Leaves of kale tossed with currants, toasted pine nuts, grated parmigiano reggiano and lemon vinaigrette compose a garnering of consciously-cultivated ingredients whose personal histories marry at the crossroad of 44th Street and Camelback Road, home to Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The tale of Chestnut as recounted by co-owner and acting manager, Kirsten Steele, demonstrates a true commitment to community and local agriculture. Born “Chestnut Lane” in an olde cottage (opposite its current address) to Chef Polly Levine, the organically sustained eatery welcomed the company of local produce by McClendon’s Select Farm and artisan loaves by MJ Bread during its yearlong installment from 2009-2010. The harmonious dynamics of Chestnut Lane struck a chord in Kirsten Steele and Marissa Hochman, sisters who devoted two years to the revival of their favorite neighborhood café.

The evolution of Chestnut is propitious due to collaboration. Steele and Hochman launched their project by way of Local First Arizona, a statewide non-profit organization powered by a network of locally owned businesses working to grow their local economies. Pie Snob, proponent and member of Local First Arizona, provided a commercial kitchen for the gathering and testing of recipes. While Steele reported that the restaurant preserved approximately 30% of original menu offerings, such collaboration proved essential in the novel presentation of Chestnut. Among the most impactful changes include the “Morning Bibimbap Bowl,” “Five Spice Banh Mi” sandwich, and “Green Goddess” salad (see slideshow), incorporated into the menu as testimony of their cultural heritage. “We wanted to bring something Asian to the table to ‘high-five’ [our community],” Steele declared.

Chestnut adheres to its mission to stand as a local business supporting local businesses. The structural design of the restaurant embodies a coming-together of the community at large. Camelback Flowershop, formerly neighbor to Chestnut Lane, rejoiced at the prospect of joining forces. Also grandfathered in were McClendon’s Select Farm, Simple Farm, and MJ Bread whose longstanding rapports with the café reinforce the essence of Chestnut. Noble Bread[1] and Matador Coffee[2] pioneer the most recent of partnerships.

“It’s absolutely essential to the development of our local economy to support local businesses,” affirmed Steele. She continued, disclosing, “There is a substantial drive in that direction for people now … [to support] local farmers and vendors who will invest back into the local economy versus a chain or massive business that will not. [Let’s] support our city and state.”

Kirsten Steele and Marissa Hochman are exemplary in their command of Chestnut Fine Foods & Provisions of renewing impetus for community-celebrated dining experiences. By collectively nurturing the historical roots of their local agriculture, Chestnut and company are dramatically influencing the type of development they will see manifested in their community.

[1] Jennifer McClellan, “Noble Bread to open Phoenix restaurant with Claudio Urciuoli Menu,” http://www.azcentral.com, (November 18, 2014).
[2] ”Best of the Valley”, Phoenix Magazine, http://www.phoenixmag.com, (August 21, 2014).

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Editor’s Note: Diamond Troutman has traveled and lived quite extensively experiencing culture in California, New York, Paris, and now currently, Arizona. Diamond came to us with the idea to publish a column that supports the role of cuisine as a “force of unity and enjoyment” here on consciousmagazine.co. Check out her feature here and article series here.