Five months after an extreme make over of their small Tempe café, Ahwatukee Foothills residents Karen and Mark Vojtek say business is going great.
"Right after the remodel we saw a big upsurge of business," Karen said. "At that time we had tripled in business. Then we saw a little bit of a pullback because of summer. Summer in Arizona, you just get through it. But overall, in general, business has been very encouraging. It's been busier than a usual summer would be."
Karen and Mark are the owners of a café, formerly called Culinary Solutions, that received a complete makeover from the community. One customer noticed a need and, by talking to different local businesses, they worked together to turn Culinary Solutions into Mark's Café. They re-did the inside of the café and created a brand out of Mark, the café's only chef. The result is the same great food, prepared fresh by Mark, but with a new modern look and feel. All the media coverage during the remodel even brought new customers, which is something the café desperately needed.
"The greatest thing is on a regular basis we're still seeing a good amount of new customers," Karen said. "On the weekends probably a third to a half of our business is new customers, so that's exciting. It means people are still finding us, however they do that, and they're still trying us out and, hopefully, we can turn those new customers into regular customers.
"Interestingly enough, if half of our customers are new customers, that's an indication that our regular customers aren't coming in as often. That's really indicative of the economy. We understand that, so we appreciate that new people are trying us out and we hope that we can make their experience so good that they keep coming back, however often they can manage to do that."
Karen said all the new business is exciting. The couple was close to going out of business but, now, they've signed another five-year lease.
"We're coming off two of the worst years ever in business and we had depleted most of our resources, both personal and business," Karen explained. "We're going to be playing catch-up for a long time, repaying debt and trying to get back to a place where we're feeling like we are a profitable business. But we're excited that we're still here. Certainly, that would not have been possible without the remodel."
Karen said for now Mark's Café is thrilled to be where it is, but some day they hope to grow a little larger. The storefront next door to their location on Rural and Guadalupe roads has been empty for years and, eventually, they may consider taking the space and expanding their current location.
"We don't want to be huge, we don't want to franchise, but we only seat 40, so we are small," Karen said. "We often have a wait. That's a good problem to have. If people feel you are good enough to wait, that's wonderful, but it gets to the point where you really need to make more seating available so you can serve more people, and that translates to more dollars."
For now, they couple is taking it a day at a time and not forgetting what everyone in the community did to help in a time of need.
"This was all possible because of the community," Karen said. "Because of the businesses who donated and the customers who stepped up to help us and because of new customers that keep us in business. We really want to be a community-based business. We don't ever want to lose that touch. The goal is to be a successful, family-owned small business that continues to create good relationships and new, satisfied customers."
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