May 27 no doubt will be a dark day for Tucson food lovers. Two of the city's most acclaimed restaurants -- Janos and J Bar -- will serve their last suppers on May 26 before permanently shuttering their doors at the Westin La Paloma Resort and Spa.
In a phone interview with Chow Bella, celeb chef Janos Wilder was quick to say he had "15 years of a great relationship with my landlord," adding that he's also developed a good rapport with new owner Southwest Value Partners, the San Diego-based real estate company (co-founded by Phoenix Suns owner Robert Sarver) that purchased the Westin from Starwood Resorts and Hotels International Inc. in January.
But the mild-mannered James Beard Award winner had been unhappy with declining conditions at the struggling resort for some time, putting his complaints in a court filing made public earlier that month, according to the Arizona Daily Star. Renovations are currently under way.
"Our lease was coming to conclusion shortly, and although they'd love to see us stay, the timing is right, going into summer, to move forward and find other opportunities," says Wilder, who claims he's in no rush to find a new space.
Although he has no concrete plans, the chef (who also owns Downtown Kitchen + Cocktails in Tucson) does know his new venture will skew more toward the casual affordability of DK + C than the pricey fine dining of Janos. But Wilder doesn't rule out the possibility of reprising favorite Southwestern and Mexican dishes from both soon-to-be-defunct restaurants, because "these are areas we know so well and love so much."
Wilder opened the eponymous Janos in 1983 in an historic home on the grounds of the Tucson Museum of Art. His deft blending of French technique with Southwestern ingredients drew the attention of national food writers, who were in a froth over regional cooking at the time. Wilder was the first chef to put Arizona on the culinary map.
In 1998, he moved Janos to a freestanding building on the grounds of the Westin La Paloma and opened J Bar -- a casual, inexpensive blend of Mexican, Latin and Caribbean flavors -- under the same roof a year later.
Wilder won the James Beard Award for Best Chef Southwest in 2000. He currently is a semifinalist for the 2012 James Beard Outstanding Chef Award.
Naturally, Wilder plans to go out in style, creating a "Big Night" built around everybody's favorite dishes. "This is not a sad moment," he says. "It's just the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. I would hate to have done something for 30 years, then stop and no one cared. That would suck."