LOCAL LOVE: Suns’ $100,000 Small Business Assist Nets 10,000 Meals for the Community

by Cody Cunningham

Philanthropy is woven into the fabric of the Phoenix Suns organization. After all, Phoenix Suns Charities was established as the very first NBA foundation in 1988 and has always given back to the community the Suns proudly represent. But now more than ever, our community is in need. 

Since the coronavirus reached pandemic status and the NBA season was postponed on March 11, the Suns have been on a full-court press to provide resources and relief throughout the community, thanks in large part to an assist from Suns All-Star guard Devin Booker, who pledged $100,000 and tipped off a COVID-19 relief fundraising campaign on Twitch. Suns Charities and its partners have provided meals for frontline healthcare workers, funded antibody test kits for local first responders and donated thousands of pounds of food and other supplies for children and families. 

The Suns are once again striving to help those in need but this time, lending a hand to a different kind of teammate – local downtown Phoenix businesses that have been hit especially hard during this difficult time. 

According to Local First Arizona, a nonprofit organization that celebrates independent businesses throughout Arizona, downtown businesses have seen anywhere from an 80 to 100 percent decrease in profits over the last few months. Recognizing the need, Suns Charities huddled up with Local First and Devin Booker and committed to supporting downtown Phoenix-area restaurants and food vendors with $100,000 in funding that will go towards helping feed the hungry in our community. 

“We are partnering with the Suns to infuse some much-needed cash and business to small restaurants in the downtown area that will be making food for a variety of nonprofits,” Executive Director of Local First Arizona Thomas Barr said. “We will be working with at least two businesses a week to distribute the funds to so that they can make the meals and get them to the nonprofits.”

The program tipped off last month when Suns Charities and Local First Arizona distributed $25,000 to downtown restaurant/venue The Duce, who partnered with local non-profit Waste Not to deliver thousands of meals to hungry local families. 

Extending the reach of that initial impact, Suns Charities is working with 15 additional downtown Phoenix restaurants and awarding $5,000 to each participating business for meals to feed community groups in need. The restaurants will receive much needed revenue, while the food itself will be distributed to local nonprofits. The cumulative impact will generate over 10,000 meals for the hungry.

“There’s a lot of struggling people right now,” Executive Director of Phoenix Suns Charities Sarah Krahenbuhl said. “Nonprofits are still doing great work in our community and are having to shift their mission to focus on basic needs. A huge basic need is food. It means a lot for Suns Charities to come in with a partnered restaurant and Local First Arizona to help offset that need.”

The Suns have called downtown Phoenix home for almost 30 years and while the COVID-19 pandemic has affected everybody, it has been particularly challenging for local eateries. Local restaurants nourish the Phoenix community and add to the character and vibrancy of our downtown neighborhood. Like sports teams, local restaurants typically bring people together but have had to adjust to the current climate and stay-at-home orders in the name of health and safety.

“The opportunity to support small, independent restaurants in our community, while also providing meals to those in need, is a huge win for everybody,” said Booker, who recently enjoyed a takeout meal from PAZ Cantina. “I’ve felt at home in Phoenix since day one and it means a lot to me to be able to assist our amazing downtown neighborhood.”

Carla Logan, owner of Carly’s Bistro, has seen first-hand the struggle that local businesses are facing during this challenging time.

“It’s been largely catastrophic for our industry,” Logan said. “March, April and May are the busiest months of the year. For business downtown and in our district, those are the months you really make the bulk of your money that gets you through the summer. It came at really the worst time of the year for us.”

After 15 years in Downtown Phoenix, Carly’s Bistro was forced to reconstruct its business plan and develop a new way of service. Just a day after it was announced that restaurants were forced to close sit-down service, Carly’s Bistro adjusted packaging, added family style meals and began serving cocktails to-go as they shifted to a takeout approach.

While Logan is appreciative towards those who have remained supportive of her business, the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on Carly’s Bistro has been difficult to overcome. The funding that the Suns are able to provide Logan and her restaurant is crucial during these tough financial times.

“We are very grateful for the support,” Logan said. “We just really appreciate the Suns making an effort to reach out to small businesses because they’re the ones who are going to have the hardest time surviving this. Larger corporations and chains have the bandwidth to survive a situation like this while ‘Mom & Pops’ and smaller businesses are going to have a tougher time digging out of this. So, this funding couldn’t have come at a better time.”

Just a few blocks away from Talking Stick Resort Arena, Serafina Coffee Roasters, often frequented by Suns employees, is another local business that has witnessed the hardship of a steady decline in sales.

“We were going along swimmingly,” Serafina Coffee Roasters owner Damian Serafine said. “It wasn’t all at once. It was a trickle down. We were at half of our daily sales wondering when that would go back up. Then all of sudden we were at one-fifteenth of our daily sales. I had to look around and go, ‘I’m sorry staff. I can’t pay you anymore.’ It was pretty brutal.”

Serafine, who has operated businesses in downtown Phoenix for more than 20 years, had to make tough choices and, adjust the entire way he ran his business. He fought to keep Serafina open, but cut hours back to close at noon. While he still tries to bring in staff as often as he can, the difficult circumstances forced the coffee shop into a new way of operating as a necessity to survive. 

“I think the heartbeat of a city are small local businesses,” Serafine said. “That’s what makes a city so special. When you talk about cities, it’s all about the small funky little places that you visit.”

Serafine is grateful for the opportunity to partner with the Suns, while assisting others in need throughout the city.

“That’s a win-win,” Serafine said. “You get to help people. You get to make a little money to have your staff come in. Life’s normal for a minute. The Phoenix Suns are amazing. They always have been. The day the arena has been built, it’s always been a positive impact on the city and a positive impact on the people.”

By keeping funds local, there’s an aggregate effect that can be felt far beyond that initial spend.   

“What many people don’t think about is when money is spent with a local business, that business turns around and spends it with other local businesses around them,” Barr said. “They’re working with local accountants. They have a local payroll company. They are paying a local printing company for signage and menus. For every $100 spent at a local business, we know $45 recirculates in our local community. The fact that all of these dollars are going to local businesses will have a huge multiplier effect on the Phoenix economy.”

While the funding provided by Phoenix Suns Charities alone, isn’t going to keep local businesses afloat, the opportunity to serve over 10,000 meals and ease the hunger of so many, helps deliver a timely assist.

“I’m so proud to be working with the Suns,” Barr said. “We’re proud that an organization like the Suns stepped up and realized there was a community need. Then swiftly put plans in place and put dollars where they needed to go, not only to support nonprofits, but to support the small business community in this time.”

PAZ Cantina, located in the heart of the iconic Roosevelt Row Artists’ District in downtown Phoenix, is proud to be one of the local businesses selected to participate in this program and they recently catered meals for the Chicanos Por La Causa De Colores Shelter Mother’s Day celebration.

 “I think it is important to support local communities and support each other, our approach is to just be here for the community,” PAZ Cantina Marketing Director and Event Coordinator Viktor Math said. “There are so many large restaurant chains that can out-market small businesses, it’s hard to compete, so it means a lot for an organization like the Suns to help. The more support we can give, the more the local community can grow together.”

Guided by Local First Arizona, participating restaurants and food vendors were selected by an internal Suns committee along with recommendations provided by community partners.

Every week the Suns will profile each participating business, utilizing their platforms to highlight each business, encourage others to support and provide an opportunity for each business to share their own personal message.

Below is the list of downtown Phoenix businesses that are participating in this program:

Arizona Wilderness DTPHX

Carly’s Bistro

The Churchill (Freak Brothers Pizza and Foxy Fruit Bowls)

Cibo

Crescent Ballroom/Cocina 10 Lounge

Downtown Phoenix Farmers Market (multiple vendors, including Mi Catering, Sonoran Pasta and Pachamama)

The Duce

Fair Trade Cafe

Jobot

Majerle’s

Matt's Big Breakfast

Mrs. White’s Golden Rule Cafe

PAZ Cantina

Pizzeria Bianco

Rito's Mexican Food

Serafina Coffee Roasters  

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