Citizen Staff Writer
Janos Wilder, who broke downtown’s collective heart when he moved his award-winning, namesake restaurant to the foothills 11 years ago, is planning a return to the city’s core in a big way.
Wilder, chef/owner of Janos and J BAR, 3770 E. Sunrise Drive, will open a new restaurant, bar and demonstration kitchen in three adjacent units on the southwest corner of Congress Street and Fifth Avenue.
“If everything goes well, we’ll open in the fall,” said Wilder, who has been in Tucson since 1983 and won the James Beard Foundation award in 2000 for Best Chef: Southwest.
Wilder said he’ll continue to operate Janos and the adjacent J Bar at The Westin La Paloma Resort & Spa.
“I love it up there,” Wilder said. “It’s been great to us, and we’re not going anywhere, but there are great things going on downtown, contrary to what you read in the papers every day, and we’re really excited to be getting back there.”
Scott Stiteler, the owner of the building that stretches from Fifth Avenue to Arizona Alley on the south side of Congress, said Wilder researched a variety of downtown locations for his new venture. Stiteler also owns the One North Fifth residential and commercial project across the street, is a 50-50 partner with Don Martin in the Rialto Block on the south side of Congress between Fifth and Fourth avenues, and is a partner in the Downtown Tucson Development Corporation.
“We’ve been kind of bouncing back and forth from the old to the new for about the last 90 days, but he finally settled on the old,” Stiteler said. “It’s a good fit for him, and it’s a validation of all the good things that are happening around downtown that he’s doing this.”
Current tenants of the units that Wilder will occupy are Tooley’s Cafe, a boutique clothing store and an art gallery, all of which remain open for the time being, Stiteler said.
“Some things are out of our control as far as a timeline, but we’d like to have it open by the high season,” Stiteler said. “Patricia Schwabe (owner of Tooley’s Cafe) has been really terrific with this transition.”
Wilder said his plans for the 2,500 square feet of space in the unit call for a 30- to 50-seat restaurant, a bar catering to both young adults and professionals, and a demonstration kitchen that will function as his “food laboratory.”
“It will be something I can use for recipe development, cooking classes and a private dining room,” he said.
The restaurant will have a similar focus to that of Janos and J BAR in a more casual setting, Wilder said.
“We want to do things that focus on the foods of the region with a very heavy emphasis on local foods and food from Native Seeds/SEARCH,” he said. “We’re looking at something casual, with a price point that’s geared to what’s happening in the world today.”
Wilder’s announcement was lauded as “fantastic news” by Glenn Lyons, CEO of the Downtown Tucson Partnership.
“I’d heard the rumors, but I tried not to take them too seriously because sometimes you can kill the goose that lays the golden egg if you talk about it,” Lyons said. “I call this one a great victory for downtown.”
Wilder’s return to downtown is a significant boon to downtown revitalization efforts, said City Councilwoman Nina Trasoff.
“I’m excited on a food level and when you add to it that amazing concept of the open kitchen, it’s a perfect fit for Janos,” Trasoff said. “But when you also look at the business of Rio Nuevo and the business of downtown revitalization, the fact that someone of Janos’ caliber wants to come back to downtown speaks volumes about what’s happening here.”
Across Fifth Avenue from Wilder’s enterprise, restaurateur Kwang C. An is developing An Congress, a 10,000-square- foot Asian restaurant in the Rialto Block. Those restaurants and the nearby Cup Café in the Hotel Congress and Maynard’s Market in the Historic Depot on Toole Avenue will result in an food epicenter of considerable appeal, Stiteler said.
“If you look at all the other new restaurants that have opened downtown such as Maynard’s, On A Roll Sushi, Chileverde and Burger City, and then at mainstays like Cafe Poca Cosa, El Charro Cafe and Barrio (Food and Drink), it’s a food mecca,” Trasoff said.
Lyons said the demonstration kitchen could also provide a significant draw in itself given Wilder’s status as a chef and his experience with hosting cooking classes, fundraisers and other special events.
“There’s a chef in Albuquerque who opened up a similar demonstration kitchen downtown there and it draws people from all over the country to take her classes,” Lyons said “I think this will also have people coming from all over the city who might not otherwise be coming downtown.”
Wilder opened Janos in 1983 in the historic Stevens House, 150 N. Main Ave., in the Tucson Museum of Art & Historic Block. He moved it to La Paloma 15 years later after the Tucson Museum of Art board of directors voted to evict the restaurant when its lease expired to take over the space as part of an expansion and renovation.
Though Lyons came to Tucson many years after Wilder’s departure from the Stevens House, he’s been made well aware of what Janos meant to downtown, he said. “Almost every day I talk to someone who tells me how great it was to have Janos here and how sad they were when he left,” Lyons said.
“I’d always wanted to get back there, and I never lost sight of downtown,” said Wilder, who was a semifinalist this year for the Beard Foundation’s Outstanding Chef in the Country award. “What made it possible was the city has provided some really great behind-the-scenes leadership in forging partnerships with the private sector, and I think we’re on the verge of some really great things happening downtown.”