Mon, June 17

DOWN UNDER: Diners descend to score treasure at Jerome's Mine Cafe

Pictured is Mine Café co-owner Joni Savage (l) and managers Kelsi Savage (r) and Mark Venker with infant son Dasch. (Photo by Vyto Starinskas)

Pictured is Mine Café co-owner Joni Savage (l) and managers Kelsi Savage (r) and Mark Venker with infant son Dasch. (Photo by Vyto Starinskas)

JEROME - Like its namesake, the Mine Cafe requires a downward descent to score treasure - - and considering the buzz on social media, it may have begun a gold rush all of its own.

What the fuss is about

When locals Kevin and Joni Savage took over an on-again, off-again restaurant and former bakery, they renovated the decor, tweaked the menu and prepared recipes from the heart. Now that the finishing touches have been completed, they've stoked-up a cosmopolitan customer base fueled by rave reviews.

"We have been featured in the AZ Republic for best coffee shop in Jerome and also Phoenix Magazine's 2016 Travel Guide for must-stop for breakfast. It's crazy because we really haven't advertised, and yet according to Yelp, we're the best place to have breakfast in Jerome," said Joni Savage.

Credit the experienced restaurant staff, including daughter Kelsi and son-in-law Mark Venker, an accomplished 10-year hospitality veteran with Phoenix ventures such as Upward Projects, Postino Winecafe (ranked one of the top 100 places to dine nationwide by Yelp) and Churn (an ice cream and espresso bar named among the 44 best nationwide by Food and Wine).

"Kevin thought it'd be fun to have a restaurant. At first, I was, 'No, it's so much work,'" Savage said. "The first year, Kevin and I worked here every weekend (in addition to their full-time jobs)."

The vibe

With a year-long renovation under its belt, some say the Mine Café evokes a Greenwich Village hipster vibe.

The snug, cozy café embraces customers with amber concrete underfoot, rustic planks overhead and historic pieces all around. Diners choose from bustling seating by street-side windows or mellow dining in the muted room to the side. Either way, eclectic touches abound.

"There was a 1920s piano here, so I turned it into a coffee table and put the hearth on the wall and made art out of it, said co-owner Kevin Savage. "My daughter Kelsi does all the decorating here."

Kelsi says she has a passion for decorating, "from furnishings to textures to colors, down to how it makes me feel; inviting, calm or energetic."

Culinary adventures

Beyond the artfully-executed furnishings are the artfully-executed dishes. Not only does the Mine Café offer an escape from the chains of corporate food, all the menu items are available at any time.

Reviewers especially rave about the lofty "Flapjacks" (made-from-scratch) and snappy "Hungry Savage" (hand-rubbed brisket slow-roasted for 15 hours, eggs, creole sauce, home fries and whole grain toast).

Lunch brings unique dishes such as the B.Y.O.B. It's a bowl or burrito built from three items: Protein (such as Pulled Pork Chorizo or Vegan BBQ Jackfruit); choice of seven sides (such as Cilantro Lime Rice or Creole Red Beans) and the crowning touch of an add-on (such as Goat Cheese or Salsa Verde).

"Part of our big overhaul was adding a "lite" fare menu targeted between $3 and $5," said Venker. "A lot of people here are on fixed incomes."

Since both Kelsi and Venker are gluten-intolerant, bread substitutes are offered at no extra charge.

Adult beverages

One of the first moves made by the Savages was to install a bar with adult beverages available at all hours.

Those needing an eye-opener beyond a cup of coffee can order-up the Miner's Mug (Irish cream and whiskey mingling with coffee) or Bloody Mary (Tito's vodka, house made sauce, garnished with bacon, celery and carrot). The beer menu features all Arizona-crafted brews.

Locals stop-in for a cup of "Joe" brewed from Sedona's Java Love roast. And the specialty coffee drinks are artfully embellished, including such variations as the Mexican Mocha.

It's a family affair

Maybe because it's a family affair that locals and tourists alike have embraced the newly-minted Mine Café.

"Joni handles all of our bookkeeping (alongside a full-time job), Kevin spearheads our public relations and local business co-operation efforts (alongside a full-time job), and Kelsi maintains our social media, our bar/cocktail program and is the bulk of the creative force behind the aesthetics," said Venker.

"There's been plenty of days we've been understaffed and had him (their 10-month old Dasch) strapped on our sling and he's passed-out the whole time," said Kelsi.

"It's a family owned and operated business, which I think is unique in and of itself - - and the fact that we live in Jerome," said Joni, who also credits core employees Kate Sierras and Cole Vasquez with providing patrons a consistent experience.

In the future, look for a catering option, expanded operating hours and locally-made, proprietary red and white table wines.

The Mine Café is open 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. daily and is located at 115 Jerome Avenue in the Town of Jerome. For more information, call 928-639-0123 or visit The Mine Café on Facebook.

It's no secret that becoming a restauranteur is risky business. According to a 2015 study by The Ohio State University, 60 percent do not make it past the first year and 80 percent close their doors within five years.

"It's one of top-rated businesses that fail. Banks won't usually loan you money for one," said Mine Café owner Kevin Savage.

Restaurant: Impossible TV chef Robert Irvine gave Business Insider his five top reasons restaurants fail - - in contrast to the success of the Mine Café restauranteurs:

1. Inexperience

"Mark (Venker, co-manager) had restaurant management experience. If he had said 'No,' that would have killed the deal," said Savage.

"While working, I gained the full scope of restaurant job experience by doing every job function from host to manager," added co-manager Venker.

2. Lack of people and management skills

"Our café's foundation is built on ideas like using creative approaches to conventional ideas and hiring people based on who they are, not necessarily what they have done," Venker said.

"Our way of training people is start them in the back and move them forward so that everyone knows and appreciates the food," said co-manager Kelsi Savage.

3. Weak accounting

Unlike most restaurant owners, Mine Café co-owner Joni Savage's primary occupation as Deputy Clerk with the Town of Jerome provided her with a solid background in bookkeeping.

4. Inconsistent customer service

"You can't make a business a success in Jerome without the support of the locals - - you really can't," said Joni Savage.

5. Slipping quality and execution

"We make everything in house from scratch," said Venker. "We don't have anything frozen or canned. It's all fresh produce we cut ourselves, meat we roast ourselves."