Community’s the theme at Falora, the long-awaited new restaurant concept from Ari Shapiro.
“Come, unity.” That was the phrase that Ari Shapiro kept thinking of with his new restaurant, Falora, due to open March 1st. It would be a place to gather, get cozy, share excellent pizza, and soak up the surroundings of a mid-century space that he has changed little and also a lot.
The highlight and backbone of Falora is a long 26- ft table, a medley of mesquite, eucalyptus, Spanish cedar, walnut, Arizona pecan, oak, purple heart and bamboo ply by Argentinian artist/furniture maker Ezequiel Leoni. Constructed in two parts, and with a wooden leaf that can connect the two, it dominates a fairly limiting 1100 sq ft space. But that’s OK, says Ari. That customers would rub shoulders was always part of the plan.
The property, at the historic Broadway Village in midtown Tucson, has seen several reincarnations since its design by architect Josias Joesler in 1939. The brick walls had been painted over inside, which practically broke Ari’s heart. There followed a lot of sandblasting and even hand sanding to get them back to their original state. The original outlet boxes were inset into that brick wall, and at random places. So Ari and his team will make a feature out of them and place votive candles in these recessed niches.
In the brick wall that adjoins the yoga studio next door, his contractors discovered a hole covered with drywall. His solution was to infill the hole with chimney flu linings – 35 of them, stacked on top of each other. These will hold the pecan wood that will stoke the oven – a monster piece imported from Naples, Italy with a hearth made from the ash of Mount Vesuvius.
“It’s all about the heat, and not just the 900-degree temperature,” says Ari. “It’s how the oven moves the heat, radiates it. You can cook a pizza in this in 90 seconds.”
Up until now, Ari has been known for two very different looks: the bright lollipop colors of his juice bar chain, Xoom; and the airy, loft-like style of his downtown coffee bar, Sparkroot. At Falora, there’s something very different going on.
“We wanted to be sensitive to the building we were working with,” says Rick McLain, architect and partner at Repp Design + Construction, which also designed Sparkroot. “We left the exterior walls, the openings, we didn’t want to modify the windows or doors.” But they wanted to add another, modern, layer to the interior whilst honoring the Joesler design, and at the same time establishing an earthy, hearthy theme.
Hence the two combined aesthetics – one warm and natural, the other contemporary and clean. The clay flues, wood-paneled wall and wooden tables and bar-stools sit upon a grey concrete floor amidst the white powder-coated steel bar/counter, white fiberglass chairs, and a smattering of smaller white-topped tables.
As well as serving pizza, salads, wine, beer and after-dinner liqueurs, Falora will be open in the mornings for home-made bread and preserves, and coffee. There’s a record player, and guests will be encouraged to BYOV (Bring Your Own Vinyl).
Ari, 46, has dreamed of a pizza restaurant for years, but was focusing his attention on Xoom and Sparkroot. It was while helping his friends at Session Yoga move in to Broadway Village last year that he spotted this space for lease next door. It was a little early for him; in his mind, the pizza concept was still a few years out. And 1100 sq ft is not the perfect size for a fully functioning restaurant. But the space spoke to him.
The idea for the community table dates back to time spent living in San Francisco, and a cafe there that he loved. “The tables were so close together they may as well have been connected.”
As for the pizza, that relates directly to his youth in New York. Ari loves pizza. He swears he can remember the exact time and place he was when he ate a slice – make that many – on street corners in Manhattan. He grew up in New Rochelle, outside the city, but went to high school in Manhattan where he studied classical piano. From there he attended college as a pre-med student. He got into several medical schools, but ditched the idea of being a doctor. There followed some backpacking around Europe, skiing in Colorado and, later, a year at law school.
“I’m a Jewish mother’s worst nightmare,” he jokes of his ditched attempts at medicine and law. Happily for him, his parents have been supportive of his changing career paths. And all along the way, as a dishwasher, server and bussing tables in cafes and restaurants, he was inadvertently paving the way for his own little food-service empire.
It was while living in San Francisco in the 1990s, playing in a band with his brother, that he started his first business selling cycling apparel. By the time 2000 came, the city was becoming “very rich and very expensive”, says Ari. “I just felt I needed a smaller scene.” He was visiting his mother, who by then lived in Tucson, and decided to move here. He spent time driving a cab, then started his first Xoom juice bar by applying for ten credit cards at the same time. “It was nuts,” he says now. With Sparkroot, he took a more level headed approach and got a silent investor. Falora, he says, is “all me”.
Come, unity. The phrase that drove him forward with his vision also describes his reputation in Tucson. Not only is he at the helm of an enviable business, but he’s a crucial part of the city’s downtown redevelopment; one of his juice bars sits right next door to Sparkroot on Congress Street, just a stone’s throw from Hub and Playground.
“The great thing about Ari is he’s always thinking a couple of steps ahead of everyone else,” says Rick McLain, who believes that Broadway Village shopping center, just a couple of miles away from Congress Street, is set for similar vitality.
Sushi Garden, Session Yoga, and now Falora, are helping to make Broadway Village a destination again, as it was when it was first built. Last week the center received a PR boost when actress Diane Keaton wrote a glowing piece about Bon Boutique on interiors website Remodelista after a visit to the store on Christmas Eve.
As for Ari, he’ll tell you he now wants to hunker down and enjoy the businesses he has. Falora came along quicker than he had planned for, so he’s not about to expand again soon.
Ask him about the future and he mentions that he’d love to live in New Zealand, “because it feels right”. Wait… New Zealand? In the next breath he assures us that that’s at least ten years away. Tucson, for him, is where it’s at right now. So we can all enjoy Shapiro Inc for a little while yet.
* Read more about Session Yoga in our feature in Issue 2.