$10 Lunch at Mark's Cafe

Categories: Budget Beat
Maya Dukmasova
Turkey wrap with mango-cantaloupe salsa at Mark's Cafe

Today we bring you an extended version of our "$10 Lunch" feature -- one with a backstory. ​

Mark's Cafe in south Tempe has been around for years, but you may remember it by the old and slightly confusing name: Culinary Solutions Cafe

Mark and Karen Vojtek opened the restaurant at Rural and Guadalupe eight years ago. They picked the name Culinary Solutions to convey that here, one would could get classic fare with a gourmet twist as well as contract catering for any event.

That didn't work so well. Many took it to be a kitchen supply store or one of those places where you prepare meals ahead of time to take home and freeze. 

The Vojteks were on the verge of closing their establishment last August they were approached by a longtime patron, Alisha Forrester Scott, who asked if they could use some help sprucing up the place. Scott recruited some Tempe companies to help out as a favor for the couple. Then Scott left town. The project stalled for several months.
Get the rest of teh story about Mark's Cafe after the jump.

"Alisha is kind of the one who started this and we kind of put the pieces together and finished it," says Sandy Bruce of Detail Design & Fabrication, the company responsible for the new interior design. "By the time we picked up all the pieces and rerouted everybody we had to push it for after Mother's Day."

"We met the Vojteks through mutual friends, heard their stories, enjoyed the food," Bruce continues. "We were just really touched by their story, being a husband and wife, the challenges they were facing, and also seeing that we could so easily help them. [Design is] what we do every day, it's such an easy thing for us to be able to help them and help their business."

Eight months later, the cafe was transformed from a pasty, 80s family dining room into a bright, classic diner space. Out with the pastel wallpaper, in with evenly painted dark orange walls and metal accents, sleek wood counter and cabinets, recycled polychrome plastic table tops, and quarky decorations such as the giant spatula hanging over the kitchen window.

mark's counter.jpg
Maya Dukmasova
Lunchtime Customers at Mark's Cafe

"It's not like it's a tragedy, you know somebody gets shot, an earthquake, people come together for that," Vojtek says. "It was amazing. I've never asked for help before, and to see the support, I was blown away."

The work cost DD&F about $15,000 in total. 'We didn't give it a second thought at all," Bruce says.

The touching nature of the couple's story also pulled PR specialist Morgan Vanderwall into the project, as well as Bright Bokeh Videographers and Farnham Advertising and Design. "I was just completely moved by their personalities and the spirit of wanting to move forward but not having the means to," Vanderwall says.

The biggest change since the renovation? "No more confusion," says Vojtek. The cafe is simply called Mark's and the owners report that new patrons stream in every day. By Vojtek's estimate, business has increased almost threefold since the renovation.

"It's just been awesome, we've been so busy," he says. "Everyday I'm setting a new record."

mark's 3.jpg
Maya Dukmasova

When we came in at lunch time on a recent weekday, the place was packed and Chef Vojtek whistled happily in the kitchen as he cooked each plate from scratch.

The menu (which has not changed significantly since the renovation) features fanciful breakfast and lunch items like Neptune Eggs Benedict, Unruly Omelet and Mulligatawny Soup

One long-time customer enjoyed a chicken salad croissant sandwich at the counter and waited around to take a peek at our order, which was a new special that day. Our turkey wrap with mango-cantaloupe salsa was light and filling but to be honest, we found it a little bland and watery. On the other hand, the tasty homemade fries disappeared too fast. Most of the items featured on Mark's menu are in the $7 to $9 range.

At the moment, Mark and Karen employ three people full time and three part-time bus staff. What's next?

"Who knows, if it's meant to expand and take over next door then so be it. I don't know what the future holds, i just feel so blessed," he says.

Mark's is open Wednesday through Sunday from 7 AM to 2 PM and on Fridays for BYOB dinners from 4:30 to 8:30.

Maya Dukmasova
Chef Mark Vojtek of Mark's Cafe

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