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Carly’s Bistro is closing, but the owners say they're not done with Phoenix's Roosevelt Row

Another beloved spot on downtown Phoenix’s Roosevelt Row is closing this week.

Friday is the last night to go to Carly’s Bistro. The restaurant and bar/community and art space has been a mainstay in the arts district for nearly two decades. But now, the owners say they’re calling it quits.

They have a new tenant coming into the space with a new restaurant concept — and they promise they’re not done with Roosevelt Row either. 

Carla Wade Logan opened the space with her husband in 2005, and, in the years since, has had a front row seat to the massive development the area has seen. She came into KJZZ's studio recently to talk about it.

Full conversation

CARLA WADE LOGAN: We opened in 2005. And at the time, the Roosevelt Road neighborhood was really a community where there were a lot of artists living and working, but there was not a lot of small business or other type of industry in the neighborhood. And it was certainly underdeveloped in the sense that we had a lot of vacant lots, a lot of area that ended up being useful to the artists in the community. Roosevelt Road Community Development Corporation with various creatives in the community had wonderful events on the vacant lot. So it was a really exciting time.

So I think when people think back that it was, you know, blighted dilapidated, I think that there are those of us who kind of have fond memories of the neighborhood at that point in time because the opportunity was tremendous, right? And there was space. And I think with all the development that's come artists and creative lose space. 

LAUREN GILGER: So you must have been real plugged into that kind of art community down there at the time, right? Because so much of Carly's is obviously a restaurant and a bar, but it's also an art space for a long time.

LOGAN: Yeah, it was always my husband John and my vision from the beginning that the space be a community space and not only a restaurant and bar, but somewhere where artists could show work where musicians could play, where people could meet and gather and discuss creative ideas. So that was part of the concept in the vision from the beginning. So when we opened, it was us and one other restaurant that, yeah, which is hard to think of now. There are probably hundreds now, but it was a very exciting time.

GILGER: So let's talk a little bit about how much it's changed since in, in good ways and bad, I'm sure. I mean, lots of people would decry, the sort of lack of art on Roosevelt Road these days, the massive amount of development. But back then, that's what people wanted, right? Like you were all kind of trying to build it up.

LOGAN: I think that at the time in the Roosevelt Row area rents were quite cheap. So in our building specifically, I can think of four or five different artists that actually lived and worked in the building and that community really pushed for adaptive reuse and also live work art space, which was not common in Arizona at the time. And certainly, you know, the community and Roosevelt Road Community Development Corporation in Evans Churchill neighborhood did a lot of groundwork to work with the city to facilitate permitting for people to be able to have adaptive reuse space for small businesses and for live work space, which was a game changer in that community.

And then came the development, right? This is like a neighborhood, let's see what we have going on down here. And that kind of really took off. I would say probably around 2010 to 2012.

GILGER: Yeah. Yeah. What was it like to be a part of like, was there a lot of butting heads and trying to make sure that whatever development happened, felt true to the area or was there very little could do?

LOGAN: Well, I think that, you know, initially there were a lot of conversations about how can we incorporate the arts and artists and some of these developments. And you can see on a lot of the buildings, there are beautiful murals created by artists from the community. And the community did ask the developers, like, can you incorporate artwork in your design? I personally believe that the mission of the community was to have a densely populated urban community that promoted diversity and continue to support the art.

GILGER: Do you think you've achieved that?

LOGAN: I do. It is always though disappointing when affordable housing is not addressed. And I think that it's a real challenge in downtown urban communities throughout the country. Over the years, I've seen fewer and fewer people that we know that are artists and people that we employ, being able to afford to stay in the downtown core. And that's tough. That's tough. So, you know, I think there are always good opportunities with adaptive reuse and we advocate that and push for that. And I think that some of the more affordable housing situations in our community are indeed in older buildings. So we always try to have conversations with developers I think on the ground level of like, can we have some units that are affordable or like, what kind of space are you going to create for community and artists? And the success story is is we have the most densely urban area in the state.

It's the most densely populated area right now. And you know, if you looked at the community 20 years ago when we had so many vacant lots and a lot of dilapidated properties. It's exciting to see that we have a densely populated community now. Pluses and minuses.

GILGER: So why close now? Twenty years is a long time to do anything. But it does feel like sort of the end of an era on Roosevelt Road with Carly's closing.

LOGAN: Yeah. So we're almost 20 years and, and it is, you know, with a very full heart that we're leaving the restaurant, but it's an incredibly labor intensive job and we are going to create within the building a space that's going to be a gallery and an arts incubator. So we want to continue to support our community and continue to support the artists that we've known and worked with over the last 20 years. 

For me personally, the restaurant industry has been, you know, a labor of love. I've fully enjoyed it, but I'm in a place right now in my life where I'd like to look to new creative endeavors and like to have the time to spend with our kids and on other community projects. I really want to stay engaged with the community and perhaps find opportunities to help mentor other young women, you know, seeking opportunities in business and continue to work with the community on events and perhaps bringing back some community events that focus on the arts and you know, cuisine and bringing community together. 

GILGER: OK. What's next for the building, not another high rise it sounds like.

LOGAN: No. So the building will continue to curate mural art. And we have a new tenant that we're really excited about coming into the restaurant space. They're putting in a restaurant called Industry Standard. That's going to be a neighborhood joint.

GILGER: OK. So let me ask you lastly then, since this is the end, you know, Friday is the last day. I mean, this has been such a big part of your life. Like, what is it going to feel like? You think when you empty it out, when you turn the lights off for the last time?

LOGAN: Yeah. You know, one of the things that I'm really proud of is so many people throughout the years have told us how much the space is meant to them. I mean, there are many people who have said they've met their partner there and they now are married and have kids or like when I got fired from my job, I came and sat at the bar and I was so comforted and we created a space that was a community space where people felt welcome.

And I think I'm going to miss that a lot and we're going to miss our employees over the last 20 years. We employed over 200 people and we've had some incredible employees that we never, you know, would have made it through without. So the people, that's what we're going to miss the most, but we're not leaving really. And we're still going to be there. Time stops for no one. So I am getting older and I feel like there are many other things I would like to do. But on that token, I want to give someone else an opportunity to shine in that space and I would like to give other young entrepreneur a chance in that space.

GILGER: All right, we'll leave it there. Carla Wade Logan, owner of Carly's, closing tonight. Carla, thank you so much and best of luck.

LOGAN: Thank you.

KJZZ's The Show transcripts are created on deadline. This text may not be in its final form. The authoritative record of KJZZ's programming is the audio record.

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Lauren Gilger, host of KJZZ's The Show, is an award-winning journalist whose work has impacted communities large and small, exposing injustices and giving a voice to the voiceless and marginalized.