STAFF PICK: Jack Green became something of a Fourth Avenue celebrity when he and his partner Lorraine Glickman launched Epic Café six years ago. This corner storefront at the elbow of Fourth Avenue and University Boulevard had been in heavy rotation for several years prior, but when Green and Glickman took it on, its identity was confirmed: This was meant to be a café. Epic has been a perennial favorite of the Tucson Weekly readers and staffers ever since, in 1997 winning the all-encompassing Best Café for Everything. So when its sale was announced almost exactly a year ago many of us began to fret. At the same time, Rhonda Porter, an interior architecture and product designer from Santa Fe, was speeding down I-10 to celebrate her son's 20th birthday in Tucson. "There were things I loved about Tucson, and Epic was one of them. When I lived here (in 1995), I came here almost every day for about two and a half years. Everywhere I went after that--Austin, Santa Fe--I looked for a place like it." So when she walked into Epic that day and asked Jack what was new and he said he was selling the café, she told him he'd found a buyer.
"It was so strange, because I'd been driving across the desert, thinking about what I was going to do next, and I thought, 'I'll buy Epic.' I didn't even know it was for sale. Two hours later, I was sipping a latté with Jack; and within 30 days of that, I owned a café."
Here at the end of their first year at the reins, Rhonda and son Chad Wilford have expanded Epic's hours and repertoire, staying open late and bringing in live acoustic music by local and touring artists. "We're trying to create a scene at this end of the Avenue, too," says Porter. "We want a place where people can go with nice atmosphere--energetic but not wild, and no smoke inside."
While Wilford, an enterprising 20-year-old, handles all the ordering, scheduling and financial management, Porter concentrates on the overall aesthetics of the space, music, art and food.
Aside from a facelift inside that drenched the space in warm, hungry colors of Porter's design, the Epic motif of an intimate space showcasing local artists remains the same. Her strategy is to take the eclecticism she loved about the place, and keep polishing it. Always reinventing, she's added homemade chai, bread pudding and granola to the mix, as well as more whole-grain foods to the menu.
You'll find them daily either smiling behind the counter, or huddled over one of the small tables in the back, nodding heads and taking copious notes. Not only are they thriving and keeping longtime regulars happy, but they have even better things in store in their five-year plan. It's not only a great local business, but an inspiring relationship. Wilford, who turns 21 in October, says it's quite a gift.