Matt Pool on Chris Bianco, Andreoli Italian Grocer, and Phoenix as a Food Town
Buchanan Matt and Erenia Pool
Matt's Big Breakfast
825 North First Street
1437 North First Street
This is part one of my interview with Matt Pool, owner of Matt's Big Breakfast and Giant Coffee. Come back tomorrow when Pool dishes on Diners, Drive-ins and Dives and his last meal on Earth -- which will make you want to jump in the car and drive to Texas.
Matt Pool seems a little worried about being interviewed for Chef Salad. "I have never once called myself a chef," he says. "I'm a food guy and I like to think I'm a food enthusiast, but I don't want to be called a chef. I'm just a restaurateur." Just? It's a modest description for the guy who opened what is still Phoenix's most popular breakfast restaurant in 2004, blowing everyone away with the simple goodness of his food and his sophisticated approach to sourcing diner basics such as ham, jelly, and coffee.
Buchanan Matt at Matt's
But why were we surprised? Pool had spent five years working at Bar Bianco for Chris Bianco, one of the city's first and most ardent local sourcers. The two had met when Pool was still in high school, attending Brophy and working as a busboy at Guy Cosca's French Corner at Central and Camelback. Pool's sister Susan worked there too (as a hostess), and the two of them became friendly with Bianco, who was making his pizza out of AJ's next door. Susan and Bianco became an item (she helped him run Pizzeria Bianco for many years), which kept Pool in the Bianco loop, even after he graduated ASU with a degree in political science and moved to D.C., taking a job as a paralegal at a prestigious law firm. The job didn't pay, so he supplemented his income by working at Houston's, where, he says, he learned a lot about management and nearly everything else. But he decided to come back home and began working for Bianco in any way he could (parking lot attendant was one job) until Bar Bianco opened.
When I ask Pool what made him decide to open a breakfast restaurant, he tells me that his dad had always had a thing for diners, taking Matt and his brother to classic diners in and around Kansas City before the family moved to Phoenix. Matt got the diner bug, too, but never thought much about it until he and his wife, Erenia (who worked for Marriott 10 years ago), realized they were working long hours and missing time with their young son. The two also had noticed that Phoenix was lacking in a mom-and-pop doing breakfast food, so when the tiny building at First and McKinley became available, it felt right. It looked like a diner, and they took the plunge.