

She's speaking, of course, of Bank One Ballpark. Construction of the facility hasn't started yet. But work on utilities and other preparation began in earnest around LaborDay.

Construction often means temporary hardship for nearby businesses. For Zuhri-Adams' fledgling restaurant--which opened its doors in June--it's meant fiscal disaster. Sales plummeted 75 percent in September from the preceding month, she says, and things aren't getting better.

What's worse, the owner adds bitterly, is that neither her landlord--the City of Phoenix--nor the Maricopa County Stadium District told her what was about to happen in the weeks after she opened for business.

"They never said when they were going to start their digging, putting up barbed-wire fences, shining their work lights in my place as they work at night, turning my water on and off, closing off Fourth Street and half of Jefferson, sticking an 'Open Trench' sign next to my front door," says the 37-year-old. "And no one--no one!--told me when it was going to happen."

Instead, the authorities who should be helping her weather the disruptions have fallen woefully short of the mark.

"I've gotten more information by word of mouth than from anyone in control," Zuhri-Adams says. "If I had known all this was going to happen, I would have waited until after November to open. It wasn't supposed to be like this."

No, it wasn't. Records show city officials first approached her in early 1993, saying they wanted a minority-owned business in the space at the Jefferson Street parking garage where All That Jazz now stands.

Zuhri-Adams fit the bill. A single, African-American mother of two boys, she had been operating a catering service in the Valley for a decade. During that time, she earned a reputation as a sound businesswoman and a dynamite cook.

The New York City native was interested.
"There's a void downtown for good entertainment and fine dining," Zuhri-Adams says. "I came up with a plan--my dream supper club. We worked out the money part with the Small Business Administration and a bank. And I put up a lot of my own money. But even though the city had come to me, they still made me jump through a million hoops before this happened. The truth is, the only reason I'm here is that I'm stubborn and very persistent."

All That Jazz finally opened in June, a classy, nonsmoking establishment that features live music--jazz, of course--on weekends.

"We figured we'd test the waters in the summer," she notes, "so when the weather cooled down, we'd be ready to roll. Truly, no one told us that the construction was going to start just when we were starting to kick butt."

Margaret Mullen, the executive director of Downtown Phoenix Partnership Inc., a member-financed pro-development agency, says the troubles haunting the promising new eatery have included the unusual and unfortunate.

"We didn't even know her business was coming in until a very late date," Mullen says, "which wasn't a good start. For example, we worked with McDonald's, Coyote Springs and that great pasta place for months to walk them through the potential problems. It wasn't that way with Andrea's place.

"I can't really say what anyone told Andrea before she moved in, but we can't interfere with the relationship between the city and the tenant. Now, she's calling us every day with new problems. Last night, it was the crane within a foot of her place. The night before, something else. It's not good."

Nancy Iverson of the city's office of Community and Economic Development says she did speak to Downtown Phoenix Partnership's operations manager John Augustyn during the restaurant's construction, which she oversaw.

"I did speak to John," Iverson recalls, "but we just didn't have information from the Stadium District about how and when things were going to occur. I am very sensitive to Andrea's concerns. We are working with everyone to help find solutions. She has a great place that everyone wants to see succeed."

Zuhri-Adams recently hired an attorney, Steve Tidmore.
"There have been so many hands involved in so much stuff here," Tidmore says, "but the bottom line is that Andrea's business is being destroyed. At the core, this whole episode really is a demonstration of ineptitude on several levels."

Zuhri-Adams says she copied a letter of complaint October 9 to 15 people. The list included her city councilman, Cody Williams, and sports czar Jerry Colangelo--whose opulent office at the arena is just a long jump shot away from All That Jazz. Shortly before the restaurant opened in June, Williams had written her a glowing letter.

It concluded: "I am confident that your business will grow and prosper ..." Zuhri-Adams says Williams hasn't responded to her appeal in her time of trouble. But the councilman says he's been working with city staff to right things for the beleaguered bistro owner.

"It's crucial that Andrea have a fighting chance at survival," Williams says, "and I think that our staff can work with the stadium people to make some accommodations for her business until that phase of the construction ends."

Zuhri-Adams says she's hurting badly for cash, but doesn't envision walking away from All That Jazz in the near future.

"This place has so much potential," she says, somehow mustering a grand smile. "If we're going to be a real city, we need to behave like a city. And treating a new business like it's nothing but an afterthought is not the way to do things. In fact, this last month has been awful. I am upset. I am infuriated.

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Paul Rubin
Contact: Paul Rubin