Photo courtesy of Jo Gemmill

By Christina Fuoco-Karasinski | May 10, 2021

Carefree Restaurant Week didn’t happen last spring. In the fall, it was limited to curbside pickup. English Rose Tearoom owner Jo Gemmill says the event is returning in full to thanks those who patronized the restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’re doing it as a thank you to all of those customers who supported the restaurants during the last year,” Gemmill says.

The Spring Restaurant Week is being held until May 15 at eateries around downtown. It’s an opportunity for participants to showcase their menus for discounted prices at lunch or dinner.

The prices, which do not cover alcohol, are $18 for lunch’s two courses, and $35 or $45 for three-course dinners. 

“Everybody does something a little different,” Gemmill says. “We’re all independent, family-run businesses. We all share the agony and the ecstasy. We’re all being a buser and server and all the other jobs. We have to wear a lot of hats.

“There are 12 actively taking part. They take part in whatever way they can. I can’t do the dinner menu, so I offer something at lunch. There aren’t really definite rules of what they have to do. They just have to offer something at a discounted price. If the menu doesn’t apply, they can adapt it accordingly.”

Since the vaccines have become commonplace, guests have returned to restaurants in full force, Gemmill says.

“It’s a bit like a dam that’s burst with all these customers who didn’t come in the last year because they were nervous,” she says. “All of them have their vaccines and they’re far more confident. They’re charging in all at once. It’s really overwhelming at times. It’ll sort itself out. It’s a mass exodus out of the house and into the restaurants.”

Gemmill says she and the 11 other participating restaurants noticed patrons, because they were so desperate to come out, make a big occasion of the meal.

“People are ordering above what they normally do,” Gemmill says. 

Carefree Restaurant Week was founded as a response to Arizona Week Restaurant and to stress the importance of family-run eateries. 

“You have to pay to participate in Arizona Restaurant Week, which can be expensive for small businesses,” Gemmill says. “It’s a nice thing to do to collective market ourselves as a destination point. 

“We’re encouraging people to come up north. A lot of businesses here don’t have a big marketing budget, so we collectively market ourselves. It’s better for everybody.”

Gemmill volunteered to chair the event four years ago.

“This is a nice event,” she says. “Instead of being fearful of a new restaurant that came into town and seeing it as competition, the owners are much more embracing, 

“We’re a small community and the restaurants are the reason people come to the Carefree area. It’s important that we stick together.”

Among the new restaurants is Athens on Easy Street, a new Greek restaurant. Gemmill says a “really lovely Greek family” owns it. Then there’s Keeler’s Steakhouse, which moved in a few years ago, with its it’s “amazing” rooftop patio. 

“They have lots of options,” she says about Keeler’s. “Venues Café in Carefree has just expanded their patio onto the street. It has a very European feel about it now.”