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azGrownA Buckeye native is turning an 80-year-old vacant downtown building into a sleek cafe, giving Monroe Avenue its first significant private redevelopment since the Great Recession took hold several years ago.

Cafe 25:35 takes the place of a once-seedy bar known as The Palms. The building has been vacant for nearly 20 years.

“There wasn’t six inches of wire in this place when we bought,” said Tony Youngker, owner of the building and cafe. “There wasn’t any plumbing. There was not even water run to the building, or a gas line.”

Buckeye officials hope the renovation will lead a renaissance in an area pockmarked with vacant and decaying buildings. Downtown has struggled to stay viable. Most of the town’s recent commercial development was built miles away from the district along Interstate 10, close to newer homes.

Private investment has not occurred downtown in at least six years, officials said. The largest recent development is Town Hall, which was built three years ago.

Youngker, 34, purchased the building in June 2011 and demolition began in May. He’s planning a grand opening for mid-September.

Town officials look forward to the opening and hope it can be a catalyst for the area, said Larry Harmer, Buckeye planning and zoning manager.

“This really is something that’s been enthusiastically anticipated,” he said. “It’s a kind of a sign of the times also, if the economic recovery is slowly starting to surface.”

Harmer said the cafe dovetails nicely with the new Buckeye Benbow Veterans Memorial Park. The park was dedicated in May and is just east of the cafe.

Food and classes

CafeSlider1Youngker is hiring 15 to 20 full- and part-time employees.

The restaurant will serve breakfast and lunch using a base menu that will be flexible based on what customers request. The cafe will have a full-service coffee bar. The coffee will be with brewed with beans roasted in Chandler by a culinary school classmate. Baked goods will be made in-house.

Youngker also plans to offer wine and beer tastings and cooking classes for men.

The building that Youngker purchased was dilapidated.

“I don’t think anybody has renovated one of these buildings to this extent,” he said of downtown’s oldest structures.

“Basically what we have left from what we started with was two-thirds of the foundation and walls,” he added.

The building is 221/2 feet wide and the ceiling between two walls dipped seven inches because of water damage.

Youngker had hoped to keep the original building trusses, but too many were broken. Instead, workers took photos, which were used to build trusses that matched the old ones. The new versions were hand-nailed together, like the originals, instead of machine-fastened.

There have been other challenges.

The building wasn’t wide enough to accommodate the walk-in refrigerator and freezer Youngker wanted. A plan to purchase property behind the cafe fizzled when Youngker and the landowner couldn’t agree on a price.

So Youngker is now leasing part of an alley from the town, that’s just wide enough to put in the refrigerator and a small patio.

The building was stripped to its bare bones.

Workers used pulverized walnut shells to blast more than an inch of plaster off the inside walls. Underneath were red bricks cast in 1930 at a company in Glendale

Pepto-Bismol pink paint was stripped off the walls. Glass-block walls were taken out of the front of the building. The entire back of the building was removed and plumbing was added.

Two broken art deco-style neon signs that hung outside advertising “The Palms” and “Cocktails” will be sold on eBay.

Childhood dream

cafeTonyWhat’s left is Youngker’s childhood dream. It was planted by his grandparents.

His maternal grandfather was a chili cook-off champion who introduced him to cooking.

“He would go around the state and kind of clean house on chili cook-offs to the point he won a red 1973 (Ford) Pinto at a chili cook-off,” Youngker said.

The Arkansas native taught Youngker how to make chili, biscuits and gravy. He still serves the cowboy beans when he caters barbecues.

Youngker’s paternal grandmother had a home in Buckeye and a condominium at the Arizona Biltmore in Phoenix. Youngker would stay with her on weekends, often attending fancy brunches.

In Youngker’s parents’ house if you cooked, you didn’t clean the kitchen.

“And cooking is a lot more fun than cleaning,” Youngker said. “So my sister did a lot of dishes because I was making dinner.”

After high school, Youngker attended culinary school. He was a chef for several years before deciding he needed to be at home more for his three children.

“I always wanted to get back into cooking, but I wanted it to be on my terms.”

He was an insurance agent for seven years before he decided it was the right time to purchase real estate. He opened the cafe with the financial help of his father, a retired cotton farmer.

Now Youngker plans to pass on his love of cooking to a community he says helped raise him.

He hopes Cafe 25:35 will be a community gathering place. The name is taken from the Bible passage Matthew 25:35, which emphasizes taking care of others.

“I know it’s not a big dining room, but it will sit enough people,” he said.

Historic building

demoYoungker’s building is one of the oldest downtown. Several of the town’s structures were built around the turn of the century, such as the San Linda Hotel, built in 1911.

In the early 1900s, the intersection of Fourth Street and Monroe Avenue was lined with one-story shops. The bustling commercial core was about one block deep on both sides of Monroe.

While there has been some infill development and commercial rehabilitation, the area still has shoddy buildings and vacant lots.

Youngker believes downtown Buckeye is similar to the downtown neighborhoods in Scottsdale and Gilbert 20 years ago.

“There’s so much of the sense of these things being more and more important to people, rather than rip it down and replace it,” he says of historic buildings.

Youngker, however, declined to say how much he spent on the project.

“The person that takes a project like this, you’ve got to make sure the end justifies the means, but there is a point that it is somewhat of an emotional thing,” he said.

Read more: http://www.azcentral.com/community/swvalley/articles/20120829buckeye-cafe-2535-eatery.html#ixzz2nkwsn1Lb