As doors close, Monti’s La Casa Vieja counts the memories

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The news of the closing is in large part due to the rising costs of maintaining the tradition of the restaurant and offering affordable pork, fish, and chicken dishes. Owner Michael Monti released a statement saying he toyed around with ideas of how to develop the property, but with both the changing economy and varying demographic that Mill Avenue caters to, sustaining Monti’s would not be possible.

Monti’s La Casa Vieja was registered as a historic building in 1984, which was built sometime in the 1870s, which now poses questions regarding future development of the property. The kitchen itself—built in the 1970s—is located in the newest addition of the restaurant, and it will be torn down to create a hotel and office building, while the historical pioneer, Hayden House (La Vieja) will be preserved and refurbished.

The 2.5 acre site was bought by a partnership of real estate firms from Colorado and California who have plans to develop the site.

Monti says he does not have any plans to reopen Monti’s, and he is planning to spend time with his wife and family after doors close. Monti says he has seen a remarkable outpouring of nostalgia of people flooding to enjoy one last meal at the historic restaurant. He says he has seen so many people travel from different places in the state, and he even had a guest who came all the way from Texas.

One guest who came back to visit lived in the portion of the building that was used as apartments and housed students at one point. She lived there in 1943 and attended Tempe Normal School, Arizona State University’s name when it was originally established as a teacher’s college.

“I think it’s every college student’s dream to live at a bar,” Monti says.

It’s tough to choose between the multiple weddings, engagements and other special occasions that occurred at Monti’s, but Monti says his favorite experience throughout the past 58 years was pitching a tent outside the restaurant in 1996, when the Super Bowl was played at Sun Devil Stadium, where he greeted some seriously famous guests.

“The beauty in the restaurant business is you never know who is going to walk in the door. Stephen Hawking showed up two nights in a row with his entourage. He is probably the greatest mind in the world since Galileo, and just came on in,” he says.

The company has faced other unexpected challenges during the closing of an era. Monti explained that a portion of the staff was under the impression they would close the doors immediately and chose to no longer continue working there.

Within a day of posting on their website the announcement of closing their restaurant doors, Monti’s also had to make other announcements about because of the overwhelming response, they could no longer take any reservations. They urged guests, that if they choose to walk-in, there will most likely be a substantial wait.

On the business side, Monti says working in the restaurant industry has taught him a lot about economics and the value of business, but even more, about human nature.

“It helped me see that sometimes you have to stop listening to what people are saying with their words and what they are actually saying with their body language. People behave differently than what they actually say. It’s fascinating to anticipate how staff and customers are going to react,” he says. “A system needs to be created that allows people to exercise the best opportunities. The restaurant industry is always an invitation for an unexpected disaster to happen.”

There are no plans to begin tearing down the property until 2015, but the luxury hotel will fit in with other renovations and projects happening around Tempe. Currently down the street from Monti’s, a $600 million dollar development is being built to house a new State Farm Facility.

Memorabilia from the historic restaurant is set to be auctioned off on Thursday, December 4, starting at 5 p.m. The auction will be held live at Monti’s and historic framed pictures, maps, vintage pieces, unique fixtures and sports memorabilia will go to the highest bidder.

“There is a huge emotional upheaval. I’m very focused on the nuts and bolts of the business transition. We’re closing on [November] 17th. I’m expecting after that, that’s when the emotional toll will happen. I’d like [people]to know how grateful I am and my family is for the support for all these years. I am grateful for the staff and people who worked here of the years. We are sorry that it has to be shut down, but certainly very grateful for all the love and support over the years,” Monti says.

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