One of Ahwatukee’s oldest and most popular restaurants is under new management but the trio of new owners wants locals to know that’s about the biggest change.
The cozy atmosphere, the Italian cuisine and the patron-pleasing patio remain the same at Caffe Boa at 5063 E. Elliot Road, which has been at the same location since it opened in 1995.
And though the previous owners pared down the menu during the pandemic’s brutal assault on dining out, Patrick Larson said he aims to soon restore the missing items and resume lunch hours.
Patrick, his wife Jennifer “Jenni” Larson and longtime pal Daniel Aceto took over in June,
For the Larsons, assuming ownership of the Ahwatukee Boa was the latest in a series of life-changing moments that have occurred over the last 15 months.
Like his wife and Aceto – whom he’s known since high school and who was his roommate at the University of Arizona – Patrick has been in the restaurant industry since he was a teenager.
“I started washing dishes at 15 and I still do it,” he said, indirectly referring to the ongoing manpower shortage that has left many restaurant owners desperate for employees.
Then, for about five or six years, he said, he left the industry and got into various sales jobs until August 2020, when, in the middle of the pandemic’s disruption of eateries, he bought the Love A Sub sandwich shop on Mill Avenue in Tempe.
In June, Larson, his wife and Aceto bought Caffe Boa.
A month later, Larson’s wife of eight years gave birth to a baby girl, Charlotte. The baby spent nine weeks in the hospital because she was six weeks premature and then another four weeks at a hotel when her parents’ home sustained a water pipe break.
“She was never in any danger,” Larson said. “It just took her a while to have the strength to take all her meals without a feeding tube.”
While “busy” doesn’t begin to describe the Larsons’ schedule, he admits that where restaurants are concerned, “I guess I got the bug.”
He is immersed with Aceto and Aceto’s mother in the Boa’s day-to-day operations while Jenni takes care of the sandwich shop.
And little Charlotte?
“It’s nice that the sandwich shop is near the airport and open only till 2 and we don’t open until 4,” Larson said, “so I have the baby during the day and I either drop her off at the sandwich shop or pick her up here. It’s nice that she basically has to pass the restaurant to go home. So it’s working out so far.”
At Caffe Boa, now open 4-8:30 p.m. Monday through Saturday, Larson admits he had to conquer a learning curve “going from a sandwich shop to fine cuisine.”
But he also feels blessed that the Ahwatukee Boa chef for the last 20 years, Chef Martin, stayed on with him.
Patrick isn’t just waiting at the front door to greet guests, either. He works in the kitchen, sets tables and does anything else that needs to be done, adding, “I’d rather be in the trenches with my employees.”
As for the future, he said, “We’ve just been too busy to make any changes – not that we necessarily want to make any changes. We kind of want to keep things the way that they are because it’s not really broken.”
“We are trying to keep everything as much the same as possible.”
There are some things, however, that he wants to do that aren’t so much changes as they are returns to what Caffe Boa was like before the pandemic struck.
Besides returning to the menu some items that were pared away, Larson wants to return lunch service.
One thing that didn’t fall victim to the pandemic’s squeeze is the popular buttercake, one of the dessert items that can finish a meal of homemade beef lasagna, chianti braised beef rigatoni or one of the other standbys.
Larson also hopes to find more employees – a daunting task given that most restaurant owners are trying to do the same thing.
He said he’s grateful we’ve entered fall because the patio offers people another reason to visit Caffe Boa.
“People can rent that separately for parties, bridal showers, a wedding rehearsal dinner,” Larson said.
And he wants to give back to the community – as do his two partners.
“We all love Ahwatukee and so nonprofits or schools or whatever can work with us,” Larson said. “I think that’s part of being a locally owned and operated business.”
Caffe Boa offers takeout and delivery as well as catering services. There’s live entertainment on select Friday evenings and a weekday happy hour 4-6 p.m.