Jennifer Russo can remember a time when her upscale catering business was so busy, she had more business then she could handle.
Then the economy took a nosedive, and parties that were once lavish had to do a little economic trimming of their own. Which meant that customers of Jennifer’s Catering could no longer afford her services.
But she had built a strong and loyal client base since 1997, and it was those clients who asked her to develop another tier of service—one that would provide the same quality of food and service but at a lower price point. Thus, The Market by Jennifer was born.
The original concept, Russo explains, was a sort of grab-and-go of prepackaged, gourmet meals that could be taken somewhere else and heated up before being served. She leased a space on the back side of the Gaslight Square at 36th Street and Indian School Road. The menu was more casual than her catering business but still offered that fine-dining feel, with choices such as roasted chicken, grilled fish, hearty salads, and even a gourmet macaroni and cheese.
But soon her clientele was asking for something else—why not a café space there where they could sit and enjoy a meal before taking one away for later?
The café portion of the space was launched in January 2014 and business built steadily, particularly from residents of the surrounding neighborhood. Popular selections have been the grilled market grind burger and the Jerusalem artichoke risotto with rock shrimp. A generous charcuterie board with prosciutto, olive-oil poached vegetables, stone fruit chutney and more is a great item to share.
And now with cooler mornings and evenings fast approaching, the large doors can be opened onto the outside patio that wraps around the two sides of the corner space, creating an indoor-outdoor feel that Valley diners particularly enjoy in the fall and winter months. Live music will be a regular feature on the weekends.
“At night, when the doors are open and the lights are dimmed, the space has a more sophisticated feel,” Russo says.
Russo also is making a few changes for the fall, including a new happy hour menu featuring chicken wings, sliders, risotto balls, and house-made chips with a selection of toppings. There will be a signature “flavor” each week that will grace each happy hour menu item. There also will be plenty of bar specials such as $2 domestic beers, half-off wine by the glass and featured $5 cocktails. Happy hour runs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Saturday and until 5 p.m. on Sundays, when the café closes.
Weekends offer diners a hearty brunch menu that includes steak-and-eggs and the signature roasted squash and cheese enchiladas, along with bottomless mimosas, a house-blended Bloody Mary and live music.
But perhaps the biggest change is a new partnership with the Rock Springs Café in Black Canyon City, famous for its award-winning pies. Rock Springs Café fruit and cream pies are now available on the menu by the slice and in whole pies, and just in time for the holidays, customers can pre-order pies for their entertaining needs, including the popular Jack Daniels Pecan Pie.
Business, Russo says, “is doing very good.” She has hired a great crew at the café, including manager Ric Fiero, who was with Barrio Café for 10 years. The strong team at the café has allowed Russo to re-focus on her catering business, which is starting to pick up again. Fall and winter in Arizona are wedding season and holiday party season. “I’m getting as many as 10 catering proposals a day,” Russo says.
The biggest challenge has been customers finding the café, since it’s on the back corner of the shopping center. The Market by Jennifer’s is located at 3603 E. Indian School Road, just off 36th Street south of Indian School Road. There is a bike rack for the cycling crowd and plenty of parking for patrons who are coming by car. Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Friday, 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Saturday, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday. To learn more, visit themarketbyjennifers.com or find The Market on Facebook.