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2:46 AM Sat, Dec. 15th

Mall area restaurants offer culinary delights

Workers were busy Thursday afternoon adding the final touches to the new Wildflower Bread Co., which will open Tuesday at the Prescott Gateway Mall. In addition to offering fresh-baked bread, the restaurant boasts full menus for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It also offers catering.

Basile, a veteran restaurateur who launched his "neighborhood bakery" concept in the Valley nearly six years ago, now operates five Arizona locations employing nearly 200 workers. The Prescott restaurant, which has about 40 employees, is the Wildflower's fifth site – and its only one outside of the Valley.

Although Basile originally planned to open the new location with the mall in March, he said that architectural issues delayed the opening. Among other changes, Basile re-designed the store front and added awnings above its windows overlooking the mall's Heritage Circle.

While Prescott's population base is not as dense as those surrounding his other restaurants, Basile said he hopes to capitalize on the Wildflower's hometown character to cultivate loyal customers who make more frequent visits. He also said he tries to individually design each restaurant, so that "each community feels like we've built a Wildflower just for them."

Each Wildflower, he said, makes about 75 different items from scratch each day. While it places an emphasis on its wide variety of artisan breads (which start at $1.29 per loaf), the restaurant also serves a full menu.

Breakfast items, including pancakes and egg sandwiches, range from $4 to $6; a wide variety of lunch sandwiches, salads and soups range between $4 and $7; while dinner pasta dishes cost between $9 and $10. Children's dishes also are available.

Hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and from 7 to 7 on Sundays.

Growing competition

With its entry into the local market, the Wildflower joins a widening field of restaurants opening in and around the Gateway Mall.

Steve Conrad, the mall's general manager, explained that malls like to have restaurants because they increase the amount of time shoppers are in the mall, and they fill an important entertainment venue. Plus, he said, they just offer local residents more places to eat out.

Currently, Red Robin is building a 6,300-square-foot restaurant on one of the mall's out-parcels at the intersection of Highway 69 and Prescott Lakes Parkway.

The family-oriented eatery will serve lunch and dinner with a huge menu that offers 20 different types of hamburgers, as well as dozens of other items, including soups, sandwiches, salads, seafood, pasta, chicken, appetizers and children's plates.

Red Huberty, superintendent on the job site, said Red Robin hopes to open the new restaurant by September.

The Denver-based chain currently operates more than 175 locations in 16 states and Canada, and it has several sites in the Phoenix area.

Although Conrad would say only that the Gateway has a "couple of things brewing" on some of the mall's other out-parcels, word has it that a well-known steak place with multiple Valley locations is looking at one, while a national electronics store is considering building on another one.

Mall traffic helps business

Companies wondering what kind of business they can expect to find around the mall would do well to ask Daniel Lu, who opened his China Buffet in April.

Located in the former Wood Grill Buffet building behind Costco, the China Buffet is averaging about 1,000 customers per day, Lu said, and even more on the weekends. In fact, he said that he stocked up about three days' worth of food for the restaurant's grand opening, but he still ran out of product before the day was done.

"We've been that busy," he said, adding that "everything is running perfect now."

Both Lu and his chain's parent firm, China Star Inc., have been surprised with the success of the local China Buffet. Not only is it Lu's first location in a small market, but it also is his largest, spanning about 12,000 square feet and employing about 30 workers.

Lu, who recently bought a house and now lives full-time in Prescott, owns four China Buffets in Tucson and one each in Chandler and Santa Ana, Calif.

Besides offering an order-menu of more than 100 different dishes, the local restaurant also features six large buffet tables offering about 100 different dishes.

The all-you-can-eat buffet costs $6 for lunch and $8 for dinner. Lunch specials start at $5, while dinner prices from the menu average about $6 or $7.

The China Buffet is open daily from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., and until 9:30 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays.

Macayo's Mexican Kitchen, which opened in the Gateway's Outdoor Village in March, also is finding success in the local market, said manager Michael Paper.

On average, he said, the restaurant serves between 500 and 800 customers each day, and more on the weekends. In its first month of operation, Paper said, business was "crazy … insane," with one-hour and two-hour waits typical on Saturday nights.

Now that the newness of the restaurant has worn off, however, business has settled down to a more manageable pace, he said, and is about what Macayo's expected: "It could always be better … it could always be worse."

Being near a mall, with other restaurants, is actually better than being a stand-alone site, Paper explained, because more options bring more people to the entire area. As for the increasing number of restaurants looking for a new home at the Gateway, Paper said that Macayo's will simply continue doing what it does, focusing on customer service, food quality and atmosphere.

"There's going to be enough business for everybody," he said.

Macayo's, which operates 10 locations in the Valley and four in Las Vegas, offers a wide variety of Mexican dishes, ranging from between about $8 and $10 per plate.

Hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and from 11 to 11 Fridays and Saturdays.

Mall visitors looking for food at a different pace can find multiple options inside its food court. With the recent opening of a Sonic branch, the food court now boasts seven options, ranging from Chinese to ice cream.