DeSoto Central Market

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We take you to the DeSoto Central Market in Downtown Phoenix, housed in a building that used to be a car dealership but is now a vibrant mix of restaurants that has been LEED certified to be eco-friendly.

TED: A historic building in Phoenix not only managed to avoid being demolished to make way for a modern structure, but also managed to put its history in the driver's seat. Producer Shana Fischer has the story.

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REPORTER: What a difference a little TLC and elbow grease can make.
The C.P. Stephens Building sat vacant for years, before Shawn Connelly's building partner Ken Cook decided to bring this old building back to life.

SHAWN CONNELLY: In 2012, it was in complete disrepair--the roof was exposed, the trusses, some were down to the ground. It was an eyesore of the community. But the thing that Ken saw in it was that it had great bones.

REPORTER: The original idea was to turn the building into rental space, but Connelly thought otherwise, and Desoto Central Market was born.

SHAWN: Desoto Central Market is a food hall at its core.

REPORTER: Inside the market you can find a seafood bar with oysters flown in daily, Southern food, a burger joint and a juice and salad bar.

SHAWN: The market itself was named after the Desoto car company, which was a brand of Chrysler. The building itself was a dealership, the C.P. Stephens Desoto dealership built in 1928.

REPORTER: Part of Cook and Connelly's vision was to save what they could of the building--demolishing it was out of question. That meant meticulously mapping out how to meld the old with the new.

SHAWN: The trusses are all original with the exception of the steel bracing and tension rods. Those were put in for support and now the roof's as strong as ever. And the back of the bar, the wall back there was actually the original wall to the salesmen's' office, so where you see the doors and mirrored windows, those are the sales offices.

REPORTER: To add to the challenge, Cook wanted to make the building LEED-certified--a tall order, making the market one of Arizona's only buildings to be both federally certified historic and environmentally friendly. It was painstaking work that cost a lot of money and time. But it was a labor of love for Connelly, who grew up in Troy, Michigan, and soon found his family's business had intersected with his own.

SHAWN: My family and history is in cars and my passion and what I've been involved in in the food industry has taken me here, but ultimately, it's coming together to where putting food in my car, family's car relationship together. And it's kind of a cool thing.

REPORTER: There are nods to the former Desoto car dealership wherever you look, some tongue-in-cheek like the giant front end car grill that greets you when you walk in, to the original service records hanging upstairs on the walls of the mezzanine.

SHAWN: The manila folders with the person's name, where they're from, what car they had and a record of they got oil changed for five cents on such and such date. It's all done in perfect cursive, too, we don't see much these days.

REPORTER: Connelly says they found bits of history all over the building--even under it.

SHAWN: We unearthed the former house that used to be on the site previous to the Desoto car dealership. We saw records that show it was built in 1905, but underneath the bar, we're digging and all of a sudden, these bricks and pieces of wood started showing up.

REPORTER: For Connelly and Cook, finding restaurants and chefs who would honor the building's history was important. Chef Steven Jones heads up the anchor restaurant, The Larder & The Delta.

CHEF STEVEN JONES: We do a lot of fermentation; we do a lot of pickling and preservation. So that's the reference to the larder. And the delta, we wanted to keep our southern roots, so that's what that came from, and specifically on the delta, it has to do with the produce.

REPORTER: Jones' food has soul to it, but don't call it soul food.

STEVEN: The food itself, a lot is all turn-of-the-century, old civil-war type slave food. We really wanted to focus on that, so that when people eat the food, they're like -- oh, it has soul. It has a story behind it. You can taste it and that's what it's about.

REPORTER: Jones is a perfect fit for Desoto. He would walk by the abandoned building for years, hoping somebody would save it. And he's only too honored to be a part the team that did just that.

STEVEN: You hear the ghost, late nights when I'm cooking or early in the morning, you feel it, you know? And it's cool to be able to cook food with a past and history and the building has the same thing. It's really cool.

REPORTER: As for Connelly and cook, the two men paying homage to the past, are looking towards the future, adding more restaurants and even a small grocer to the market.

SHAWN: It's not an easy undertaking, trying to fit this new concept in a city that's still in its rebirth, if you will. There's a lot of things we've had to figure out and trying to adapt downtown and the rising of phoenix as well. But I still get excited every day coming into work. I look forward to the future of phoenix and where it's going.

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TED: The Desoto Central Market is located on the corner of Central and Roosevelt in Downtown Phoenix.

Thursday on Arizona Horizon, we'll have analysis of the Democratic National Convention with political consultants here in-studio and live via satellite from Philadelphia. That's on the next Arizona Horizon.

That's it for now. I'm Ted Simons, thank you so much for joining us. You have a great evening!

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