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Concessions and Recreation
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Café Allegro Returns to Phoenix Musical Instrument Museum

Playing to locals and an international visitor base, restaurant and coffee bar go beyond a “convenience” for guests.

After being shuttered for about a year and a half, Café Allegro at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix recently reopened under new management. Guest Services, Inc. (GSI) has put its own spin on the space formerly run by Bon Appetit Management.

Led by executive chef James Moran, the cafe has introduced a new rotating menu of freshly prepared seasonal dishes and drinks that fuses global influences with local flavors and ingredients. Sandwiches, salads, hearty soups and grilled entrees are among the choices.

The global approach reflects both the museum—a massive collection of musical instruments and performance videos from every corner of the globe—and the clientele. “We get visitors from everywhere,” Moran says. “I’ve interacted with a lot of guests, and it’s definitely an international group.”

The menu, he explains, is “very global with a sense of supporting local purveyors. We also try to be seasonal; at Christmas, for example, we might do tamales for the local audience.”

The menu varies weekly and seasonally. Recent selections ranged from a wild mushroom bisque with truffle oil and chives (and 14 mushroom varieties!) to an autumnal chopped salad with apple, bacon and pepitas tossed in an apple cider vinaigrette. Reflecting the international flair, a gochujang burger with pickled onions on a brioche bun shares menu space with a classic grilled chicken sandwich and a smothered beef burrito with salsa verde and southwest turkey meatloaf with salsa ·norteña.

Certain standards remain on the menu, and sometimes menu offerings are tied to special exhibits. If an Elvis Presley-themed event were on the schedule, the café might offer some of the King’s favorite dishes.

“We’re trying to make it more interesting than dining at a regular zoo or other destination,” Moran says. The frequent menu changes are also a nod to the museum’s sizeable ranks of local members, who stop in more often than out-of-towners.

In addition to taking over operations at Café Allegro, Guest Services created a separate brand for the museum’s coffee station, now called Beats Coffee Bar. Located adjacent to the restaurant, but with its own seating area, the open-all-day spot serves specialty roasted coffee, espresso and tea drinks, along with house-made pastries and breakfast fare, grab-and-go lunch items, wine, beer and seasonal treats. The breakfast menu is being expanded to include more choices, such as yogurt parfaits, breakfast burritos and egg sandwiches.

The partnership with GSI also is expected to expand the museum’s catering services. Thanks to meeting rooms, 40,000 square feet of exhibits and outdoor space, MIM can host business meetings, corporate celebrations and social events for groups as small as 10 or up to 1,000-plus. During Café Allegro’s first month, MIM pulled in more than $60,000 in catering revenue.

The museum is a busy place. “We have a lot of events,” says Craig Culy, chief financial officer at MIM, and the lineup has reverted to 2019 levels. One or two signature events are on the calendar each month, along with hundreds of concerts throughout the year. Classes are also offered.

With the museum closed for several months last year and fewer people traveling, attendance fell off, not surprisingly, but “we are seeing a lot of progress,” Culy adds. He expects the busy season, which starts around the holidays, to remain strong through April or May.

One of the challenges of running a restaurant in a seasonal market like Phoenix is forecasting demand and right-sizing food orders. “It’s not a holiday week every week,” Moran says. “we do have ups and downs so we have to be smart about food procuring to avoid waste.” He works with local food banks to donate unused food, and in the short time the café has been back he says the supply and demand have been fairly balanced, but “it will be a challenge in the summer” to predict numbers. That’s when support by a local audience will become even more crucial.

To meet dining demand, Beats Coffee Bar is open 9 to 5. For now, Café Allegro closes earlier—“we’ve been adapting each day as we learn what guests want,” Culy says—but the eventual goal is to have the café open during concerts.

“We do not see this café as a convenience,” Culy notes, “we see it more as a destination spot for our guests, just like our theater and exhibits. We want guests to come sometimes just for the food, because that’s how good it is.”

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