Part coffee shop, part kitchen and bar, Volstead Public House has set a busy pace since opening last summer, inventing signature coffee drinks and cocktails and trying new menu items to entice patrons to hang out a little longer in downtown Mesa. The coffee house and restaurant is located in the space formerly occupied by LoFi Coffee, in the front of the historic Nile Theater.
Owners Michelle Donovan and Felina Ivey opened Volstead in August. Donovan also owns and operates Mantooth Group, the business that runs concerts and concessions in the Nile Theater. There's an additional bar instead the theater, separate from the coffee shop and restaurant, and Volstead also has a sister cafe, FiftyOne West, located at 51 West Southern Avenue in Tempe.
Donovan explains the name of the coffee shop/restaurant is a reference to the Volstead Act, which became law in October 1919. This act first codified Prohibition and ultimately led to the passage of the 18th Amendment. All of this went down around the same time the Nile Theater was slated to open in 1924, Donovan says. And in keeping with the theme, Volstead Public House emulates the feel of an old-timey bar, with vintage-looking furniture, a giant plush red velvet sofa, large exposed light bulbs, and other 1920s-era decor.
“We repainted everything. It’s all-new furniture and all our own machine,” Donovan says.
From a small grill, the owners produce specialty sandwiches and serve salads. On Saturdays, they also serve a unique brunch of vegan soul food, featuring fried chicken and waffles (the "chicken" is made with soy-based meat substitute), mac ’n’ cheese, fried okra, and other greens. Brunch items range from $5 to $8.95.
“We not only use plant-based [ingredients], but we try to [source] as much locally as we can,” Ivey says. “And everything we serve is made in-house. We make our own pesto; our soups are all house-made.” Volstead also brings in bread from Proof Bakery, now located in Chandler. The shop serves coffee from Passport, a local roaster in Scottsdale.
Volstead also offers a rotating list of signature cocktails, which the owners say they try to refresh each season. One of the bar's original signature drinks is a take on a gin gimlet. Another drink, called the Cable Car ($6), features the coffee shop’s Nitro cold brew coffee with vanilla vodka and cream — imagine something a bit like a fancy, flavored latte for adults.
Volstead recently launched karaoke Fridays, and though they say they aren’t sure they’ve seen much of a difference in traffic due to the light rail expansion, they do hope that having a kitchen and coffee shop that’s open late might attract and keep patrons hanging out in Mesa.
“We are trying to be a reason to come to Mesa,” Donovan says.