Proposed Federales taco, tequila spot stirs ‘unprecedented’ opposition | Phoenix New Times

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Row on Roosevelt: Federales taco, tequila spot stirs ‘unprecedented’ opposition

Neighbors aren't happy with the size, potential impact or polarizing name.
A rendering of the proposed bar and restaurant on the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets.
A rendering of the proposed bar and restaurant on the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets. Four Corners
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Update: City board blocks controversial taco, tequila spot planned for Roosevelt Row.


A proposed taco and tequila concept from a Chicago-based hospitality group is facing pushback from its future neighbors on Roosevelt Row who are concerned about the project's impact on the bustling downtown arts and entertainment district.

Launched in the Windy City in 2016 and known for its tacos, margaritas and shots served in glasses made of ice, Federales also has locations in Denver and Dallas. Its parent hospitality group, Four Corners, is planning a Phoenix location of the restaurant and bar on the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets.

For some people who live, work and own businesses in the area, the proposed venue doesn’t feel in line with the neighborhood or what it needs.

“The scale and size of this particular project is concerning, and the volume of liquor that would be served,” says Carla Wade Logan, co-owner of Carly’s Bistro, which is located across the street from the lot on which Federales will be built. Wade Logan is also a member of the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association.
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Neighbors of a proposed new restaurant and bar in Roosevelt Row are appealing the approval of permits and variances needed to develop the lot.
Sara Crocker

Development debate

Four Corners representatives share a mix of surprise and frustration at the negative response to their proposed restaurant.

“This is one of our most well-received concepts we’ve created in 21 years,” says Four Corners owner Matt Menna. His group operates 11 restaurants and bar concepts that range from pizzerias and pubs to steakhouses. Most are located in Chicago.

But the Federales concept has struck a nerve in Phoenix. To date, 25 businesses, six community and merchant groups, three churches and some 300 residents have expressed their opposition to Federales through letters and petitions.

“In my tenure of 24 years, I've never seen this level of opposition to any project,” says Kimber Lanning, who founded the popular art gallery Modified Arts in 1999 and has been a Roosevelt Row proponent for decades. She is also CEO of Local First Arizona, though the organization is not involved in the debate over the development of Federales.

Sean Johnson, president of the Evans Churchill Community Association — the Evans Churchill neighborhood is home to Roosevelt Row — and Kenny Barrett of the Roosevelt Row Merchants Association have appealed the approval of Four Corners’ requests for use permits and variances to transition the lot to a restaurant and bar. The appeal will be heard by Phoenix’s Board of Adjustment, a seven-member board appointed by City Council, on Thursday.
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Four Corners owner Matt Menna says Federales is one of his hospitality group's most well-received concepts.
Four Corners

What is Federales?

Menna describes the Federales concept as “tacos and tequila and a fun indoor-outdoor vibe” under a retractable roof. The Phoenix location will feature 4,000 square feet of dining room space and 2,000 square feet of patio space. In total, it will seat about 275.

But critics of the Phoenix location are concerned about the venue's moniker. "Federales" is a slang term for the Mexican national police that can have negative or derogatory connotations. Menna says Four Corners agreed to change the name of the Phoenix spot after conversations with neighbors last year.

Menna says renaming and rebranding the restaurant will start once he has the permit in hand for the project.

Yet that hasn't appeased concerned neighbors. "You can say you're gonna do it, but have you done it? No," Logan says.

Neighbors are also concerned about a host of other issues, ranging from the size of the space to how the proposed concept fits with the character, style and ethos of a neighborhood rooted in the arts.

Critics also are wary of what they see as a lack of transparency in the portrayal of the concept. Logan said Federales is being presented as family-friendly, serving lunch, dinner and brunch. After looking online and talking with people in other cities, local opponents of the concept say it functions more like a nightclub.

"We realized we've got to do our own due diligence here because we're kind of getting a couple of different stories," Lanning says.

In Denver and Dallas, the Federales outposts are in arts and entertainment districts similar to Roosevelt Row. They are located in the River North Art District, or RiNo, and Deep Ellum, respectively.

“Be very aware (Federales) is not a restaurant, this is a club,” Denver artist Andi Todaro wrote in a letter that critics of the Phoenix outpost included in their appeal and provided to Phoenix New Times. Todaro also writes that the addition of Federales “has had a very ill effect not only on the neighboring businesses but on the safety and appeal of the district as an arts hub.”

When the Dallas location opened in 2022, the Dallas Observer — which is owned by the parent company of New Times — echoed sentiments that the restaurant and bar cultivates a party atmosphere.

“Federales is not a taqueria,” the review reads. “It’s more like a swag-dripping day club that just so happens to serve tacos.”
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Although it is vacant, the lot at the northeast corner of Second and Roosevelt streets has been a space to gather during First Friday Art Walks, pie socials and yoga sessions.
Danny Upshaw

Party vibe or refined restaurant?

That party vibe gives concerned residents deja vu of the ill-fated and since-shuttered Golden Margarita, which closed after Roosevelt Row neighbors complained of violence in and around the restaurant and nightclub, including an alleged homophobic attack. There also were allegations that staff members were not being paid on time or at all.

“I think that the community was looking for some assurance about how [Federales] would be run, especially since the operators are out of town,” Logan says.

Menna points to Four Corners’ history as restaurateurs and says the Federales in Phoenix will be adjusted to fit in with the neighborhood.

“The concept we're doing is not a club, not a late-night focused venue,” he says. “We are well aware that this neighborhood would like a more refined version, and we are absolutely headed down that track.”

Lanning and Logan also were troubled by what they saw in online reviews of Federales locations, including allegations of aggressive security staff and discrimination based on race and sexuality. When they brought their concerns to Four Corners, they say their questions were met with defensiveness.

“They acted hurt about the fact that we elevated the more than 80 reviews they have online as hurtful to them as opposed to hurtful to the people in the community that have been discriminated against,” Lanning says.

Menna says most of the negative reviews are not credible. Yet Four Corners has taken to heart the concerns and are responding to and internally reviewing comments — bad and good — and any staff who are part of those interactions, he adds.
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Leah Marché criticized Four Corners for failing to listen to neighborhood concerns about the Federales proposal.
Lynn Trimble

‘It was unusual’

Logan says she was caught off guard when she first learned of the proposed bar and restaurant through a letter that stated that Four Corners' was seeking zoning changes. Local business owners are required by the city to be notified of any new projects — a process that Logan is familiar with. But the letter was the first she'd heard of the project at all.

“It was unusual to not have community outreach prior,” Logan says.

She also is familiar with the land owner, Hubbard Street Group, which is developing Skye on 6th, the 26-story apartment complex at Sixth and Garfield streets that is set to be completed this summer. Logan says the community outreach surrounding that project was great.

Hubbard did not respond to requests for comment.

By the time neighbors learned of the Federales proposal, began asking questions and met with the project team, opponents say there seemed an unwillingness to reconsider the use of the land, the scale of the space or the concept, and how it fits in an area with a rich history in the arts.

“It felt a lot of it was going through the motions,” says Leah Marché, an executive board member of the Roosevelt Row Community Development Corp. She recalls one recent meeting in May with concerned neighbors, Four Corners and Hubbard. “You can’t tell the community what it wants. You have to truly listen to them,” she states

One proposal to modify the development adds office space for creative industries atop the restaurant — something that would focus on adding density in an urban area and supporting local artists.

“There would be an opportunity for creative office [space] and the restaurant in the same development,” Logan says. “It seems a missed opportunity to not have more there.”
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Kimber Lanning said the Federales proposal for Roosevelt Row has drawn unprecedented opposition.
Lynn Trimble

Concessions to Federales critics

Menna says the building will mirror the height of other businesses that share the corner, including Carly’s and Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co. He adds that Four Corners is a tenant and that Hubbard, as the property owner, ultimately made the decision for how to develop the land. The undeveloped tract has been a space to gather during First Friday Art Walks, pie socials and yoga sessions.

During meetings with neighbors, Menna said Four Corners committed to a revised design of the space to better fit with the character of the neighborhood and the needs of operating in Arizona, such as shading and cooling the patio space. He said the Phoenix location will celebrate local artists by hosting a live arts series, working with artists on the interior and exterior design of the building, and adding an art display at the front of the building.

After hearing concerns about impacts to pedestrian traffic on Roosevelt — online comments have noted long lines to get into other Federales locations — Menna says Four Corners added a second entrance on Second Street.

Michael Maerowitz — an attorney for Snell & Wilmer, which represents Four Corners — notes that there are some 40 bars and restaurants in the area, many of which his firm has helped secure similar permits and variances.

“The opposition that we’ve received from some is certainly unprecedented. We have not experienced this before,” he says. “A lot of the concerns are outside the scope of the approval criteria that the city is to evaluate.”

Yet questions from business leaders and residents remain. They will have a chance to express their concerns at the meeting on Thursday at the City Council Chambers at 200 W. Jefferson St.

“This would be one of the last opportunities for the community to have a voice and make a difference on whether or not this concept moves forward,” Logan says.
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