Mike and Brian Sorell could see the writing on the wall as early as 18 months ago.
That’s when Safeway pulled out of the plaza that the store had anchored on the corner of East Broadway and South Camino Seco.
For a brief spell — about four months — an outpost of the Pacific Northwest grocery chain Haggen moved in. But once that company flopped here, quickly closing the three Tucson locations it opened in spring 2015 in old Safeway and Albertsons locations, the big anchor spot in the plaza where the Sorell family has been serving up award-winning pizza and pasta started collecting dust.
“All total, I say — and it’s anecdotal because I’m not looking at numbers — it looks like we lost about $20,000 in revenues per month right off the bat after Safeway closed,” Mike Sorell said Friday, a day after announcing on Facebook that his family’s BZ’s Pizza Co. Neighborhood Grill will close on June 16.
The drop was dramatic considering that for the first handful of months after opening BZ’s at 8838 E. Broadway in 2014, the family-owned pizzeria/Italian restaurant was regularly bringing in $90,000 to $120,000 a month in revenue.
“And then every month it’s lower and lower,” said Sorell, whose family opened BZ’s eight years ago in the Fry’s shopping plaza at East 22nd Street and South Harrison Road before moving to their current larger location three years ago, he said.
Sorell said BZ’s is closing ahead of the city’s plans to widen Broadway east from Camino Seco to South Houghton Road. Actual road work won’t start until next spring, but construction to remove underground utility lines begins in July, said Tucson Transportation Department spokesman Mike Graham.
Graham said CenturyLink will begin moving its fiber optics lines and the city will do other utility work, including moving sewer and water lines, which “typically happens if you are going to widen the roadway and rebuild it,” he said. “That’s the perfect time to do your sewer lines and water lines and put in all new underground utilities.”
Sorell said the family has plans to reopen BZ’s in a new location, but they haven’t decided where. He said he’s considering the Vail area and likes the commercial plaza off Interstate 10 and South Houghton Road. The area is experiencing a boom since Walmart Supercenter moved in spring 2014; several supporting businesses have also opened there, creating the largest shopping center between Benson and Tucson, Sorell said.
Sorell said the family has been contemplating the move since early spring and even posted the possibility on the restaurant’s Facebook page. On April 3, the owners opened up about their financial woes, which included being behind in their rent that Sorell said was $7,700 a month. In their post, the owners put out a call for a short-term partner to help get through the rough patch.
In a post a month later, they thanked customers for their support and said they were sticking with the Broadway-Camino Seco location “maybe not indefinitely, but we’ll keep ya posted.”
Sorell said, though, that after crunching numbers, it became difficult to justify staying open in the plaza.
“As a restaurateur, you anticipate seeing 20 percent new faces coming through the door that you can turn into regular faces. And the next day, 20 percent more new faces. That’s growth,” Sorell said. “When you’re in a situation that I’m in, all I have is my regular customers. ... People aren’t going to come here with the construction.”
“When you do some basic math, you can say that you need about $70,000 in revenue a month to keep the lights on,” he added. “We’re in a situation where we are barely getting $70,000, sometimes $72,000. When the road construction comes, I will be lucky if I can do $55,000. I couldn’t afford to do that.”
BZ’s is open from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.