The 20,000-square-foot area features AstroTurf ground covering and 14 tables and chairs (provided by the city and the Mesa Arts Center) with umbrellas. The space can accommodate up to 40 people is open from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
And the first weekend seems to have been a success.
"According to our count so far, we had about 50 people come on Saturday, mostly at night and on Sunday we had about 25 in the afternoon," says Nancy Hormann, President and Executive Director of the DMA. “The response to our opening weekend was overwhelmingly positive. Families enjoyed the sunny weather and tasted a myriad of dishes while supporting our local restaurants."
“Several of the restaurants are already delivering, but within a week we’re going to have what we call the Downtown Dash,” Hormann says. She says the DMA expects the program's popularity will continue to grow once the delivery service kicks in.
This will involve QR codes on the tables, allowing diners to order from multiple area restaurants like Que Chevere, which was one of the first to sign up.
As far as COVID protocols go, the tables are spaced 20 feet apart, with sanitizer stations and disinfectant wipes available in the fenced-off space. And every table is cleaned once diners leave. “We really want people to be able to eat out and stay safe,” Hormann says.
Michelle Donovan, the owner of the nearby Nile Theater, says she believes Al Fresco off Main will aid downtown Mesa restaurants by giving diners and restaurants alike more outdoor space. The Nile Coffee Shop — the vegan cafe and coffeehouse attached to the theater — already has patio seating (and a takeout window), but Donovan says her patio fills up quickly.
“It is very helpful that there’s an overflow lot of tables right across the street,” she says, adding that thanks to the brightly colored umbrellas and AstroTurf, the Al Fresco off Main seating is highly visible (meaning, it's obvious where customers can take their takeout).
“We’ll have some music, or we’ll have trivia nights, or maybe the comedy club will come out and do some performances,” she says, emphasizing that Al Fresco off Main will become a way to promote all downtown Mesa businesses, not just restaurants.
Hormann admits that as a new program, there may be room for improvement, and the DMA will learn as they go along.
“Come down and give us feedback if you think we can improve,” she says.