An Ahwatukee Foothills couple is getting a second chance at their dream with the help of their loyal customers and some new friends.

Karen and Mark Vojtek have been running Culinary Solutions Café for almost eight years. Mark, who was in the same class in culinary school as Emeril Lagasse, has always had a passion for cooking. He was a restaurant owner for years in Connecticut before the couple moved to Ahwatukee.

For years he did some catering from the home but was weary of opening his own place in an area that's so full of chain restaurants. When he finally found the little shop in Tempe he fell in love.

"Mark knew right away he had a vision, he said I could see it, this was the place for us," Karen said. "He brought me back the next day and we entered into a contract that afternoon."

Even when it first opened the location needed a lot of help. The Vojteks opened their doors and counted on Mark's cooking to keep them going.

His food did manage to keep them afloat during a hard recession but Karen said they've given up everything to keep it going and they've been struggling.

Then one customer stepped forward. She had done some marketing for the couple in the past and she had an idea.

"What's happening now is unheard of," Mark said. "Normally it's a tragedy that has to occur before someone notices. One of our customers just came to us and we weren't expecting anything. For where we are today, it's awesome."

The customer brought to the table another small business, looking to do some good. Detail Design and Fabrication asked Karen and Mark if they could redo the inside of their café.

"They loved our food and loved what we do and so they said we'd like to help you," Karen explained. "I think what they were attempting to do was make the interior of the café match the caliber of the food."

The project is called Saving Mark's Café, which is the new name of the restaurant. They've decided to brand Mark's image since he is the chef and the only one who prepares each dish.

Once the Vojteks said yes the plans started and it had a snowball effect. Other companies started stepping forward asking how they could help save the little café. Now the establishment has a photographer, videographer, public relations person, graphic designer, floor designer, painter, general contractor and fabrication company all helping them out, mostly for free.

Customers helped raise the money needed to pay for supplies and help them get by during the renovation by attending three pasta night fundraisers. Many have also come by and volunteered to help with the demolition.

One customer, Gregg Goodsell, was there the first day of demolition.

"I think it's great," Goodsell said. "I think it's remarkable that somebody came forward and volunteered to put together a plan and develop this incredible plan for them."

Goodsell said he's a fixture at the café on Saturdays and Sundays. Mark designed a special omelete just for him when he was trying to lose some weight. He says the Vojteks have become like family.

"I think that you have a local, family-owned business that's dedicated to the community and a good service," Goodsell said. "They've got good prices, good food and they're trying to make it in this horrible economy. It would be easy to say, ‘Let's close the doors and find a job,' but they're not doing that. It's hard work."

The café has been closed since May 9 and they plan to reopen Wednesday, May 18 if all goes as planned. They are located at 6340 S. Rural Road, Suite 120, in Tempe.

Because Mark does all the cooking himself they are only open for breakfast and lunch Wednesday through Sunday, from 7 a.m. to 2 p.m., and for dinner Friday, from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m.

For more information on the café, visit markscafeaz.com or call (480) 839-6455. They also have a Facebook page at facebook.com/savingmarkscafe.

• Contact writer: (480) 898-7914 or ahurtado@ahwatukee.com

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