The newly-formed Normal Hospitality group includes Pizzeria Bianco owner Chris Bianco and Tacos Chiwas owners Armando Hernandez and his wife Nadia Holguin. The group recently opened Roland’s Café Market Bar together in Phoenix in May.
Kelsey Linn, regional marketing manager for Graduate Hotels, said the goal of the remodels is to give the restaurants a much-needed facelift as well as to encourage ASU students and surrounding neighborhood residents to treat the location as a place they can come spend time, even if they are not a hotel guest.
Linn said The Normal restaurant, named after ASU’s former title, the Territorial Normal School at Tempe, has a new menu that is a mix of some of the old menu's dishes and new dishes that offer more variety than before.
For students, faculty and residents on-the-go, The Normal restaurant is featuring a grab-and-go window that is open every day at 5 a.m. with ready-to-eat items made with the same quality ingredients used in the restaurant’s regular menu.
“We want students, or anyone who is just running to catch the bus, or running to class, to know that they can just swing by that grab-and-go window and grab a coffee or a really small bite to eat,” Linn said.
In addition, she said the Graduate Tempe Hotel welcomes ASU students, faculty and Tempe residents to enjoy the amenities the hotel has available to the public, such as the pool, and to utilize the restaurant as a place to relax and study.
The Normal restaurant aims to provide “comfort food faves with a twist,” according to its website, with dishes like Normal Fries that combine classic American fare with traditional Mexican-style ingredients like carnitas, chile peppers and avocado salsa loaded on top of Frites Street fries.
Hernandez, an ASU alumnus who graduated in 2011, said the restaurant offers comfort food through a regional lens, including Southern and Mexican food elements.
For example, the Ga’ivsa Porridge on the new menu includes Southern ingredients like Pima corn grits, agave, pomegranate seeds and chile-smoked pecans.
The bar-side restaurant on the opposite end of the hotel from The Normal restaurant, which was previously called Tapacubo and served Mexican-style street food, will be open later in November as The Normal Bar.
Hernandez said The Normal Bar will offer the same tacos he serves at his original restaurant, Tacos Chiwas, with the same quality, including fresh made-to-order tortillas and slow-cooked barbacoa.
“To me, it’s really special to be able to create and make you a tortilla fresh to go with a taco," he said. "I want it to be an experience as opposed to just a place to get food in general."
He said it was important to him to keep the food at a similar, manageable price point as Tacos Chiwas for students and surrounding neighborhood residents.
“Being able to enjoy something that somebody put a lot of thought into and making it affordable is really a nice thing to have,” Hernandez said.
Coffee Manufactory, founded by the Tartine Bakery in San Francisco, is served in the restaurant and through the grab-and-go window, making The Normal restaurant the first location in Arizona to offer the brand.
Celeste Tracy, a barista working behind the grab-and-go counter, said she has not seen many students visit the counter, but she thinks it is a convenient option for students on their way to class.
“I used to be a student, and I remember when it was like going through a drive-thru or something,” she said. “But not everybody drives a car here.”
Tracy said she has worked in the coffee business for seven years, and she likes that The Normal restaurant is serving responsibly-sourced coffee.
Hernandez said opening a location in Tempe is very personal to him because it is important for him to be able to represent the regionality of his restaurant’s cuisine in the area.
“We’re fortunate that we get offers to go into different places, but I think Tempe is one of the ones that I feel really strongly about, and that’s why it’s an incredible opportunity to be able to showcase what we do so close to campus,” he said.