This week the Insider caught up with Café Italia owner Jose Fong. He shared his thoughts on Downtown and winning the 2013 Texas Downtown Association’s Design award for Best Commercial Interior.
How did Café Italia get started and what was your vision for it?
We felt that there was tremendous potential on the horizon for downtown revitalization and we wanted to be part of it. We envisioned gourmet quality food for downtown. Everything was intentional, from the size of the space to the lack of an exterior sign. We wanted an intimate, inviting atmosphere with emphasis on quality.
What do you specialize in terms of goods and services?
We specialize in high quality, fresh, artisanal ingredients made from scratch in a brick oven. Also, our wines are boutique, limited selection wines that either have never been offered in El Paso before or are not currently being offered. Our beers are all craft brews from independent breweries.
What differentiates your restaurant?
Exceptional quality in a small intimate setting appropriate for either business meetings or a casual rendezvous.
Was downtown the only option for locating the business? If not, what was the deciding factor? If so, why downtown?
Downtown was not the only option – this concept would work well in any area of town. However, one of the partners already owned the property in which the restaurant is located. This property is also near the soon to be completed ballpark and the existing Union Plaza entertainment district.
What do you think of all the changes going on downtown?
We are happy with all the current and proposed changes and hope that public and private partnerships focus on bringing people to actually live in downtown through future development projects.
Tell us your reaction to winning the TDA Texas Downtown Association awards for Best Commercial Interior in both the Judges and People’s Choice categories.
We were surprised and flattered to have been nominated by the DMD and winning only helped to raise the bar for us since we were competing against all of Texas. This puts us on par with restaurants from bigger cities and completely validates our hard work.
Are you contributing to the downtown community in terms of events, activities, and partnerships developed?
Yes. We joined the “Melt: Last Saturdays Downtown” monthly event, opened for Saturday lunch for the Farmers Market customers, and also try to work with other restaurants/bars to cross-promote as much as possible.
Studies have shown that downtown revitalization is a major economic driver to a city’s economic health. How do you think Café Italia is positively impacting the economic and social life of downtown?
By providing more entertainment and dining options for visitors and city locals.
Is there anything missing downtown that you would like to see happen?
Residential housing! A vibrant downtown in any major city includes several residential living options for numerous occupants which are vital to healthy retail tenants. At present, downtown El Paso is a “destination location” only. We need “rooftops” surrounding the retail businesses for long term growth and success.