Kelly Fletcher of The Revival on Why He's Playing It Safe
For years chef Kelly Fletcher wooed diners from the kitchen at Tempe's House of Tricks, where he'd been working for some 10 years. But earlier this spring he left that post, seeking an opportunity to really do his own thing. He teamed up with business partner Chad Withycombe to breathe new life into Tempe's Mucho Gusto restaurant. They shut the place down for less than a month, remodeled, and The Revival was born.
Expectations were high but it's been a rocky start for the Arizona-native chef. Fletcher has already had to stop serving weekend lunch and brunch and admits he's been holding back so far.
"It had to be safe," Fletcher says of his menu.
According to the chef the reason is pretty simple: staff. When he and Withycombe remade the restaurant -- from Mexican to New American -- they kept everyone from Much Gusto who wanted to be a part of the new concept. Most chefs would have come into the kitchen and cleaned house, but Fletcher chose to retrain the existing kitchen crew. Fletcher says that decision means he doesn't have the culinary support he would need to pull off a complicated menu.
"I had to ease these guys into it," he says of the kitchen staff.
Part of the decision to keep the existing staff was motivated by the fact that Fletcher had already been working in the Mucho Gusto kitchen for several months prior to the restaurant closing down for renovations. Fletcher, accustomed to fine dining and New American cuisine, says it was a good learning experience to be slinging burritos.
Lauren Saria The Revival's cocktail menu features local spirits and housemade garnishes.
"I was out of my element," the chef admits. "It was funny. It really, honestly, leveled me."
The goal is to make The Revival a truly neighborhood spot, the kind of place with food you can eat any time. The chef says he's struggling with the fact that most people "don't understand playful, esoteric food." But Fletcher says he's confident the restaurant will get there over time.
"If we can pull this off the way we imagine I think it will be this thing the neighborhood has been waiting for."
For the chef, who has not only worked in Tempe for more than a decade but also lives in the neighborhood, it's as much about making the restaurant work as it is about pushing the food scene in Tempe forward.
"Austin wasn't Austin five years ago," Fletcher says. "It was all the people that stayed there. And if we leave, they win."