Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald of The Market by Jennifer's: "I Think We're Finally Where We Want to Be"

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Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald Owner The Market by Jennifer's www.themarketbyjennifers.com

It's been about five months since The Market by Jennifer's opened its doors on the west-side of the Gaslight Square shopping center in Arcadia. And if you haven't been into the restaurant since its first few weeks, you might be surprised by the changes that have already been made during this short amount of time.

For owner and experienced caterer Jennifer Russo-Fitzgerald, nailing down a concept that best fits the neighborhood has been a bit like trying to hit a moving target. But she's confident they're getting closer everyday and are continuing to make small changes to help the restaurant become the cozy, neighborhood place she originally envisioned.

"I think we're finally where we want to be," she says.

See also: 5 Best Restaurants in Arcadia Right Now

For more than decade prior to opening a brick-and-mortar restaurant, Russo-Fitzgerald owned and operated Jennifer's Catering. She still heads up that business, splitting her time - and the Market's kitchen - between both ventures.

She originally got into the catering business after spending several years working in restaurant kitchens with some of the Valley's best-known chefs. After graduating from California Culinary Academy in San Francisco, Russo-Fitzgerald returned to the Valley to do an internship with Vincent Guerithault at Vincent's on Camelback. She would eventually become sous chef at Mark Tarbell's namesake restaurant, but had to give up cooking on a line when she sustained a knee injury.

That's when she got the idea to start her own catering business and for 16 years she operated out of a building at 13th Street and Northern.

When the economy took a turn, Russo-Fitzgerald says she was looking for a way to diversify and grow. It lead her to the idea of opening a traditional restaurant and just like that, The Market by Jennifer's was born.

Originally the idea was to offer the neighborhood a place for take-out food that you could enjoy on the go. And while that still factors into the concept today, Russo-Fitzgerald says she's made changes based on what the community seems to really want.

"We thought it'd be more of a grab n' go place, but people really want more of a restaurant," she says.

As such, they ditched the idea of doing counter service and dropped their breakfast menu altogether. Instead, they're now doing Sunday brunch with live music and bottomless mimosas.

Most recently, she also had a four-seat bar installed inside the restaurant's dining room. The plan is to launch a cocktail program to compliment the restaurant's current alcoholic offerings. (In addition to beer and wine by the glass, you can purchase wine by the bottle to-go or to-stay.)

The Market already offers a happy hour from 3 to 6 p.m. with deals including half-priced glasses of wine and $3 beers, cocktails deals will soon be added into the mix. The restaurant will also be launching a bi-monthly event called Saturday on the Rocks, during which guests can come learn about a specific spirit and enjoy small bites.

The cocktail program is a work in progress and Russo-Fitzgerald says they're being careful to make their offerings stand out from those close-by...or next-door at Crudo.

"We're trying not to do the same thing," she says.

One thing you want people to know about The Market by Jennifer's: Our location! (LOL) Because we're not visible from Indian School, some people have trouble finding us. We're facing 36th Street! Once you find us you'll see we're a unique restaurant with lunch, dinner, weekend brunch, live music, full bar and curbside catering!

The biggest difference between catering and operating a restaurant: Everything! It's a completely different animal. Catering is like organized chaos, but the menu is set and so is the head count. You never know what a day in a restaurant will bring!

What do you think sets your place apart from other Arcadia restaurants: Besides the seasonally changing menu, we also offer the curbside catering option and grab-and-go food and wine. We want it to be a one stop shop, no matter if you're dining in or taking it home.

Describe your concept in one sentence: Bright and casual by day, fun and sexy by night.

What drew you to the Arcadia location: It is centrally located, fun and family-friendly. Plus, I've called it home for 8 years.

What's the dish you make that best describes your style of cuisine: Our crispy salmon. We started the year serving it with okra and parsnip puree, now we serve it with zucchini and saffron. Keeping it in season!

Name one mentor in the kitchen and the biggest lesson he/she taught you: My great-grandmother. She was from Italy, she didn't speak a lick of English but we communicated in the kitchen through food. We formed a connection from her teaching me how to cook.

One book everyone should read and why: I am a restaurant owner and a mom, I wish I had time to read a good book!

One thing most people don't know about you: I've worked in several Phoenix hotels and restaurants and opened Jennifer's Catering 16 years ago!

One culinary trend you wish would go away: Juicing. I don't think it's right to have your meal in a glass, unless it's wine.

One trend you hope takes off in Phoenix: Sharable small plates, like the farm-to-table dim sum-style service they're doing in San Francisco. It's like you're at a cocktail party and you get to try a little bit of everything!

Your biggest inspiration when it comes to food: Traveling. When I get the chance, I love exploring restaurants in other cities.

If you could travel anywhere in the world tomorrow where would you go and what would you eat: Italy, of course! How could I choose one dish?

You can invite five people to dine at your restaurant. Who do you choose: Julia Child, my greatgrandmother, Eddie Veder, Hilary Clinton, and Brad Pitt!

One local chef you admire and why: Vincent Guerithault. When I worked with him at Vincent on Camelback's (in 1995), he showed me how to push myself farther than I've ever been pushed and that's what eventually gave me the drive to open my own company.

Describe your perfect food day: Running around San Francisco or New York and over indulging on everything.

Your drink of choice and where you like to get it: You may or may not find me on our patio with a glass of Sancerre in hand...

The hardest thing about being a chef is...the stress - and of course the hours!

One thing you wish Phoenix had more of: More neighborhood joints

What's next for The Market by Jennifer's: We're looking forward to our new Summer menu, new craft cocktails at the Market Bar, live music, and anything else that comes our way!

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