Thanks to Francine Hardaway for giving us permission to republish her tribute to Mike Ratner, owner of Tom’s Tavern and a friend of Downtown Phoenix.
On the eve of the Fifth Annual Arizona Entrepreneurship Conference I got some disturbing news tonight. Ilana Lowery, long time editor of the Business Journal of Phoenix tweeted out that Mike Ratner, owner of Tom’s Tavern in downtown Phoenix had passed away from cancer.
This made me cry. Mike opened that restaurant when I was working with Trammell Crow Company to reinvigorate downtown. Trammell Crow had just built One Renaissance and Two Renaissance, downtown buildings that were to be centerpieces of the new downtown.
Mike and I became friends, and I helped him market the restaurant not once, but many times. He was the quintessential entrepreneur who never gave up. He raised a loud voice to decry injustices that affected his business: street closings, light rail construction, taxes, new projects that cannibalized existing businesses,–anything that endangered his baby.
He was an old time restaurateur who greeted his guests himself every day at lunch time and seated them personally. The Mayor ate there (or rather, a succession of mayors), the Governor, the legislature, and the lobbyists. Deals went down at Tom’s.
Mike’s struggle was never to take a lot of money from the restaurant, it was to keep the restaurant alive. He and I would fight to the mat over things like my suggestion to put calorie counts on the menu, or to include lighter items as times changed.
He would argue, but he always respected my opinion. Nevertheless, there are no calorie counts to this day.
About ten years ago, I told him he had to have a web site, and an email newsletter. He fought me, but he became adept at sending out the newsletter, and even more adept at learning the analytics behind ConstantContact. He worried about how many people opened it, and got upset when the “opens” declined. Then he would call me for a new idea. My last recommendation was Twitter, but I don’t think he got there:-)
Mike had enormous faith in downtown Phoenix, and during the 2008 recession he and Julian Blum, another friend of mine, opened a real estate office to broker downtown property. I hung my license there in a gesture of support, although I don’t really sell real estate. We also started a downtown breakfast lecture series, and did all kinds of promotions. Mike would try anything, and he had boundless energy even after he got cancer.
About two months ago he realized he would have to sell the restaurant to take care of his health. In the current environment, buyers for restaurants are scarce. But I am trying with all my heart to make one manifest for Tom’s Tavern.
Good night Mike. It was a privilege to work with such a pure, dedicated entrepreneur.