Vegans and vegetarians need to eat too, and one skilled trio in downtown Phoenix has stumbled upon the means to make this happen with Bragg’s Factory Diner — a quaint and homey restaurant on the corner of 13th and Grand avenues.
Knock on wood, but Liam Murtagh, his wife Emily Spetrino-Murtagh and their good friend Dana Stern have experienced nothing but smooth sailing with the task of bringing local, healthy food options to an area that has struggled to pick itself back up since the recession.
“On some level, I just really want to inspire someone else to do something on Grand,” Murtagh said. “We just need that handful of people who have the balls to go for it.”
Bragg’s Factory Diner will serve a breakfast and lunch menu with dishes ranging from vegan pancakes with strawberries and goat cheese — deemed the Fruity Old Goat — and one of Murtagh’s most prized creations, a vegetarian take on the classic BLT, his “ELT.”
The “E” stands for eggplant, but don’t tell the meat-eater in the room because although bacon is absent, there is nothing to miss with the unique flavor.
“I’ve definitely made it for myself three days in a row now. I’m pretty into it right now,” Murtagh said.
The diner is located in Bragg’s Pie Factory, a building on the National Register of Historic Places that, ironically, has not sold pies since the 1960s. Partly for this reason, Stern will be bringing pie back to the space for the first time in decades with her vegan creations, including key lime, raspberry rhubarb and an old-fashioned chocolate pie with raspberry.
“I’m kind of the first person to bake pies here in a long time,” Stern said. “I’ve definitely been practicing.”
As for food sourcing, those at the diner have decided to stay as local and seasonal as possible and will work through United Natural Foods Inc. The Murtaghs’ neighbor, a farmer, is even going to give the couple pointers so that they can grow and provide their own produce which, they believe, will help give the diner’s menu more options.
“I think it’s surprising the meals we can create — like what we can do with a beet,” Stern said. “There are so many things you can do with a beet, which is something people don’t realize, and it’s great to be able to prove that it can be awesome.”
Beatrice Moore, landlord of the space, owner of Kooky Krafts on Grand Avenue and secretary of the Grand Avenue Merchants Association, said on top of a lack of vegetarian and vegan options, she sees a lack of places for people to gather in the area.
“It seems like a lot of restaurants downtown anymore are going for an upscale, slick look, but this concept looks like a place where people can come and feel at home,” Moore said. “I hope this diner can become gathering place for people in the neighborhood, especially the growing student population.”
The three owners are committed to providing a space that is comfortable and showcases the history of Phoenix, and they have been collecting memorabilia from friends and family to hang throughout the space. They say they are also accepting items from anyone who wants to contribute, and have numerous friends working on artwork.
One particular piece has the trio especially excited: a large three-panel triptych for the back wall, made up of hand-painted scenes of significant places in the Phoenix metro area.
“Every time I see it, I like it more, but the best part is the big pie that will go in the middle of the piece,” Stern said. “It’s going to be great.”
Bragg’s Factory Diner plans to be in full swing by Art Detour on March 2, but had a soft opening Feb. 19 to “work out the kinks” and get used to the flow.
The owners want the opening to go successfully, but there are bigger dreams for the future.
“I would just like to see us be a part of something bigger, and it has to start somewhere,” Stern said. “It’s lucky ’13 and now’s the time, so people should start moving down here.”
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