Tucson food concept comes with collaboration at American Eat Co.

Tucson food concept comes with collaboration at American Eat Co.
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)
(Source: Tucson News Now)

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - The building has history in the neighborhood.

Once a local market and butcher shop for 62 years, near S. 4th Avenue and 25th Street, is now a place for local chefs to perfect their craft. It's only right that even the front door handles have local flavor, being made in Tucson.

"Made in Tucson" would also describe Aaron Cornejo. He's cooking up food his mom used to make in that same building that's been renovated.

"We had to eat whatever they put in front of us. It was always delicious," Cornejo said. "I'm trying to reinvent things that our moms made. Food on a budget, basically. She had to feed a bunch of boys in a small amount of time."

He's doing that in a small kitchen of his own, at Avenues Chicano Hood Eats. It was once his idea for a food truck, but the 15-year restaurant worker has found his less-mobile home.

"It's nice to finally have something of my own. I told myself I'd never go back unless I was the boss, unless I had my own thing. So here we are."

Here he is, in a shared space.

In fact, Cornejo is not unlike the 10 other food and drink concepts with which he shares that old market and butcher shop building, all under the purview of one parent group.

The American Eat Co. & Market officially opened for business Tuesday, April 3.

The concept was co-crafted by Guillermo Gallegos, co-founder of The Common Group development team, creating what he said is Tucson's first local food court.

"We're typically a development company but this building has something special. We knew we had to do something a little different, more special here," Gallegos said.

More than a food court, it's an incubator for local businesses. Gallegos explained that it gives everyone from pizza, burger, or ice cream makers a chance to showcase their culinary craft.

"If they were to start up their own restaurant and stand-alone business they would bear all the burden of starting up. From kitchen equipment, to developing the property, aesthetics, tables, chairs - you name it. Here, it's a one time cost, essentially a little bit bigger, that everyone shares into paying so it's much easier for them. It's a lot more feasible to do it. Even if they just want to try out a concept, this is the perfect place to do that," Gallegos said.

10 restaurant concepts are all under one roof at 1439 S. 4th Avenue, south of downtown Tucson.

American Eat Co. is right in the heart of Gallegos' old neighborhood, giving him an opportunity to build up his old hometown.

"We feel like we're perfectly positioned. To be able to do it on the south side is just icing on the cake for us," he said.

"A lot of the people on this side of town are kind of intimidated in going and trying new things on the north side or downtown," Cornejo explained.

He does not even have to venture far for ingredients. He said he gets the ground beef for his tacos from the 'carnicero' - 'butcher' in Spanish - across the way.

"We're collaborating, is what we're doing," he said.

"I think it works out for both parties," said Andres Arias, the owner of Dos Amigos Butcher Shop inside American Eat Co. "If they run out they don't have to run or wait for their order to come the next day, or run down the road. It's convenient. It helps me keep my meat case turning and it helps him."

Arias' family used to have a stand-alone butcher store near Cardinal Avenue and Drexel Road in Tucson for 30 years, before they closed down in December 2015.

He's carrying on, in a smaller version, what his father started.

"I learned a lot from him," Arias said. "A lot of people missed what he was providing to the neighborhood. A lot of people came from other neighborhoods, too."

They can see him once again inside American Eat Co. among the other shops and restaurants where teamwork is benefiting each of them in the long run. Gallegos explained that each restaurant concept is on a standard one-year lease, giving them a chance to grow.

"If it hits, well, then they can take off and start their own business. We encourage that. At the end of the day, we just want to help these businesses grow and get their name out," Gallegos said. "It's local business. We love to support local business."

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