By Darrell Jackson
Two years after taking the job of downtown development director, Katy Engels is continuing her success of bringing local businesses together.
“The first half of my first year on the job was challenging in the sense of learning the politics that went along with the position,” Engels said.
“I expected there to be some challenges with this being a new contract for the city and with me being new to the community. There are a lot of passionate merchants and stakeholders that embraced me and my position while others felt my position wasn’t needed or wanted.”
The second half of the first year, she worked hard to improve communication and build subcommittees to understand downtown area’s needs.
“I believe we are taking the right steps to help make downtown a more economically sustainable downtown,” Engels said.
“I’ve enjoyed getting to meet everyone and finding out their wants, needs and visions. I believe the toughest part of my job is not being able to give everyone everything they want or what they feel they deserve.”
Engels joined the Glendale Chamber of Commerce after being executive director of the Waterford, Wisconsin, Chamber of Commerce. In Wisconsin, she worked directly with the community’s small, independent merchants, as well as local and regional economic development and tourism agencies to assist with revitalization efforts.
Glendale City Council voted unanimously in 2017 to approve a five-year contract for $610,510 for the creation of a new downtown manager position that would fall under the supervision of Glendale Chamber of Commerce in a public-private partnership.
As she begins her third year on the job, Engels points to three issues she will focus on trying to improve in the downtown area. The first is working with the strategic leadership advisory group to move downtown forward with branding efforts. That will make it a vibrant and thriving area for shopping, dining and entertainment, she said.
“Also, I’d like to work with merchants and the city to develop brand cohesiveness and jointly promote Experience Downtown Glendale to help bring more people to downtown Glendale for experiential experiences,” she said.
“I will also work with the city’s economic development office and develop a listing of available spaces/property for sale or lease and share this on the downtown website so potential property owners/merchants can see what is available at any given time. The Safety and Beautification Advisory groups are championing this effort to help reduce the number of vacant storefronts.”
Glendale Chamber of Commerce recently reported to councilmembers that Engels had fulfilled the first-year deliverables as required and has accomplished additional achievements for the greater benefit of downtown.
Glendale Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Robert Heidt pointed to the success of data collection and getting businesses together in discussions at numerous meetings.
“Part of what (Engels) has done is to provide useful knowledge on how to grow downtown businesses,” Heidt said. “We provided meetings for business owners to grow their business through social media and the point is to give those businesses instant knowledge to put into place to make them better.”
Engels said she also hopes to get more promotion from outside downtown to help improve foot traffic to the area.
“I see more outside promoters hosting their events in downtown Glendale; more visitors, new businesses opening their doors, and the downtown community continuing to be collectively engaged,” Engels said.
However, she cites improving communication among city staff, business owners and the chamber as her greatest success.
“I believe this first year’s success is getting into place an organization of like-minded people that wasn’t there a year prior. Communication has been key in making this happen,” Engels said.
“The downtown businesses and stakeholders meet monthly and advisory groups have been formed from these meetings, i.e., Strategic Leadership Advisory Group, Safety and Beautification Advisory Group, Signature Events Advisory Group, and Events Advisory Group, all specific to downtown issues and needs.”
By Mark Carlisle
Just over a year ago, Valley vegans would have given little thought to downtown Glendale when looking for a place to eat. Now, it’s at or near the top of their list.
Sandra McKee“There’s nothing happening out here. There was no vegan options, no vegan restaurants, no vegan anything. So, we really wanted to go where we were needed most,” said Sandre McKee, owner of Arizona’s first all-vegan grocery store Veggie Rebellion, which celebrates its one-year anniversary in downtown Glendale this weekend.
In the year since Veggie Rebellion opened, two other all-vegan businesses have joined downtown Glendale, all within two block of each other. Mi Vegana Madre, a vegan Mexican restaurant, opened in July and Casa Terra, Arizona’s first fine dining vegan restaurant, opens Monday.
“That kind of kickstarted the whole movement down here,” said Zach Willikens, front of house manager at downtown Glendale’s Cuff restaurant.
In addition to the three all-vegan eateries, several restaurants have added or expanded vegan options since Veggie Rebellion opened. Mr. Willikens, a vegetarian and on-and-off vegan, said Cuff has always had a few options but didn’t expand the menu until around the time Veggie Rebellion opened.
“It was always a priority of ours to expand our vegan options, but once we had the clientele in front of us, it pushed us to go a lot faster,” he said.
In a year, downtown Glendale has gone from irrelevant on the vegan scene to a destination.
Chef Jason Wyrick stands by his wood-fired pizza oven at his restaurant Casa Terra in Glendale, Arizona’s first vegan fine dining restaurant. [Ed Sharpe/Special to Independent Newsmedia]
“If I was the only vegan place here, I just happen to be a vegan place in downtown Glendale,” said Chef Jason Wyrick, owner of Casa Terra. “But now when I mention it, people are like, ‘Oh, downtown Glendale is becoming this vegan hotspot.’”
Both Mr. Wyrick and Ms. McKee said what drew them to Glendale is the lack of vegan options in the West Valley. Mr. Wyrick said Valley’s vegan population is “horribly underserved.”
Katy Engels, downtown manager for the Glendale Chamber of Commerce, said the same thing.
“It’s not here on the West Valley. The vegans just don’t have the options. And so now, they’re coming from all over,” she said.
Mr. Willikens has witnessed that expanded customer based coming into Cuff since it added more vegan options, including an Impossible Burger, jackfruit sandwiches and tacos and Street corn.
“We have a whole new demographic that we didn’t use to have coming into the restaurant,” he said. “…I see people coming from all over the Valley now—Scottsdale, Tempe, Phoenix. When they used to all go down to Tempe, Phoenix, now some of those people are coming our way.”
Not everything has come easily during Glendale’s vegan boom. Ms. McKee said the summer was “terrible” for Veggie Rebellion and the Christmas season fell below expectations too. With tons of media attention, Veggie Rebellion had a huge opening weekend last February, making $6,000 in the first day, Ms. McKee said.
She new the initial excitement would wear off though. Now, Veggie Rebellion has transitioned from trying to be a one-stop shop to focusing on hard-to-find and specialty items. Veggie Rebellion now has a core group of around 25 regulars and many other customers who stop in after getting a vegan meal in downtown.
“We sort of inadvertently ended up on the downtown Glendale vegan food tour,” Ms. McKee said.
Veggie Rebellion sparked that tour, said Mr. Willikens and Mr. Wyrick.
In addition to Cuff, downtown restaurants that have added vegan option recently include Haus Murphy’s, Moe’s Old Fashioned Burgers, A Shot of Java, Nomadic Ice Cream Rolls and Tangled Root Botanicals, which sells vegan tea and vegan body care products.
“I don’t think that would have happened if there wasn’t a burgeoning vegan culture in downtown Glendale,” Mr. Wyrick said of restaurants adding or expanding vegan options.
Sweet potato tamal (tamale), pibil oyster mushrooms, pipian verde (green pumpkin seeds) nopales (fleshy leaves of a prickly pear cactus), and rajas (strips of peppers) from Casa Terra. [Bette Sharpe/Special to Independent Newsmedia]
Mr. Wyrick started a vegan catering company in 2004 and a vegan delivery service in 2006. He co-wrote the New York Times best-selling book “21 Day Weightloss Kickstart” and founded the world’s first Vegan food magazine, The Vegan Culinary Experience, and has traveled around the world teaching cooking classes. Last year he moved his delivery service, The Vegan Taste, from a temporary kitchen in Surprise to permanent kitchen in downtown Glendale. It will continue its delivery after Casa Terra opens.
Mr. Wyrick said he felt like opening a restaurant was the next step needed in his career.
“I was kind of tired of the Valley not having a vegan fine dining spot. People have been asking me to do that for years,” he said.
Glendale was ranked by WalletHub as the 43rd most vegetarian- and vegan-friendly city in the U.S. It’s not the highest rank in Arizona though. Scottsdale is ranked eighth and Phoenix is 14th.
The new vegan niche has begun to change the culture of downtown.
“It’s just been all good stuff to see the atmosphere of the whole town changing,” said Mr. Willikens. “Any sort of change is kind of good for downtown Glendale right now, because it’s been kind of stuck in its ways a long time. So, we’re embracing change and a lot of the other businesses around here are embracing change as well because of this new revolution.”
City Manager Kevin Phelps is glad to see the vegan additions.
“I think that’s cool. I always say, I think you have to learn to differentiate yourself,” Mr. Phelps said.
Downtown needs more alignment in its offerings, Mr. Phelps said.
“You look at your restaurants and your specialty kinds of stores,” he said. “You look at who’s your demographic you can attract and then you cluster those together. And again, I would say that’s what our problem is.”
Mr. Phelps noted that downtown is a hodgepodge of antique stores, gift stores, a psychic reader, restaurants and other eateries.
Ms. McKee was inspired to open Veggie Rebellion after visiting a vegan grocery store called Food Fight! while on a family trip in Portland, Oregon. She said she did extensive research before opening in Glendale, but every market and store is different and comes with its own challenges.
“You know, it’s hard being a trailblazer,” Ms. Mckee said with a laugh. “But at the same time I’m glad that we can help kind of make Glendale viable to be a vegan hotspot. And I feel really blessed to have the opportunity to be one of those first to open up.”
Mr. Wyrick wants his restaurant to fill the West Valley’s need for vegan options, but its need for quality cuisine in general.
“I think the West Valley is underserved not just in the vegan market but also in having really great restaurants. We’re always an afterthought, and I think that needs to change, and I’m hoping to be part of that change,” he said.
Editor’s note: Ed and Bette Sharpe photograph and write for GlendaleDailyPlanet.com.
By Darrell Jackson, Glendale Star
The Glendale City Council was updated on the successes of the downtown manager’s first year by Chamber President and CEO Robert Heidt.
Katy Engels’ official title is director of downtown development, but it is more casually referred to as downtown manager.
“First-year deliverables was the introduction of (Engels) and boots on the ground with the property owners and stakeholders in downtown,” Heidt said.
“We also generated data to improve communications with the downtown merchants.”
Councilmembers consider the downtown area “the heart of any community. To create and support a vibrant city center, and to support the businesses located in Downtown Glendale.”
By Mark Carlisle, YourValley.net
If Glendale’s going to spend money on its downtown, it should spend it smarter.
That’s the view of City Manager Kevin Phelps. One way the city has tried to so is hire the Glendale Chamber of Commerce as downtown manager, a venture that Mr. Phelps and City Council both say has gone well through its first year and a half.
By Connor Dziawura, Glendale Star
Hello, readers! Welcome back to Business Briefcase! I’m glad to be back with the second week of the column where we discuss all the great happenings in the city, from construction to new or closed businesses, as well as business-centric events that serve networking purposes.
The Glendale Chamber of Commerce announced Thursday four new members were elected to its board of directors.
The board of directors is the policy body of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce. Its members represent a cross-section of the business and professional leadership in the community. The board performs the legislative function for the organization. That is, it makes policy decisions for the Chamber.
For more information or to register for the State of the City Address and Dinner, click here.
The 38th Annual Luke Shoot-Out Golf Outing starts with a 6:30 a.m. check-in followed by a 7:30 shotgun start Friday, April 5 at Falcon Dunes Golf Course, 15100 W. Northern Ave., Waddell.
The event directly benefits the work of the Glendale Chamber of Commerce Military & Veterans Affairs Committee, allowing them to continue to positively impact service men and women in the local community.
The golf outing features:
• Four-person scramble, three flights
• Four hole-in-one contests for prizes
• Four closest to the pin contests
• Putting contest
• Proximity challenge hole
Sponsorship opportunities are still available.
Call 623-937-4754 or email email@example.com .